Credit Images Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula Tourism

Melbourne is an exciting city with a vibrant culture, world-class cuisine, and a megawatt entertainment scene. Away from the cities are landscapes filled with rolling hills, farmlands, vineyards, and quaint rural villages. The Bellarine Peninsula is such a place filled with turn of the century historic coastal villages. An ideal way to take in the rich bounty of this area is with a stay at the uber-luxurious five-star bed and breakfast, aptly named the Star Haven Retreat.  

Most first-time visitors to Melbourne will opt for a side trip to the Mornington Peninsula for their polished wineries and manicured beaches. Others may opt for the Yarra Valley for their endless offerings of wine tourism. But the traveler looking to get away from the obvious and the beaten path with love what is in store for them in the Bellarine Peninsula. This region offers all the above in terms of wineries, farmgates, walking trails, and beaches without the crowded masses. One could easily spend a week there and find plenty of exceptional experience to fill their vacation itinerary. 

There are also several quaint villages that are ideal to explore. Queenscliff, Point Londsdale, Barwons Head had their heyday during the gold rush period and offer well preserved Victorian-era architectural gems, boutique shops and galleries to peruse, and outdoor café’s to have lunch or a creamy ice cream cone with the kids. Travelers can take the scenic two-hour drive from Melbourne to get to the peninsula or, from the other side of the bay, the 30-minute ferry ride and take in the idyllic views of the bay ocean and coastline. The ferry arrives in Queenscliff which is a modern and developed marina and yachting area with posh sailboats and yachts filling the marina. There are shops, café’s and one the peninsula’s finest seafood restaurants, The 360 Q.

Photos courtesy of Star Haven Retreat

When traveling abroad the easiest thing to do is to stay in an international hotel with countless homogenized cookie-cutter outposts around the world. The enlightened traveler will look for something more. A stay that is more interesting and unique that enhances the choice of travel destination by adding to the authenticity of the experience. Although it may not be nearly as well known as the chain hotels, that is just the point. It is distinctive and by design made for the discrete and select few. Such a place on the Bellarine Peninsula is the Star Haven Retreat.

Star Haven Retreat is a bed and breakfast done right.  From the outside, it appears as a stately home in a posh neighborhood near Portarlington but beyond its well-coiffed landscaping and contemporary exteriors is so much more. Once inside you will feel like you just walked into a feature in Architectural Digest. Each detail, design, and creative touch is carefully considered to create a design masterpiece. The décor ranges from Avant guard wall art to rustic with artifacts and objects d’art from the owners travels around the world.  

Star Haven Retreat is truly a hospitality triumph. The B&B offers four well-appointed suites, plenty of lounges, and entertainment spaces including a bar, billiards room, and even a 15-seat movie theatre. To further indulge there is a swimming spa facility allowing you to swim against the water jets for a great workout or just laze about and let the whirlpool do its work. Beyond the design, the boutique hotel is filled with modern conveniences and high-tech gadgets to impress the most well-traveled guest. The home is so big and spread out that even when all the suites are booked, you will often feel as if you are in the home alone.

All the suites are different, the Haven Suite is opulent with a toasty fireplace and terrace overlooking the sea and Melbourne skyline in the distance. The king-sized bed is another luxury with electronic features allowing guests to elevate the back area for reading or the feet for comfort. It even has a vibration feature to enhance one’s rest or romance time with their loved one. Speaking of romance, the bathroom offers a dramatic whirlpool bath as well as a steam room.

To start your day, brekkie is a gourmet breakfast spread of local delicacies and yummy home-cooked dishes to order. Guests can have their breakfast indoors however most will opt for the rooftop terrace for the fresh ocean air and water views of the sea.  

Star Haven Retreat’s consummate hosts are Ian and Rob who instantly make all feel as welcomed house guests. As former hoteliers, they know what it means to have a carefree holiday and ensure that every guest feels special, valued, and has all of their cares catered to. They are there as hosts as well as concierge and are happy to advise on what to do in the area, suggest one of the fabulous nearby restaurants or to help with whatever arrangements as necessary for the stay.

There is plenty to do during a stay in the Bellarine Peninsula, especially for the epicurean traveler. Along with the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, the Bellarine has the climate and terroir that makes it the ideal for cultivating good wine. The oenophile will love this region for its cool-climate wines with a varied offering of pinot gris, pinot noirs, chardonnays, Rieslings, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, viognier, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. Beyond the wonderful wines, it is the tasting experience itself with options that range from large and fancy corporate cellar doors to quaint and rustic mom-and-pop operations.

Credit Jack Rabbit Winery

The Bellarine Peninsula has an abundance of wineries offering exceptional cellar door and culinary experiences. Be sure to check out Leura Park, Bellarine Estates, and Bennet’s Winery. One of the area’s most revered cellar doors is Jack Rabbit known for its award-winning wines, a busting and popular casual restaurant overlooking the paddocks and bay as well as the Jack Rabbit Restaurant which is one of the top in Australia.  For something a bit different try out the recently opened Cobb and Co which serves up some inventive cocktails from their artisanal Gin and Whiskey from their copper still. 

The Bellarine Railway is such a prominent feature in the region’s history. So is their incredible food culture. One of the region’s top gourmet foodie outings combines both in a first-class three-hour train ride with an exquisite gourmet meal. The Q train offers its guests a fine dining extravaganza with a side dish of decadent views of the rolling pastures and landscapes along the peninsula.  

Courtesy The Q Train

The train has several cars with tables decked in crisps white linen configured for couples, four persons, and a few for groups of six. The first-class excursion offers sleeper cars converted to private cabins for romantic couples who partake in an elevated degustation experience and wine pairing. The staff could also not be more friendly, are switched on, and knowledgeable about each dish as was as the local suppliers who provide the ingredients.

The meal is an exquisite five-course degustation experience prepared and cooked on board in the kitchen car by a team of talented chefs. The culinary offerings include an exploration of regional cuisine with plate after plate created to delight the eye as well as the palate with elaborate plating, colors, and textures. The menu changes by season and what is fresh and available. Expect dishes such as gin cured salmon, popcorn prawn, heirloom cherry tomatoes, pickled cucumber, avocado, Marie Rose sauce. Or from their extensive vegetation options, the oyster mushroom tart, carrot, The Q Train gravy. Each course is well paired with local beverages from the delightful wines of the peninsula as well as beers and ciders.

In between the exceptional courses, guests will want to spend some time looking out the train’s windows at the gorgeous views of horses in their paddocks, vineyard, farmlands, and red gum trees and untouched nature. In between, there are views of the coastlines as well as a pause to take in the fabulous sunset at Swan Bay. What is so exquisite about train rides, and especially in the peninsula, is that they go where the roads do not, crisscrossing the backcountry and private spaces and allowing guests to visually explore the unseen parts of the peninsula.   

The Q Train is an experience to cherish and a fond memory of the visit to the peninsula.  

As shared, a lovely way to enter the Bellarine Peninsula is by ferry or even better by your sailboat or yacht. The Queenscliff, port features a lovely marina area so if you do come by yacht, you will have the company of plenty of sparkly yachts to dock next to in the marina. The marina is bustling and modern having been renovated and rebuilt just a few years ago. There are plenty of shops and cafes to explore or just sit back and watch the boats and tide come in.

Images courtesy 360Q Restaurant

The marina’s most iconic landmark is the lighthouse. A towering four-story structure giving a lookout of Port Phillip Heads, the  Queenscliff, and the Melbourne skyline. That is also where you will find one of the peninsula’s finest restaurants, 360Q. The restaurant has a front-row view of the marina with tables spread out in the open dining area. The mood is festive and casual, but the food is all the way serious. The 360Q is owned and managed by one of the peninsula’s most colorful characters as well as a highly regarded restauranteurs, Barry Iddles.

An inventive menu features a sea to shore menu of fresh seafood dishes with fish and shellfish caught earlier that day by local fisherman. The accompanying meats and produce also come from the peninsula where possible. Expect dishes such as coconut crusted tiger prawns, spicy Sriracha salmon, and Portarlington mussels served with a white wine, tomato, basil, and chili broth. 

And do not expect your visit to the Bellarine Peninsula to be all rest and relaxation. There is some keen entertainment that goes on in the peninsula as well. There’s arguably nothing like the Blues Train. This is a high energy evening of great music and fun times on Friday and Saturday evenings.

After departing from Queenscliff, The Blues Train rambles along the Bellarine Railway for about three hours where guests enjoy the music of four acts throughout the evening. After a delicious homestyle barbeque dinner, guests board the train, and the shake rattle and rolling begins. It is a jam session of beats from high energy blues to sultry jazz by talented regional musicians. The railway jamboree takes a break along the way at stops where guests can purchase local wine, beer, or cider and then change their train section to hear another group perform. It is so much fun and the level of talent is fabulous. Along the way, you will tap your feet as well as get up and dance along with your newfound rowdy friends. Great music, dancing, and good times are 100% guaranteed on the Blues Train. 

The Bellarine Peninsula is miles and miles of coastline on either side with plenty to do in the water, onshore, or inland. After all that gorging, you’ll definitely want to balance it out with a bit of sport at their idyllic beaches, golf courses of Barwon Heads, diving, and of course the Australian’s favorite pastime, surfing. Australians also love walking so there are plenty of well laid out paths for long calorie-burning walks along spectacular coast paths. You may also want to explore the You Yangs mountains where you’ll see a variety of wildlife such as kangaroos, koala bears, and all types of indigenous vegetation.

The Bellarine Peninsula is a wonderful experience and an excellent side trip from Melbourne. The peninsula offers stunning natural vistas on both sea and shore, as well as, offers an epicurean paradise with wonderful wines and meals curated from local artisanal producers. The Star Haven Retreat is an ideal place from which to explore the region and come back to this sophisticated yet homely abode.