Eight things to do in the Yarra Valley other than drink wine

Travelling Well | Patricia Maunder | Posted on 25 September 2019

There’s more to the Yarra Valley than food and wine; here are eight other things to do.

The Yarra Valley is synonymous with wine, and fabulous food to go with it, but there are other ways to fulfil the third part of eat, drink and be merry. The region is rich with cultural experiences to round out your next valley getaway.

Slides: Explore the delights of Mont De Lancey and Alowyn Gardens, the Healesville Glass Blowing Studio is filled with eye-catching colour; see behind the cypress hedge of Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe estate.

Eight things to do in the Yarra Valley other than drink wine

Art attack

Among Australia’s leading private galleries, TarraWarra Museum of Art presents regular exhibitions of modern and contemporary Australian works. It’s art worth travelling for, including the 2019 Archibald Prize exhibition on until 5 November, featuring portraits of notables such as David Wenham and Annabel Crabb.

The gallery itself is a work of art – a sleek and monumental building constructed mostly of rammed earth, which glows golden in the sunshine. It rests on a rise overlooking TarraWarra Estate’s vines and across to the Yarra Ranges and a cellar door and restaurant are just metres away.

Plus, RACV members get 10 per cent off all entry fees and selected paid events.

The glass house

Healesville Glass Blowing Studio’s artist owners, Tali Dalton and Tim Bassett, have works in the Australian National Art Glass Collection, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and even Elton John’s private art collection. Step inside their new light-filled studio and gallery, and you may want to own one of their creations too.

The space is filled with eye-catching colour: pure, flecked and swirled, and captured in curvaceous forms such as vases, platters and affordable objets d’art including spherical baubles. There’s usually something being conjured at the furnace, and visitors can book in to create their own paperweight under expert guidance. It’s a reasonably easy if slightly tense 10-minute process, and the result a treasured souvenir.

Diva’s digs

It was a long wait to see behind the cypress hedge of Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe estate. She bought the property in 1909, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the public got a peek when her grand garage became a restaurant. Tours soon followed, though the house opens only in winter for glimpses of the soprano’s private world, from Hans Heysen landscapes to myriad framed photographs of famous friends.

Garden tours have resumed in time for spring’s splendour, and continue until May. Tour-lunch combos include a glass of Coombe Farm Nellie Melba Blanc de Blancs. There’s also a cellar door and modest museum celebrating this remarkable woman who was not only a world-famous performer, but also suffragette, World War I fundraiser and racer of horses.

A night at the opera

The region’s opera connection was strengthened in 2018 with the inaugural Yarra Valley Opera Festival. Staged primarily in a pop-up theatre at the historic Olinda Yarra property, Australia’s only opera festival returns from 18 to 27 October.

This year’s highlights are three operas, all presented in English: The Coronation of Poppea, Monteverdi’s tale of sex and power in ancient Rome, which is among the first operas ever composed; Verdi’s Macbeth, with two-time Grammy-nominated bass baritone Marcus Bindel in the title role; and The Enchanted Pig, a fun new fantasy opera with costumes by Tim Chappel, who won an Oscar for his work on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Back at the homestead

Interested in heritage properties but not keen on frou-frou? Try Mont de Lancey. Established in the 1880s, it features a brick homestead and reconstructed timber-slab kitchen, both filled with practical period items, and a relocated 1920s chapel. Several sheds showcase ‘lost trades’, including a blacksmiths where modern ironmen create items for sale such as knives and candelabras.

They will be especially busy during the Blacksmiths Festival (13 October), and again for the Draught Horse and YesterYear Festival (23 and 24 November). It’s Mont de Lancey’s biggest annual event, with draught horses ploughing and handsomely restored machinery roaring. Pop into Monty’s Tearoom for light meals and first-rate scones amid charming vintage decor and old-timey music played on vinyl.

All that jazz

Other upcoming Yarra Valley cultural highlights include the Marysville Jazz and Blues Weekend (18 to 20 October), Healesville Music Festival (15 to 17 November) and Alowyn Gardens whose seven semi-formal, themed gardens are at their best in spring. Don’t miss the picture-perfect archway of Japanese wisteria.

Opera Festival

Astounding voices will be on show at the Yarra Valley Opera Festival.

Fire Welding

Visit Mont De Lancey for the Blacksmiths Festival.

TarraWarra Museum

The gallery itself is a work of art. Image: TarraWarra Museum of Art.

Picture perfect

Until October 31, contemporary gallery YAVA is exhibiting works by Harley Manifold and a host of other Yarra Valley-based artists. The exhibition is drawing attention to both sides of Australia's urban and suburban culture. A few doors down, numerous paintings by Judith Chew are displayed (and for sale) at the Healesville Hotel, where seasonal food, a Yarra Valley-only wine list and rustic sophistication keep it among the region’s best dining options, whether smart or casual. RACV members also receive 10 per cent off lunch at Healesville Hotel from Monday to Friday

Time out

If you need to unwind after all this cultural stimulation, head for the luxurious One Spa at the RACV Healesville Country Club & Resort for a pampering session. RACV members receive discounts on a range of treatments from pedicures to indulgent massages and rejuvenating facials.

Patricia Maunder travelled with assistance from Yarra Ranges Tourism.