Check out Smith’s style-savvy selection of Melbourne day trips, including our top five art galleries within easy reach of the city. Base yourself in a boutique hotel in Melbourne, then mission out to rural Victoria to slake your culture lust. Alluring architecture and design, gorgeous gardens, enticing vineyards and cool cafés await, as well as some pretty jaw-dropping art.
1: Heide Museum of Modern Art
Possibly the perfect Melbourne day trip, Heide Museum of Modern Art (7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen; +61 (0)3 9850 1500) offers three galleries, a chic café, a gift shop, kitchen gardens and a sculpture park near the Yarra River on the fringe of town. Once the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed, Heide was a hotbed of boho artists from the Thirties onwards, inspiring iconic works by Australian talents such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester and Charles Blackman. Today, you can tour the original homestead Heide I, modernist house-turned-gallery Heide II and the contemporary Heide III space, all showing exhibition ‘Forever Young: 30 Years of the Heide Collection’ until April. Chef Shannon Bennett‘s Café Vue at Heide serves seasonal treats from the organic gardens, as well as button-cute lunch and picnic boxes to enjoy outdoors.
Getting there: Heide is about a 20-minute drive or taxi ride north-east of central Melbourne in the suburb of Bulleen. Alternatively, take a Hurstbridge-line Metlink train to Heidelberg Station (about 25 minutes from Southern Cross), then the five-minute 903 bus to Heide. It’s also a scenic bike ride from town along the Main Yarra Trail (stop off at arty Abbotsford Convent for snacks).
2: TarraWarra Museum of Art
Melburnians love to escape the city and frolic in the Tuscan-style countryside of the Yarra Valley, home to world-famous wineries, the wildlife-packed Healesville Sanctuary and bouyant balloon rides. Our top local tip is privately funded yet publically owned TarraWarra Museum of Art (311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road; +61 (0)3 5957 3100) which teams earthy, organic architecture with intimate scale and a look-at-me hilltop setting. Australian landscape paintings by William Delafield Cook are on show in the modern gallery space until 12 February. Afterwards, pull up a chair at airy, adjoining TarraWarra Estate Restaurant, which matches seasonal cuisine with homegrown wines, or savour a cellar-door tasting.
Getting there: The gallery is about an hour’s drive east of Melbourne along the Eastern Freeway and Maroondah Highway, or take a Metlink train to Lilydale, then bus 685 to Healesville via Yarra Glen.
3: Art Gallery of Ballarat
Australia’s oldest and largest regional art gallery, the Art Gallery of Ballarat (40 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat; +61 (0)3 5320 5858) occupies a grand building in this elegant Victorian goldrush town. When you’ve swooned over the opulent interiors, explore the impressive permanent collection, including paintings of the golddiggers’ notorious Eureka Rebellion that rocked Ballarat. Current shows include ‘Australian Modern Masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales’, which runs until 27 November. Sleek café Sweet Decadence at the Gallery is handy for refuelling and there’s a small gift shop.
Getting there: Ballarat is just an hour’s drive north-west of Melbourne along the Western Freeway. Regular V-Line trains also run from Melbourne’s Southern Cross station to Ballarat, taking about 80 minutes.
4: Bendigo Art Gallery
Set in another of country Victoria’s stately goldfields towns, Bendigo Art Gallery (42 View Street, Bendigo; +61 (0)3 5434 6088) contrasts heritage architecture with a slick modern extension. Upcoming exhibitions include a homage to British/Australian textile artist Michael O’Connell from 26 November, Hollywood celebrity portraits from the John Kabal Foundation (3 December–12 February) and flagship show ‘Grace Kelly: Style Icon’ (11 March–17 June), touring from London’s V&A. Pick up stylish Australian souvenirs, including Dinosaur Designs vases and jewellery, from the on-trend shop, then kick back in the parkside café.
Getting there: Drive north-west from Melbourne along the Calder Freeway to Bendigo in one hour 40 minutes, or hop aboard the V/Line train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station to Bendigo Station, which takes around two hours.
5: Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove
Whoever had the genius idea of mixing striking art with a sexy vineyard setting deserves a cool glass of Montalto riesling. Perched amid tumbling vines on the coast-meets-country Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove (33 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South; +61 (0)3 5989 8412) is a heavenly hybrid of food, wine and art. Visit from 19 February to 29 April to catch the respected Montalto Sculpture Prize, with the winner’s and finalists’ work displayed around the manicured grounds, or swing by any time to see previous years’ sculptures on display. Enjoy fine-dining in the view-blessed Montalto Restaurant, a casual pizza at the Piazza and Garden Café or just pick up a gourmet picnic to share alfresco. Leave time to taste the local drops at the cellar door and bag a few bottles to go. For a Smith self-catering stay nearby, we recommend retro-cool Zealandia holiday house in Portsea.
Getting there: Montalto is about an 80-minute drive south-east of Melbourne along the Eastlink and Nepean Highway, near Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. Public transport is a bit of a schlep, but you can take a Metlink train to Frankston, followed by the 782 bus to Merricks and a taxi to the gallery.
For more Melbourne day trip inspiration, and art galleries in the city itself, see our Melbourne destination guide.
Photos courtesy of John Gollings (Heide I and II) and Shannon McGrath (Bendigo Art Gallery).