A weekend in: The Grampians.
Trip duration: 48 hours
How to get there: Dunkeld is about 260km west of Melbourne, at the southern tip of The Grampians National Park. A drive from the Melbourne CBD will take about three hours. If you travel on the V-Line/bus service, the journey will be a little longer.
Where we stayed: Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld.
How we spent our days: Between us, my girlfriends and I have five children under six (with another on the way) and were well in need of a holiday. The problem with our usual weekend trips away is they’re so jam-packed with activity that we feel more exhausted than relaxed, upon returning home. We were determined that this trip would be different, and the picturesque Grampians absolutely delivered.
Our daylight hours were mostly spent lounging on giant beanbags in the courtyard, looking up at the mountains. We read books, lay beside the pool (taking only the occasional dip), and took long walks in the bush. When you’re away for the weekend with girlfriends, more than anything you want time and space to just be in one another’s company. I won’t lie, there was also rather a lot of napping.
The bush walks were spectacular, and this location would be perfect for international visitors desperate to catch sight of kangaroos, platypus, echidna, emus and native birds in the wild. More than 1000 varieties of wildflower bloom in the area. For the more adventurous (and not pregnant) several ambitious mountain walks are also on offer, with spectacular views of the Grampians from the top.
What we ate: Wickens restaurant at the Royal Mail Hotel brings even more visitors to the area than the mountains. With two chef hats, a degustation menu that changes daily and a wine list that would make Buckingham Palace blush, this is the place for serious foodies. We had the eight-course degustation menu, with matched Australian wines (you can also opt for French) for those of our party who could partake.
The food was indescribably delicious and beautifully presented. The Royal Mail Hotel boasts Australia’s largest working kitchen garden and it is responsible for more than 80 percent of what appears on the menu. As a result, fresh fruit and vegetables were the feature of most dishes. We also ate much more than the promised eight courses, as several additional extras took us by surprise throughout the meal.
Being city dwellers, we were impressed by produce we’d seen growing in the kitchen garden during the day appearing on our plates. If you’re dining at Wickens, I highly recommend taking the kitchen garden tour (complimentary for hotel guests) earlier in the day, to learn about where your food is coming from. The service was impeccable and the views divine, with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt.
Best moment of the trip: Unsurprisingly dinner at Wickens was the highlight of our visit. However, we also enjoyed exploring the little town and discovering less-renowned delights including the Old Dunkeld Bakery. If you’re visiting the area, don’t let yourself leave before sampling their sourdough, sausage rolls and stopping by for a great coffee that will impress even the snobbiest of Melbourne residents. A great option for a lazy, late brunch on the day you’re departing the area.
Where to spend cocktail hour: The Wickens cocktail menu was so impressive to be utterly overwhelming. I recommend asking the brilliant team to guide you through the menu or, if you give them an idea of what your favourite tastes and spirits are, they’ll create an original concoction just for you. One of our party was pregnant but indulged in a range of delicious mocktails featuring more tastes from the kitchen garden, including lavender, and blood orange. For a more relaxed low-cost evening, grab a drink from the main bar and nab yourself a beanbag, before taking up residence in the courtyard to watch the sun set. Bliss.
Why I’ll be back: The menu at Wickens changes not seasonally, but daily, ensuring that every visit is utterly unique. My husband is devilishly jealous of the food my girlfriends and I enjoyed so I’ll need to return with him for a romantic getaway. Plus, the Royal Mail Hotel has more than 28,000 bottles in its award-winning wine cellar. I’ll need to head back to sample some more.
Jamila Rizvi stayed as a guest of the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Overnight packages at the Royal Mail, including dinner at the more casual Parker Street Project restaurant, start from $375 for two people. You can learn more about the hotel and the acclaimed Wickens restaurant, here.
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