Melbourne is a huge magnet for foodies, café lovers, shoppers and culture vultures yet there are so many other fabulous adventures within a hop skip and a jump of the city that a long weekend road trip can deliver it all: city highlights, food and wine indulgences, spectacular seaside attractions and a relaxing dose of country in one delightful package. We decide to put together a road trip using three very affordable and classy Mercure hotels as our base. We spend a day and night in Mercure Melbourne staying at the Mercure Melbourne Treasury Gardens, a day and night meandering through the Mornington Peninsula staying at the Mercure Portsea and a day and night wending our way through the Bellarine Peninsula to Geelong, staying at the Mercure Geelong, to complete a perfect indulgent triangle.
Day 1: Melbourne
We arrive in plenty of time to spend an entire afternoon exploring Melbourne’s hottest new shopping destination: The Emporium Melbourne.
With 48,000 square metres of retail space and 225 high street fashion and food brands, the Emporium Melbourne has the largest Australian designer precinct in the country, Australia’s first Uniqlo and Zoo York, and a host of Melbourne’s iconic eateries such as Jimmy Grants and Pho Nom.
Emporium Melbourne is connected to Melbourne Central, Myer Melbourne and David Jones through pedestrian bridges and tunnels.
Insider tip: Take advantage of their concierge service, which not only offers complimentary delivery of packages to your hotel but also offers terrific insider tips on what to buy where.
Next we head down Alfred Place, one of Melbourne’s groovy laneways, for a rip-roaring good time at the downstairs Stokehouse City Bar + Eatery.
The iconic St. Kilda eatery was destroyed by fire earlier this year and while it is being rebuilt, Stokehouse City is offering both a fancy upstairs restaurant and a mighty fine gathering spot downstairs.
The great sharing platters were sensational with highlights being the spiced potato and cauliflower fritters, raw yellow fin tuna, garlic toast with ricotta and marinated artichokes, the roasted lamb cutlets and roasted chook.
It was just a stroll up to the recently refurbished Mercure Melbourne Treasury Gardens.
My Privilege Room had a terrific deck overlooking the gardens and a gorgeous black and white photo of Melbourne archways on the bed head.
It had everything I needed including a Nespresso Machine and a fluffy bathrobe and slippers.
Mental note to self: this is a perfect place to stay for the Australian Open or the cricket and footy at the MCG and it is still in the heart of the city.
Day 2: Mornington Peninsula
We head off bright and early in our rental car for the Mornington Peninsula.
In no time at all the suburbs and replaced by rolling hills covered in vines. We meander along alleys of pines with great swaths of blue water in the distance.
First stop is the Main Ridge Dairy where we fall in love with the baby goats cavorting in the field before tasting of scrumptious hand-crafted goats cheese.
My favourites were the caprinella, a mild, moist semi-hard table cheese with a slightly nutty taste, the marinated chevre, and the haloumi.
We visit Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, which grows and sells the most strawberries in Australia (between its two Mornington Peninsula farms and one in Queensland).
It was too early to pick our own sadly, but we got to taste some of their Queensland strawberries as well as devour some delish strawberry icecream.
We had a spectacular lunch at Port Phillip Estate, enveloped in the bold sculptural lines of an award-winning building by Wood/Marsh Architecture.
The views over the vines to Westernport Bay were gobsmacking as we savoured exquisite preparations of local produce washed down with an impressive Kooyong Chardonnay.
By mid afternoon we were soaking in the Peninsula Hot Springs which offers a beautiful collection of natural hot springs pools in a gorgeous natural setting amongst tea trees and she oaks.
We arrived at the brand new sleek-lined Mercure Portsea Golf Club and Resort as the sun was setting across the rolling green fairways. It was lovely to sit on our deck with a glass of wine while watching the first stars prick the night sky.
In Sorrento we enjoyed some terrific thin-crust pizza at Itali.co, a buzzy Italian restaurant with all the right touches including waiters who sounded as if they’d just arrived from the other Sorrento.
Day 3: Mornington Peninsula to Bellarine Peninsula
It was a glorious spring day for our 40-minute trip across Port Phillip Bay on the Searoad ferry to Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula.
On the way, it was fun to check out the Portsea mansions with their bathing boxes and private piers and we even saw a few resident dolphins cavorting in the aquamarine water before arriving at Queenscliff’s modern marina backed by the township’s ornate Victorian hotels that are still popular holiday destinations.
We wandered along historic Hesse Street to the Rolling Pin Pies and Cakes, winner of Australia’s Best Pie and Best Breaky Pie in 2013. Of course, we had to try one of each just to see if we agreed with the judges. We did.
Next stop was the beautiful boutique and biodynamic Kiltynane Winery overlooking Swan Bay. We tasted wines under the flowering plum trees and learned about their beekeeping and permaculture gardens and big plans for the future. I made a mental note to come back and stay in the pretty cottage overlooking the fields to the water.
Lunch was at Jack Rabbit Vineyard with its panoramic view over Port Philip Bay all the way to the Melbourne skyline. There couldn’t have been a better day. The sun was shining and everyone was having a gay old time at the House of Jack Rabbit Café.
Then we enjoyed a spot of retail therapy in Barwon Heads, the real life locale for the ABC television show Sea Change.
The highlight was shopping for colourful Scandinavian homewares and Marimeko dresses at Kiitos, cleverly installed in a re-imagined petrol station.
Just up the road, in Ocean Grove we lost ourselves in a treasure trove of Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Moroccan home wares, furniture and antiques at Kyo’s enormous warehouses.
Then it was a quick run into Geelong where we settled into the very comfortable and centrally located Mercure Geelong, a popular spot during football season when many of the players are staying!
That evening we had a blast at the Little Creatures Brewery Canteen, enjoying the local Geelong beer (the Furphy) and lots of great sharing platters.
It’s located in a former woollen mill that has been cleverly refurbished with lots of recycled materials including the containers that the brewing materials were shipped in.
The atmosphere is jovial and easy going with families hanging out together, kids playing in sandpits, and local art on the walls. All in all a fabulous finale for our Melbourne and surrounds sojourn.