Head south to the glam, skinny Mornington Peninsula for some of Victoria's best wine and fine dining. Here, we've mainly focused in and around the hilly, tree-cloaked hinterland. For a broader picture of the whole peninsula and a fantastic overview of artisan producers, restaurants, cellar doors and more, check out visitmorningtonpeninsula.org and winefoodfarmgate.com.au.
Dining and drinking
What a superb room: massive windows, blond woods, a long banquette, a pitched-roof conservatory to one side, quality tableware and indoor plants placed just so. It's run by the Ten Minutes by Tractor team down the road, and is great for a date or a low-key drink at the bar; families take the early shift. What's on the plates? Ripper French classics. Dunk just-baked sourdough into a brothy bowl of mussels, or go for the signature duck a l'orange or a correctly cooked wagyu with hand-cut chips and bearnaise. Les enfants score with top-shelf fish 'n' fries and the tarte tatin with double cream is tops. For two-hatted French fine dining head to Ten Minutes By Tractor down the same road at number 1333.
1208 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge, 03 5989 2510, petittracteur.com.au
At this bucolic idyll, complete with roaming geese, the wine is excellent. The restaurant wears one hat, and wears it well. Try snapper fillet baked and served with plump mussels, crisp fried prawns, quinoa and samphire, a clever play of textures and sea-salty flavours. Desserts are layered adventures, local berries tucked under shards of meringue, perhaps, or a coconut and chocolate extravaganza.
44 Paringa Road, Red Hill South, 03 5989 2669, paringaestate.com.au
Merricks General Wine Store
Holidaymakers and weekenders flock to this restored 1920s general store by the 4WD-load. Is it a cellar door? A restaurant? A provedore? A brunch haunt? It's the lot, rolled into one smart country-charm package. Local mussels are sweet and cooked well, ricotta gnocchi is wonderfully light, and creamy vanilla panna cotta topped with rhubarb is a highlight.
3460 Frankston-Flinders Road, 03 5989 8088, mgwinestore.com.au
Stillwater at Crittenden
So this is where lovers hide, clutching hands across pressed linen in the lakeside restaurant. The contemporary menu champions the area's produce and the seasonal bounty plucked from the kitchen garden. Thick-cut steaks cooked over charcoal are a speciality, served draped, perhaps with a fiery chimichurri sauce alongside cherry tomato bursts. Kids are catered for with a separate menu, and with activities such as cricket and totem tennis. If you want to stay on site, the Lakeside Villas are everything waterfront accommodation should be.
25 Harrisons Road, Dromana, 03 5981 9555, stillwateratcrittenden.com.au
Join the queue of bakery diehards who take away family chicken or beef pies with buttery flaky pastry or stock up on sweet apple pies and friands. Savouries include lush quiches, sausage rolls, and pies include the fishy number with salmon in a mornay sauce (superb on a chilly day). You'll want to buy the whole shop. Some customers nearly do. Takeaway only.
Shop 1, 1016 Mornington-Flinders Road, Red Hill, 03 5989 6515, johnnyripe.com.au
Dromana Fish Supply
What is it about being near water that makes you crave fish and chips? A short drive down to the coast, this takeaway joint is pumping, delivering all the grilled and battered classics from flathead to flake to burgers or souvlaki with the lot. No frills, no fuss.
187-189 Point Nepean Road, Dromana, 03 5987 2225
The Mornington Peninsula is home to dozens of winery cellar doors, many clustered in the hills. Its cool, maritime climate makes it one of Australia's flagship regions for high quality pinot noir; chardonnay also does well here, and it was the first area in Australia to champion pinot gris under the guidance of former T'Gallant winemaker Kathleen Quealy, now with her own label.
The Peninsula is a top spot for wine touring because of its compact size. You can easily visit several wineries in a day if your palate can stand the pace - there are so many that are fewer than five minutes' drive apart.
The Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association website should be your first port of call: it's a one-stop shop for information about when the different wineries are open and whether they serve food. As well as landmark places such as Port Phillip Estate or Montalto there are plenty of smaller cellar doors pouring great wines.
Check opening hours before you hit the road because some open only at weekends or once a month. If you're planning to go in a group, ring ahead and ask if that's OK.
Before the Peninsula hills were vineyard country, they were apple country, and the hinterland is still dotted with orchards selling farm-gate produce. Mock Red Hill, a family-owned orchard for generations, sells heirloom biodynamic apples and has a lounge where you can taste their own sparkling apple juice and cider.
Sprawling Sunny Ridge strawberry farm lets you pick your own in season (usually November to April but do check the website). In the colder months, you can still call in for a strawberry-themed dessert and buy from a huge range of strawberry jams, sauces and confectionary.
The hills are home to two artisan cheese-makers, the long-established Red Hill Cheese and Main Ridge Dairy , the latter specialising in goat's cheese from its own herd.
Whether you're looking for Peninsula-grown Leontyna olive oil, handmade pasta from the locally made Big Cow label or just a caffe latte and a fancy toastie, Cellar & Pantry has you covered. It's in the same small shopping centre as the Red Hill Baker's original outlet, where you can buy light bakery meals to eat in or take away and nutty "wine bread" for your cheese platter.
Mock Red Hill, 1103 Mornington-Flinders Road, 03 5989 2242, mockredhill.com.au
Sunny Ridge, 244 Shands Road, Main Ridge, 03 5989 4500, sunnyridge.com.au
Red Hill Cheese, 81 William Road, Red Hill, 03 5989 2035, redhillcheese.com.au
Main Ridge Dairy, 295 Main Creek Road, Main Ridge, 03 5989 6622, mainridgedairy.com.au
Cellar & Pantry, 141 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South
Things to do
Are you a market fan? Get your credit card ready because this craftmarket is a beauty. There's loads of food (hot corn on the cob, gyoza, pancakes, pies ... you name it, they've likely got it), plants, face painting, live music, a petting zoo, ceramics, crafts and playground with climbing equipment.
Red Hill Recreation Reserve, Arthurs Seat Road, Red Hill, 8am-1pm first Saturday of month except in winter. Next market May 7, see craftmarkets.com.au
The Port Phillip side of the Peninsula is strung with sandy beaches from Frankston all the way to Portsea. McCrae beach is not far from the hill country and is loved by many locals for swimming; take a bucket for shell collecting. On the other side, there are surf beaches; the one at Point Leo on Western Port is not as wild as the beaches further south fronting Bass Strait, making it a good choice for families and surfing lessons.
Horseback winery tour
Beginners to experienced riders can hit the vineyards on horseback for a 90-minute to three-hour tour and tasting. In school hols, they run a program for five to 12-year-olds, minus the wine.
356 Shands Road, Main Ridge, 03 5989 6119, horseback.com.au
Where to stay
Boutique studio-apartment accommodation on a 10-hectare working property. Also on the property is the warm and inviting bistro with big windows overlooking magnificent gums. The food is designed to share, though you may want to keep parmesan churros all for yourself.
150 Red Hill Road, Red Hill, 03 5989 2471, polperrowines.com.au
2 Macs Farm
Choose from the three-bedroom Harvest House or the two-bedroom Beekeepers Cottage. The breakfast basket is awesome, with some of the best honey I've eaten: 2 Macs Raw Honey (buy some from the farm gate), eggs from the healthy chooks on the property, fresh bread, organic juice and butter. It's a casual place with friendly owners who keep bees, and run cooking classes and honey tours.
3 Browns Road, Main Ridge, 0419 549 654, 2macsfarms.com
The Mornington Peninsula hinterland, focusing on Main Ridge and Red Hill is about 90 kilometres from Melbourne and takes about one hour and 15 minutes by car.