A lavish, sprawling English country-style estate with a historic mansion and an open range zoo are probably the last things you’d think to find behind the busy Princes Freeway running between Melbourne and Geelong. But there they are.

Only half an hour from the city, a weekend at the Werribee Park Precinct is easily within reach. Stay in a mansion hotel, stroll through lavish rose gardens, take a sunset safari, graze on local produce at a Paris-style café, visit a boutique winery and get a bit of well-deserved pampering at a top day spa.

Here are five very good reasons to have a staycation in Werribee this summer.

Werribee Park and Werribee Mansion
You can thank pastoralism and the Chirnside family for the wealth that built this breathtaking estate in the 1870s. Within the the grounds you’ll find a historic mansion surrounded by manicured formal gardens, a five-hectare rose garden, a heritage orchard, an ornamental lake and even a river park. Traditional home of the Kulin Nation, the estate is now managed by Parks Victoria and is state heritage listed. Summer is a great time to see the 5000 roses in bloom or just bring a picnic, find a spot on the manicured lawn and admire the surrounds.

Lancemore Mansion Hotel and Spa
An overnight stay night at the Lancemore Mansion Hotel feels like an escape to a country manor, betraying its proximity to the city. Dating from the 1920s, the former seminary set within the tranquil gardens boasts over 90 guestrooms. Joseph’s Restaurant & Bar looks over the sublime parterre garden, and the indulgent day spa offers everything from a simple relaxation massage ($80 for 30 minutes) to a six-hour Total Rejuvenation package, which includes an exfoliation, a body wrap, aromatherapy massage, lunch (with champagne and chocolate), a facial and eye treatment, a manicure and a pedicure.

Shadowfax Wines
This award-winning winery at Werribee Park values quality over quantity, producing small but celebrated vintages of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris. One of Werribee’s most popular spots to dine, the Mediterranean-inspired kitchen is open for lunch seven days a week. If the weather is kind, a good bet is to secure a Picnic Rug booking (available weekends and public holidays) and enjoy a selection of cheese, charcuterie and woodfired pizzas from their ‘rug menu’. Picnic rugs are supplied, and you can pick a cosy spot on the lush lawn alongside the vines and vegetable garden to sit and dine. There is also live music every weekend, as well as Friday nights in January, February, June, October and December.

The Refectory Parlour
Every slice of cake is a marvel at the Refectory Parlour, an ornate little set up located at the west wing of the Werribee Mansion. Pull up a Paris chair on the terrace under stately archways, or find a table in the sun-filled garden. The café offers an all-day menu (including takeaway coffee) but for a full immersion in decadency consider booking a catered picnic, tailored to order (great for a birthday or special occasion). The Garden Terrace menu is simple but on point, with our pick being the Ploughman’s Plate, with glazed ham, cloth-aged cheddar, marinated olives, pickled orchard vegetables and house patê which can be paired with a craft beer, wine, cocktail or its signature lemonade.

Werribee Open Range Zoo
You could live in Melbourne your whole life and not know (or believe) that lions, gorillas, hippos, cheetahs, zebras and giraffes roam open plains half an hour’s drive away. Safari tours aboard open-sided buses run every day, but our tip is to nab a spot at their special Sunset Safari, which runs every Saturday night between February 6 and March 13. Proceeds supports international conservation partners such as Rhino Fund Uganda with cocktails and a barbeque dinner also on offer at Hippo Beach (food and drink sold separately).

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Werribee & Surrounds.