Within easy reach of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula forms a blissful union of hot springs, heavenly hotels and hedonistic wineries, all waiting to be explored.
Rare Hare Wine & Food Store in Merricks North, Victoria
It’s 11am on the Mornington Peninsula, and I’m confidently sipping my second glass of chardonnay. Looking around Rare Hare, I’m pleasantly surprised to see I’m not alone. The glass-enclosed cellar door overlooking gentle vine-clad slopes is the perfect perch for a mid-morning imbibe. Plus, the deliciously oaky tipple helps to digest the incredible architectural drama that surrounds.
Clad in dark zinc with charred timber and black metal detailing, Rare Hare and its adjoining Jackalope Hotel could have slipped straight from continental Europe, so high-style is its jagged form against the bucolic backdrop.
Thanks to the likes of Frank Gehry at Marques de Riscal in Spain’s Rioja, and Zaha Hadid’s Rafael Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Winery in the same region, having an Alice in Wonderland moment like this one – in some of the world’s most wonderful wine country – is now becoming perfectly normal.
Mornington Peninsula beaches
Take a Mornington Peninsula tour 80 kilometres south of Melbourne, and just as the suburban landscape begins to turn to green, you’ll arrive on an outcrop of vine-laced land. The Mornington Peninsula is definitely a place to visit if you like the ocean: head for booming surf at Point Leo, or paddle in calm waters at Portsea Front Beach. And it’s now also one of Australia’s hottest destinations for forward-thinking wineries and boundary-pushing restaurants – and hotels that house them both.
Jackalope Hotel Mornington Peninsula
The moody Jackalope project comes courtesy of wunderkind Louis Li, who wanted to create a place for wine lovers to taste, stay and play. He embraced the 30-year-old chardonnay and surrounding pinot noir grapes, and commissioned Carr Design Group to craft spaces that leave my jaw on the floor.
The property is filled with whimsical works of art, from the glossy seven-metre-tall sculpture of a mythical namesake Jackalope (basically a rabbit with antlers) to the electric-blue pool table in achingly cool cocktail lounge Flaggerdoot. Dark hallways lit by vivid neon installations lead to slick guest rooms and suites – mine comes with an open fireplace, vineyard views from the enormous patio and a massive black-resin Japanese soaking tub.
The big ticket, though, is the five-course evening degustation beneath a mesmerising kinetic sculpture of 10,000 light bulbs – they represent the bubbles created during the fermentation of Champagne – at fine dining restaurant Doot Doot Doot.
Pt. Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Out the front of Jackalope, a fleet of shiny black cars are on stand-by to shuttle guests to nearby wineries, including the award-winning Pt. Leo Estate. One of the newest additions to the prestigious Relais & Châteaux portfolio is the property’s Laura restaurant, headed up by chef Phil Wood (ex-Rockpool) and delivering inventive, flower-dusted plates like fluffy magenta beetroot pancakes with lemon curd and salmon roe, and shocking-orange Dutch carrot soufflé.
Tear your gaze away from Wood’s culinary creations and you’re nose-to-glass with an overwhelming collection of more than 50 large-scale modernist sculptures. Created by the likes of Tony Cragg, Inge King and Andrew Rogers, the art park is scattered around elm tree woodlands and grassy panoramas, overlooking the estate’s 10-year-old vines and reaching right over to Western Port Bay.
Dainton Brewery in Carrum Downs, Victoria
Just off Peninsula link you will find Dainton Brewery, brewer of the Champion Australian Craft Beer and Port/Stout in 2017, the #3 Rye IPA in the world and World Record-holder for the World’s Biggest Tap Takeover. The venue itself showcases 18 different innovative and traditional beers on tap plus local wine, spirits and cider. Wood-fired pizzas, locally sourced cheese boards and live music are all part of the offer.
Watch out for special events like American BBQ competition days and the annual music festival ‘Dainton-Fest’. Head on in for a tasting paddle, brewery tour or casual catch-up with friends and family.
Cape Schanck Resort
While it doesn’t come with grapes, the new Cape Schanck Resort is surrounded by green of another kind. This enviable golf resort has unbroken views over an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed course, hugging the coastline and hemmed by native forest. Constructed to resemble a starfish from the air, the property is a distracting union of glass and stone, with gold leaf on the ceiling, granite on the floor and furniture courtesy of interiors guru Tom Dixon. It’s also full of artwork, which I learn about on an audio loop.
Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail
For another dose of culture, I drive a few kilometres south to the Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail, which includes a clifftop track – Millionaires Walk – that takes in some of the most stunning aspects of the western side of the peninsula. Over a course of 1.5 kilometres I stroll past interpretative signs depicting paintings by the likes of Arthur Boyd and Sir Arthur Streeton, while enjoying views of Port Phillip Bay on one side, Western Port Bay on the other, and Bass Strait just in view to the south.
Beer, Cider & Spirits Trail Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
All around there are vineyards crisscrossing rolling hills and small farms producing fresh food, from strawberries and cherries to lavender and goats’ cheese. And then there are the apples, which are transformed into biodynamic cider at Mock Red Hill.
Newly refurbished, the orchard’s cellar door now features a lovingly curated collection of sofas dotted across the original 1945 cool room. I settle in and order a classic apple cider from the menu, which lists a dozen or so other options featuring apples and pears from the fifth-generation-owned-and-operated farm.
This is one of the places you’re encouraged to visit on the new Beer, Cider & Spirits Trail, which also lists the relatively new St Andrews Beach Brewery. A stunning spot housed in old horse stables, the establishment serves five standard and two seasonal home brews – head outside to find the former 1200-metre race track, now planted with 8000 apple and pear trees to fuel their future cider-making plans.
Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Victoria’s Daylesford region may be famed for its mineral-rich waters, but Peninsula Hot Springs – situated on Mornington’s south coast – steals the spotlight when it comes to spa offerings that pamper above and beyond your usual soak and massage. This lavish network of more than 20 pools, waterfalls and hamams makes the most of the region’s geothermal water, which happens to be among the oldest of its kind in the world.
It’s not new, but a 2018 expansion saw the addition of a Fire and Ice experience (think saunas and snow caves) and a lakeside amphitheatre. In the coming months, a series of terraced vegetable gardens will be completed to supply the spa’s onsite kitchens, alongside a cultural meeting place for fireside storytelling, yet more pools (some with underwater speakers), a new wellness centre offering aerial yoga and a reflexology walk. It also comes with a reason to return next year: the promise of glamping and luxe eco-lodges, each sporting private pools for hot spring soaks.
Lead image: © Jackalope Hotel, Sharyn Cairns