Lush with hills that make for memorable drives, filled with endless gleeful ferns and much to do among them, the Dandenong Ranges are one of Victoria’s most glorious gifts. Although the ranges are quite close to the city, they’re often forgotten when it comes to planning a weekend getaway. The hills are currently alive, with plenty of new things to see, do and eat, alongside some impressive accommodation options to top it all off. We explore some of the best things to do in the rejuvenating hills over a weekend.
A weekend in the Dandenongs: a getaway from the hustle and bustle
What to do in the Dandenongs
The Dandenong Ranges has more oxygen per square inch than anywhere else in Greater Melbourne, thanks to a blessed abundance of greenery and gardens. Spend your weekend enjoying the clear air, enjoying a tipple of some of Victoria’s best wines and enjoying delightful homestyle cooking, the Dandenong Ranges can be more than just an hour escape from the hustle and bustle.
Dandenong Ranges National Gardens
Olinda’s famed 103-acre gardens are stunning all year round, but when spring has sprung and in the depths of summer that’s when they truly start to flourish – a myriad of trees and blooms and grand lawns ideal for picnics and unwinding in the sun.
William Ricketts Gardens
Over 90 sculptures, impressively carved into tree trunks and rock faces tell the stories of Aboriginal people interacting with the earth. The gardens hold fascinating discoveries for all visitors, created for reflection and replenishing the spirit.
A grand population of kookaburras and lyrebirds provides a gleeful soundtrack to this forest, where walking and hiking trails guide the way to Sherbrooke Falls. On the edge of the forest is Trees Adventure, a full-blown high ropes course featuring zip lines.
Chojo Feature Trees
Find a beautiful display of painstakingly cared for bonsai trees. Wondrous, artistic displays replicating mini forests that are grown in pots or on slates are on display and for sale. The business also runs bonsai making workshops.
In the heart of the town, Olinda Cellars sells vintage and hard-to-find wines, a vast beer selection and hosts weekly tastings, dinners and events. Perfect for evenings in at your accommodation.
Locally-founded brand SoapOpera has two stores in the hills, where skincare created by a naturopath fill the shelves, alongside a wide range of essential oils, tying in with the sense of wellness the mountains exude.
Behind an inconspicuously small facade is the beautifully out-of-place Argentinian restaurant, housed in a cleverly converted motor shed. Think chorizo with prune puree topped with chargrilled peppers, lime-cured scallops with smoked salt, and grilled octopus with potato and romesco (a crowd favourite).
Pie in the Sky
An award-winning pie store that draws a decent amount of visitors. Pies are in conventional and unconventional forms here – from Guinness to tandoori chicken. The cafe serves food far beyond its name; with bigger meals including pancakes and waffles on offer.
Sassafras, home to many top-notch cafes, is where Ripe Cafe lives. A myriad of house-made goodies is what brunch dreams are made of. The cafe produces rich spanakopitas, pasties and quiches, alongside sweet treats including decadent fudge cakes, cheesecakes and strudels.
For fans of high tea, a notable spot to rejuvenate in the forest is Marybrooke Manor, protected status by the National Trust of Victoria. Every Sunday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the manor serves traditional high tea featuring scones and other dainty treats for $40 per head (bookings are essential).
Where to stay in the Dandenongs
There are plenty of places to stay in the Dandenongs – from luxurious havens, charming cottage stays and, particularly memorable, treetop accommodation.
For a little bit of France in the Dandenongs
For a sophisticated retreat with a French kiss, there’s Belle le Vie in Sassafras, which ticks all the boxes for couples looking for a weekend getaway. Chic, dark French-style furnishings make up the rooms; a regal palette of black, gold and silver. Some rooms are overlooked by chandeliers, others have double spas, while one in particular is wrapped by a garden. Each of the six suites has its own identity – the Parisienne, the Provincial, the Jardin and the Marguerite are some you can choose from.
For something humble yet elegant
Coming a little more into the modern day are the Clarendon Cottages – a serene garden retreat hosting elegant rooms where luxurious comfort is the word. Dandenong Ranges cottages come in grand amounts, but there’s something quite special about the Clarendon Cottages. Even though the number of residences is small at three, there is a cottage for all options – one for solo travellers, another for couples, and a larger for a family or two couples.
For something in the deep green Dandenongs
Over in the suburb of Mount Dandenong is the Linden Gardens Rainforest Retreat, a bed and breakfast with an onsite day spa. Four romantic rooms make up the retreat – The Linden Cottage features its own indoor garden; the multi-level Sanctuary Tower has its own sauna, The Garden Retreat is spread across two levels with spa in the lounge area. And lastly is The Gallery Suite is on a single level with central spa that has full disability access. All suites have private entrances, ing sized beds, gas log fires and kitchenettes. Not that visitors need to worry about getting up to prepare breakfast in the morning – a cooked breakfast for two is delivered to suite doors every morning.
For glancing out your window to daydream
In the same vicinity is Arnica Views, where there is something to suit every type of traveller. There are two converted barns, suites, lofts, and a manor. Each residence is named, some notable options include Coorabell Retreat, a stunningly converted barn surrounded by forest, the Sunset Suite, an attic style suite with views of Melbourne’s city skyline (even from the bathtub) and the Arnica Manor, built back in the 1930s with a 12-foot stone fireplace. Spa and massage packages are on offer if you need to relax that little bit more.
For something charmingly old-school
Sassafras is also home to The Loft in the Mill, nestled in the heart of town. Walk in the grounds and you’ll pass through perfectly manicured gardens, through to the grand stone house made up of historically themed rooms. The Hathaway is based on the colour red, where visitors can curl up by the fire. The King Arthur is a sensual suite featuring sheer silk voiles and a giant spa right by the king sized bed. The Carriage House is the grandest of options, ideal for a group stay with three bedrooms. An open plan lounge and dining room bring people together, where visitors can cook meals cooked in the residence’s kitchen.
For those who can’t leave their pets at home
Over to the east a little bit is Emerald, a suburb as aptly verdant as its name. It’s the oldest township of the hills and as such its not short of accommodation options. Bed and breakfast The Heart of Emerald is a firm favourite; a pet-friendly hotel, where the traditionally furnished rooms here are large, homely and look out onto green and Puffing Billy – the hills’ famed steam train. The accommodation is also close to Emerald Lake, an idyllic spot to sit and indulge at the tearooms, hire a paddleboat, go fishing or simply stroll around.
For family getaways in the Dandenongs
When it comes to family accommodation in the Dandenongs, it can be a little tricky finding the ideal place to stay. The area is regarded as more of a couple’s getaway, but there are a few options that come to the rescue like Emerald Star Cottages. The family-geared getaway is run by an Emerald based family itself! Five cleverly designed, contemporary cottages make up the retreat. If you’re getting the whole family together for a trip, you can book out the entire site – sleeping up to 18 people.
Feature image courtesy of SolisImages / Adobe Stock