The bushfires in February may have hit the region hard, but tourists shouldn’t stop visiting the Australian state of Victoria.
By March, all affected areas had reopened, and despite a fall-off following the blazes, statistics show the region bucked the recessionary trend with numbers up 0.7% year on year.
Cosmopolitan Melbourne has much to offer tourists, and its surrounding areas are rich with wildlife, beaches, wine and gourmet food – all ingredients for a great trip.
Melbourne is a multi-cultural metropolis, but it doesn’t have the fast-paced and frosty atmosphere of many big cities, as the locals are laid-back and super friendly.
A testament to its appeal is the fact that the city was voted among the world’s top three liveable cities in The Economist this year, thanks to its infrastructure, culture and environment.
Hailed Australia’s cultural capital, the city is flush with West End-style shows such as Billy Elliot and cutting-edge art exhibitions. Federation Square is the epicentre of the city’s cultural activities, so recommend that clients head down to see what’s going on.
Melbourne also has a stupendous array of shopping options. For hip and vintage shops, head to the bohemian Fitzroy neighbourhood, where there is also a flourishing bar and restaurant scene. If clients have cash to splash, Melbourne’s busy main drag, Collins Street, is where they’ll find upmarket boutiques such as Chanel and Gucci.
Both Aussie Rules fans, and those who prefer the sound of leather on willow, should arrange to see a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It seats 100,000 spectators for football and cricket, and tickets are cheaper than in the UK.
Food and wine
The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions and is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Picturesque vineyards, olive groves, lakes and forests dot the gently rolling hills, while boutique wineries selling wine made from hand-picked fruit offer tasting sessions.
The Yarra Valley was affected by the bushfires, but all wineries and restaurants are now open for business. There is little visual evidence of the devastation caused by the blazes – although winery staff will tell you how much of this year’s fruit was damaged by smoke taint.
In Healesville, visitors can begin their day by grabbing a freshly roasted coffee and a hand-made cake, pastry or croissant in the airy rustic-style bistro at Giant Steps Winery and Cellar Door.
Tours of the winery are at 11am and 3pm, and include a tasting session. For a gourmet tasting session with wine and matured cheese, send them to the De Bortoli Vineyard at Dixons Creek. Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc fans should visit the European-style family-run Dominique Portet.
When it comes to lunch, visitors are spoilt for choice with an array of top-notch restaurants to choose from. The Tarrawarra Estate offers fine dining with panoramic views of a glassy lake and scenic rolling countryside, while the award-winning restaurant at Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove serves up dishes in a buzzing restaurant overlooking the vines.
Persuade clients to treat themselves to a bird’s-eye view of the Yarra Valley at sunrise by floating over the region in a hot-air balloon. Tours normally last for one hour, are dependent on the weather, and can be booked through specialists such as Keith Prowse.
Animal lovers will fall head over heels for Moonlit Sanctuary, a 10-hectare conservation park at the top of the Mornington Peninsula. There they can get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most famous natives, including kangaroos, koalas, dingoes and wallabies.
In this picture-perfect bushland setting, visitors can meet rare and endangered species such as the eastern quoll, the red-bellied pademelon and the southern bettong, all of which have become extinct on the mainland of Australia.
The emphasis is on hands-on animal encounters so this is the place to be photographed with a koala, and feed the kangaroos. As most of the park’s animals are nocturnal, they are best viewed during a magical lantern-lit night tour.
At Phillip Island Nature Park, visitors can watch the evening penguin parade from a giant viewing platform at sunset when the animals begin to waddle ashore. Eco-adventurers seeking a more intimate experience can go to a private beach with a ranger and a small group of up to 10 visitors to watch the little penguins at close range using night-vision binoculars.
View art among nature at the William Ricketts Sanctuary, which is full of sculptures of figures that merge with the rock and ferns of the Dandenong Ranges. Sculptor Ricketts made many trips to central Australia to stay with Aborigines, who provided the inspiration for much of his work.
The hot mineral pools at Peninsula Hot Springs provide the perfect setting for recharging the batteries, and there’s also a Moroccan-style spa with massage treatments.
Tell clients to turn up on Friday and Saturday nights from 6pm to 9pm to laze in the pools under the glittering stars, and then enjoy a delicious dinner that incorporates fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Cocooned in manicured gardens in the heart of the Yarra Valley, Balgownie Estate is a luxury retreat where spacious guest rooms have whirlpool baths, and balconies boasting magnificent views of the verdant countryside beyond.
Guests can spend the afternoon on the tennis court, in the fitness centre or at the spa, which has a steam room and pool. An accomplished French chef cooks up beautifully presented cuisine in the evenings. To earn commission, book this property through accorhotels.com.
For a touch of elegant, old-world charm, send them to Chateau Yering, a five-star luxury property decked out with period features. Rooms have four-poster beds, claw-foot baths and soft-toy cats that guests leave outside their room if they do not wish to be disturbed.
Qantas Holidays offers a nine-night Victoria package for £1,659, including return economy flights, six nights at the four-star Citigate Hotel Melbourne, three nights at the four-star Sebel Heritage Hotel in the Yarra Valley, four days’ car hire and airport transfers. Valid from September 1 until November 30. qantasholidays.co.uk 020 8222 9125
Kuoni offers a seven night tailor-made holiday to Australia on a mainly bed-and-breakfast basis. It combines two nights at the Langham Melbourne with a five-night vineyards, bays and Phillip Island tour, taking in the Yarra Valley, Daylesford and the Mornington Peninsula. The package, which includes flights with Qantas from Heathrow, costs £1,748 per person in October. kuoni.co.uk 01306 747008
Gold Medal offers a four-day Melbourne self-drive holiday from £345 per person, including three nights’ accommodation in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island, and four days’ car rental, departing October and November. goldmedal.co.uk 01772 251133
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