The Yarra Valley, Victoria's oldest vineyard region, is just 50 kilometres east of Melbourne. It offers a blend of cool forests and lush farmlands, with the Yarra River as its centrepiece. It has a reputation as one of the world's great wine regions, with growing interest in its fine foods, so it is a wonderful escape from the city.
The area's list of produce is overwhelming cheese, jam, chutney, chocolate, jellies, spring water, bread, olive oil, game meat, salmon, trout, cold meat, sausages, salami, ice-cream, fresh pasta, a huge range of fruit, juices and purees, including a superb variety of berries and stone fruits.
A simple way to admire the Valley is by balloon. Silently drifting in one of Global's colourful balloons, taking in the scenery, is an activity you will long remember. You float for an hour across corridors of grapevines, see the mountains in the distance and delight at the Valley coming to life in the morning light.
Part of the fun of ballooning is participating in the setting up and packing away of the balloon. It is a good idea to wear layers of clothing that you wouldn't mind getting a little dirty. Choose clothes you might wear hiking sturdy shoes, warm socks, a cap and sunglasses. As you meet before sunrise, it can be very cold in the Valley.
When the flight is over and the balloon packed away, the group heads to Fergussons Winery for a traditional celebratory breakfast.
Global Ballooning have packages which include accommodation in the Yarra Valley.
We chose to stay at Chateau Yering Historic House Hotel.
In 1837, the three Ryrie brothers arrived in Yering the Aboriginal name for the area with four convict stockmen and 250 head of stock and settled at the current location. They planted vine cuttings, resulting in Victoria's first vintage in 1845.
The magnificent hotel was built in 1854. Its 100 hectares has a 2.7-kilometre Yarra River frontage and views across the Yarra Valley to the Great Dividing Range.
There are 32 accommodation options: 22 River suites, six Yarra suites, three Four-Poster Stable suites and the Yering suite, occupying pride-of-place on the upper floor with its own staircase.
The library, Chinese room and lounge still have their 1854 fittings: Australian cedar windows, jambs and doors are as they were.
You can enjoy a quick meal or leisurely lunch at the Sweetwater Café or sample the cakes, ice-creams, pastries or breads made in-house.
Eleonore's Restaurant offers fine dining under the direction of Shane Delia. In a conservatory-style extension to the original dining room, it is an extremely welcoming and comfortable place to enjoy Shane's superb cooking.
Wherever you are, the heritage-listed gardens surround you. They have undergone rejuvenation, including the restoration of the antique bronze crane which is the centrepiece of the formal front garden. Restoration and extension of the gardens is planned to continue for many years.