I’ve been in desperate need of a holiday and some time out, so when the Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa in the Yarra Valley invited me to come and stay for a girls weekend getaway, I jumped at the chance. How could I say no to wine, cheese, chocolate, relaxation and sunshine in the Yarra Valley.
The Balgownie Estate is situated near the town of Yarra Glen in the Yarra Valley about 55km or an hours drive from Melbourne’s CBD. The estate is nestled on a hill surrounded by lush green fields and rows and rows of grapevines. The view from our one bedroom spa suite was beautiful looking out over the valley.
Although a huge wine lover, I’d been reluctant to go to the Yarra Valley before. I’m not a fan of the massive, overly crowded wineries that everyone heads to and wrongly assumed that most of the Yarra Valley would be like this. Yes there are the big names where the crowds flock, but there are also the smaller more boutique wineries where you are given the time and attention when tasting the wines, and overall the experience is much so much more pleasant and enjoyable. Balgownie Estate is one of these and also situated on the road where a lot of the smaller wineries are. I was travelling with my good friend, and we both really wanted to have a very relaxed and mellow weekend so decided to visit a number of the smaller wineries.
Our weekend first took us to the Natskin Spa at the Balgownie Estate. The spa is run independently from the estate but located on it’s grounds. We spent the morning being pampered with a full body exfoliation and clay body wrap in their turkish spa room, and then an amazing neck, shoulder and back massage. It was the perfect way to start a relaxing weekend. I would highly recommend trying them out as I was so relaxed and pain free after (I have almost constant back pain from a car accident). I’m planning on making it at least an annual event on my calendar.
We were definitely chilled out after so decided to take it easy and head to the winery next door, Yarrawood Estate, for a relaxing lunch in the sun. Deciding on the cheese and meat platter to share was definitely a good idea. It was an amazing array of cheeses, meats, vegetables and dips accompanied by fresh bread. We each got a glass of the Yarrawood Rose which went perfectly with the platter.
Before we left for our weekend, I’d been told that no trip to the region would be complete without a stop at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery and also the Yarra Valley Dairy. So after lunch those were our next 2 stops.
The chocolaterie is a huge expanse of a building set up on a hill down the road from Balgownie Estate. We could actually see it from our hotel room balcony. The facilities were well laid out and although it was pretty crowded, the staff were friendly and really helpful and took the time to recommend things to try. There were lots of tasting trays around the store where you could sample the various delights. I decided on some chocolate dipped apricots, peanut brittle and nougat. My friend bought a box of delicious hand made chocolates for us to share later that evening.
The dairy was a quaint little building set amongst the large milking sheds. Apparently you’re usually treated to a bit of a pong when you visit but the gods were shining on us and it was smell free. It was bustling with people inside but there were plenty of staff to hand out tastings of the cheese. I bought a delicious charcoal wrapped goats cheese and a saffron infused feta. Both I have to say have made it into the top 5 list of favourite Australian cheeses so far. There are plenty of other kitchen gadgets and pantry supplies for sale so you can shop till your hearts content.
Once we left the dairy we decided that a nice quiet winery with a good view was the order of the day and headed to Sutherlands Estate Winery. It has a gorgeous long driveway up to the tasting room which winds past a beautiful pond and looks out over a stunning view of the valley. The winery itself looks like the set for a Rapunzel movie with a big tower looking out over the driveway and valley beyond. There is a big deck outside the main tasting room that overlooks the valley and that was where we stayed for the rest of the afternoon drinking their 2015 Wildcat Unwooded Chardonnay.
After finally managing to extract ourselves from the balcony at Sutherlands, we headed back to the Balgownie Estate for dinner. The restaurant is situated on the opposite side of the estate to the accommodation, in the same building as the tasting room. The view from the restaurant overlooked the vineyards and we happily sat and watched the sun setting behind the trees.
We both decided on the same entree which was seared prosciutto wrapped Canadian scallops with avocado mash, pea purée, bacon dust, beetroot purée, chardonnay butter, crispy beetroot.
For main, I had roasted rack of lamb with goat cheese polenta, roasted baby beets and trussed baby tomato
My friend had the Tasmanian Atlantic salmon with pickled wakami salsa, soy butter, lemon grass rice pilaff
For dessert we shard the choc malt & caramelised condensed milk semifreddo with honeycomb crumble, compressed strawberries but I forgot to take a photo of it!
After dinner we sat outside on the deck for a bit before heading back to our room to watch the sunset from our hotel room balcony. We had to try the spa bath too so got in our swimming costumes and sat in the tub for the evening with a bottle of Sutherland Chardonnay.
The next morning we got up and had a buffet breakfast in the restaurant before heading off to TarraWarra Estate winery. A friend had recommended it to me so I had to go and check it out. The building is really striking and unusual. A bit of a cross between a bomb shelter and a large museum. It’s set on the most beautiful property though and they have beanbags which you can sit in and survey the land, and that’s exactly what I did for most of the morning. We did a tasting of the TarraWarra wines and settled on a bottle of their 2015 Pinot Noir Rose to enjoy whilst sitting in the sun.
We then headed to Immerse Winery. Usually this is only open for weddings and private bookings but it does open occasionally for lunches and the places was full of people enjoying some amazing looking dishes. We tried a few of the wines here and I chose a bottle of their NV Sparkling Shiraz.
Next door to Immerse is Mandala Wines, a beautiful family run winery. They specialise in red and in particular their Matriarch Pinot Noir was definitely the star of the show. I loved the labels they have produced for the bottles. They are a family inspired mandala with lots of little icons on it that represent every member of the family.
Having done our dues of different wineries for this trip we decided to head back to Sutherlands Estate to sit on the balcony and enjoy a late cheese platter lunch, before heading back to Melbourne.
Overall I was really pleasantly surprised by the Yarra Valley. It is definitely a place I’m keen to go back to and explore more of. It was the perfect girls weekend getaway. We felt like we were far enough away from the city to justify calling it a mini holiday, whilst at the same time not having to spend hours in the car getting there. If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend away with friends or your significant other, then it’s a place to consider. You can avoid the crowds at the larger wineries or get amongst it as you wish. The Yarra Valley has the best of both worlds.
Thanks to the Balgownie Estate and the Natskin Spa for hosting me and for providing a wonderfully relaxing weekend. It was just what the doctor ordered.