Only an hour’s drive from the city, this curling peninsula encircles the south-east of Port Phillip Bay and is dotted with coastal towns and pretty beaches with crystal-clear waters. Swimming? Yes, please.
A road trip down the Nepean Highway might be a summer rite of passage, but take a detour into the hinterland (and book a place to stay overnight) and you’ll find vineyards laid out like fine rugs over rolling hills, craft breweries, hot springs and boutique accommodation.
Stay in an isolated country studio and watch the sun set over the water from the spa on the front deck, or lounge poolside in a spacious estate that wouldn’t be out of place in the Hamptons. Take a winery tour or a cooking class by day, and sit back under the stars at night, far from the city lights.
Here’s how to make a summer trip to the Mornington Peninsula a holiday to remember.
Ten Minutes by Tractor
Winery restaurants dominate the peninsula’s fine-dining scene, and Ten Minutes by Tractor is one of the best – it combines exceptional produce and silver service with warm, country casualness.
Open for lunch Thursday to Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday, the six-course set menu is matched with wine from cool-climate regions across Australia and around the world, focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir. The meal comes with a price tag that leaves little room for mediocrity, but Ten Minutes by Tractor doesn’t put a foot wrong. From the salad with Main Ridge goat’s cheese to the salted-caramel mousse, to the attentive wait staff and faultless ambiance, this is one slick operation.
Chef Adam Sanderson’s menu focuses on local flavours and ingredients, including foraged watercress, samphire and saltbush. Look forward to the Lakes Entrance squid, Narooma bass groper and Wimmera aged duck breast. Try to book a window seat for a view over the vineyard and surrounding bushland.
Merchant & Maker
The peninsula might be famous for wine, but coffee is king at this award-winning cafe in McCrae, just across the road from the beach. The location might be regional but the menu holds big-city sensibilities, with a Japanese bent.
Try the okonomiyaki with a side of crispy calamari or the positively bulging nasi lemak bowl. And of course there’s smashed avo, served here with beetroot gel, quinoa, danish feta, almond dukkah and pickled fennel. Other vegetarian options include Green Goodness plate (with spinach, charred broccolini, marinated kale, quinoa, haloumi, a poached egg and miso-pumpkin puree) and chilli scrambled eggs. The coffee is from Merchant & Maker’s sister cafe, Commonfolk in Mornington.
There’s also Mornington Brewery beer on tap (pale ale and draught), and who could say no to an Espresso Martini on a hot summer’s afternoon?
Red Hill Brewery
Fans of craft beer will find a lot to love at this cosy brew house set among the hop vines. The new beer garden is a great place to sit and enjoy their sessionable, European-influenced beers (the kolsch is a stalwart) with some hearty bar snacks. All beer is brewed in small batches on the premises, with seasonal runs the remit.
Look out for the new collaboration with Main Ridge Truffles, a truffle and scotch-ale pairing you might not immediately think would work, but somehow does (it’s been a bumper year for truffles). Try a drop from the new double-barrel range (beer aged in a spirit-soaked wine barrel). Also on point is the limited-edition Crazy American Lost in Belgium, a strong Belgian golden ale (complete with cartoon Donald Trump artwork) that’s definitely not fake news.
The Portsea Hotel
With its palatial, terraced beer garden, Tutor-style architecture and proximity to Portsea Beach, this recently renovated iconic pub is summer writ large. The look is all wicker chairs, umbrellas, French doors, planter boxes sprouting greenery, and shingle cladding bleached white by the sun. You don’t have to own a fleet of pleasure cruisers to drink here, but you wouldn’t be out of place if you did.
The beer range is wide without being groundbreaking, and as you’d expect, local wineries are well-represented. If you can’t get a seat you can grab takeaway (we recommend the woodfired pizza), but you’d miss the atmosphere, which is really what this grand hotel is all about.
Mornington Peninsula wine tour
The Mornington Peninsula is packed so full of wineries it can be hard to work out where to start, but joining a winery tour takes the headache out of planning a tasting adventure.
Wine Time Tours, for up to 10 guests, are hosted by local Matthew Smithwick, who’s lived on the Mornington Peninsula for 35 years. The tour visits five wineries in one day – Quealy, Jackalope, Pier 10, Red Hill Estate and Myrtaceae – taking in some stunning scenery along the way. Smithwick (a self-confessed wine nut) demystifies the winemaking process from grape-growing to bottling, and makes you laugh along the way.
A two-course lunch is included in the price (all dietary requirements can be accommodated), as are all the wine tastings.
Cooking class with chef Jacqui Selleck
French-trained chef Jacqui Selleck has cooked all over the world, and now hosts cooking classes from her home on the Mornington Peninsula. Learn knife skills, preparation and plating techniques, and how to balance flavours as you cook up a storm in a four-hour class.
The dishes taught vary depending on the season (Selleck uses seasonal ingredients), but a typical session could see you whip up pan-seared scallops with crispy prosciutto and radishes; quince-glazed lamb cutlets with braised leeks; and chocolate fondant with vanilla-bean ice-cream and raspberries.
Once the lesson is complete, you’ll eat your dishes in a dining room overlooking the Moonah Links golf course. Selleck’s engaging personality and passion for cooking is infectious, so expect to come away from this class raring to sign up to the next season of Masterchef – or at least with the confidence to stage a fancy dinner party back home.
As luck would have it, the venue is very close to Peninsula Hot Springs, so you can time your trip for a well-deserved soak after lunch.
Fox House in Mount Martha
This spot definitely has a summer-house-in-the-Hamptons feel. It’s just 300 metres from Mount Martha beach, but if that’s too far, there’s a solar-heated pool and a cedar hot tub. The interior is white and bright and tastefully decorated, with plenty of open space and double doors that open onto the outdoor entertaining area.
Cathedral ceilings let the summer light in, and two fires (one gas and one wood-burning) ensure you’ll be cosy if the temperature drops at night. There are three bedrooms for a maximum occupancy of eight people. You can fight over the king bedroom with the ensuite bath, although you don’t lose much with the other two queen rooms (both with walk-in wardrobes).
The house is elegant, refined and tasteful, but it doesn’t skimp on the mod-cons – there’s a smart TV (with Netflix and Stan); a Denon surround-sound cinema system; Smeg kitchen appliances; and an espresso machine with coffee grinder (beans are provided). You’ll find plenty of herbs and spices and essentials to use in the spacious pantry, too. Dogs are also welcome.
The Retreat at Main Ridge
A country studio with total privacy (unless you count the occasional roaming cow or inquisitive kangaroo), The Retreat has stunning views over the Bass Strait, with nary a neighbour in sight, despite being in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula.
Come for the location, stay for the view. The spa – an undeniable selling point of this property – is expertly positioned on the deck, which is on stilts that afford elevation and views of the rolling countryside and the sea in the distance. If the weather isn’t playing ball, sit inside by the fire and enjoy the view through the big windows.
Sunset is especially magical here, and you’d be silly not to take a glass of bubbly into the spa to watch the sky turn orange as the kangaroos graze below – like a gamekeeper with no responsibilities.
It’s a short drive to wineries, Peninsula Hot Springs, Arthurs Seat and the towns of Rosebud, Dromana and McCrae.
Airbnb - The Retreat at Main Ridge
Sound good? You could take this trip and more, thanks to Airbnb’s Once Upon a Summer competition. There are seven $15,000 Airbnb travel coupons up for grabs, for use anywhere in Australia. All you have to do is write an up to 50 word story on what memories you want to make this summer. The competition closes December 11. Enter now for your chance to win.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Airbnb.