Leave the rush of daily life behind, and explore the easy pace of our hinterland and seaside villages. You’ll find mellow old limestone buildings and historic general stores overflowing with local produce, smart boutiques and galleries where you can quietly browse, and the greatest number of top restaurants of any Victorian region.
If country style is your choice, our vineyard villages with farm gates, cellar doors and romantic retreats will enchant you. If your soul food is the sea, we have two coastlines dotted with villages ranging from the sophisticated to the delightfully simple. Altogether there are more than 30 villages to explore.
You’ll find more than a dozen pretty villages right along the Port Phillip Bay coastline. Most have shopping strips filled with cafés, food stores, boutiques, galleries and shops selling holiday essentials, and all have a white sandy beach just over the road.
Airy seaside apartments, little B&Bs and stylish motels perfect for family holidays are plentiful, and a good swimming beach is never more than a few minutes’ walk away. Beachside holidays on the Peninsula have been a tradition with Melburnians since the 19th century and, if you take a walk at Mount Martha, Rosebud, Dromana and Mornington, you’ll find colourful bathing boxes which were first built in the 1880s to protect the modesty of ladies wishing to bathe.
Some boxes have been sold for more than $250,000, but this is petty cash compared to the $20 million-plus values of some huge and opulent estates atop the Portsea and Sorrento cliffs. In the north, Frankston has city status, but a broad and beautiful foreshore preserves its seaside village atmosphere. There are beachside restaurants, a coastal arts trail, many walking paths, bike tracks, wetlands, bushland flora and fauna reserves, the extraordinary Sand Sculpting Australia exhibition from 26 December to 26 April and the Asia Pacific Ironman in March.
Mt Eliza has secluded and gorgeous beaches (‘On the Beach’ starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener was filmed here in the 1950s), and a charming village that’s a mix of old and new shops.
Mount Martha has a quaint shopping village, a 50-hectare park with boardwalks, wetlands and wildlife, and small attractive beaches. Between these two little villages is Mornington, with a kilometre of shopping and around 370 stylish shops on Main Street, markets, excellent restaurants and cafés and a historical walk. Its picturesque harbour makes it a favourite with the yachting fraternity.
Dromana is another top shopping spot. Walk the very long pier and see what the locals are catching for dinner, then drive up to Arthurs Seat for views from the Peninsula’s highest point. McCrae dates back to the pioneering days, with the 1844 McCrae Homestead revealing much about the Peninsula’s early settlers.
From McCrae through to Blairgowrie, Rosebud and Rye are very popular white sand family beaches, many shopping strips and centres, aquatic activities, seaside accommodation, golf courses and the relaxing hot springs. Rosebud also has a six screen cinema, indoor and outdoor bowls and mini golf.
Portsea and Sorrento’s clifftop mansions are mainly holiday homes, but their location and lavishness mean this is one of Australia’s most expensive postcodes. Take the Millionaire’s Walk along the clifftops, and you’ll understand why.Portsea is famous for its hotel right on the beach, while historic Sorrento has many lovely old limestone buildings. It’s one of the Peninsula’s most sophisticated villages with cafés, food stores and more than 60 boutiques and galleries.Sorrento is also the starting point for the ferry to Queenscliff and lots of aquatic activities.
Hinterland vineyard villages
Coming from Melbourne on the Moorooduc Highway, exit at our northern-most village of Moorooduc. Its peaceful green plains have bred many champion thoroughbreds, and its ‘terroir’ is now proving just as adept with fine wines.
Then take the Mornington Peninsula freeway and exit to Red Hill, Red Hill South and Main Ridge, where four restaurants hold one or two Chef ’s Hats from The Age Good Food Guide. Add in Flinders’ one Chef ’s Hat restaurant, and the Mornington Peninsula is up there with the best in regional Victoria.
The Peninsula’s greatest concentration of vineyards, cellar doors and farm gates is here, with U-pick strawberry and cherry farms, microbreweries, art galleries, luxurious retreats, charming cottages, day spas and a growing number of provedores featuring a vast array of Peninsula produce.
Then, head west to Arthurs Seat. The Peninsula’s highest hill rewards with incredible views over Port Phillip Bay right back to Melbourne. If you’re in a romantic mood, come at night and see the sparkling lights of the Peninsula’s seaside villages mirrored in the water.
Western Port Bay villages
From the Western Port Highway, take a short detour to Tyabb, one of Australia’s best antiques destinations. Then head south to Hastings, Shoreham, Balnarring, Merricks and Flinders. With the sea to the east and vineyards to the west, these villages have a beguilingly slower pace. Flinders has become the latest epicurean escape on the Peninsula, with a one Chef ’s Hat restaurant.
Hastings has extensive high street shopping, a very picturesque foreshore and lots of fishing activity, so book a fishing trip or bay cruise. Balnarring, Merricks and Shoreham all have vineyards close by, and there’s an excellent shopping centre at Balnarring. Flinders’ cafés, antique outlets and food stores are shaded by historic verandahs, and the golf course is famous for its clifftop location.