48 hours on the Mornington Peninsula
Photography: Peninsula Hot Springs
The Mornington Peninsula is built from the ground up. Literally. The rich red volcanic soil and yellow- and -brown duplex soils of the region produce a bounty of coastal and cool climate wines and fresh produce, and the sandy aspects are perfect for creating the rolling slopes that characterise its many world-class golf courses.
Just 75 minutes from Melbourne, and featuring colourful bathing boxes, surf beaches, orchards, national parks, gardens, galleries and day spas, the Mornington Peninsula has been a summer holiday hot-spot for generations of Victorians. But its recent epicurean explosion has made it a delightful weekend getaway for gourmet travellers from around the country.
It's not often you get to rave about pub tucker, but at Terminus at the Flinders Hotel, French Moroccan chef Pierre Khodja - whose CV includes some of Europe's finest nosheries - offers North African/modern Australian fusion cuisine complemented by attentive service and an extensive wine list. New accommodation in a bush setting is on the doorstep at Quarters, right across the road.
The Red Hill area has some of the best dining on the peninsula. Red Hill Estate is the biggest winery in the region and lunch at Max's Restaurant offers a Thai spice dusted calamari and papaya salad as impressive as the view over the vines out to Westernport Bay and Phillip Island. Just down the road at Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove you will discover Italian-themed cool climate reds, fine and casual dining options and arcane sculptures scattered around the estate. And don't miss their First (Wine) Sunday tasting and education program on the first Sunday of every month.
Boutique winery Foxey's Hangout, the spirited Bass and Flinders Distillery, local legend The Long Table and the architectural triumph that is Port Philip Estate are all trailblazing establishments in this avant-garde region.
Serious cheese aficionados will love Red Hill Cheese, which handcrafts regional cheeses to complement the local wines and offers tastings of their sheep, goat and cow's milk cheeses on weekends and public holidays. Red Hill Brewery is an independent microbrewery with its own hop garden. Specialising in classic European styles, they produce a range of year-round and seasonal brews. Opening times vary - see the website for details.
Take a break from the gastronomic glee at Peninsula Hot Springs in Fingal, adjacent to Moonah Links Golf Course. Thermal mineral waters bubble up and flow into various pools and private baths, including a Turkish hammam, a Japanese hot spring cave pool, and a hilltop pool with 360-degree views. Various accommodation, spa, golf and dining packages are available. More pampering in a bucolic setting, including a unique wet room and hydrotherapy geisha tub, awaits your deserving body at Red Hill Spa.
For secluded romantic digs, try one of the three luxurious beachside hideaways at Big Blue Backyard at St Andrews.
Wake to the trill of local birdlife, enjoy a private candlelight dinner and doze off to the sound of distant breaking waves.