Vintage Australia: Yarra Valley
You don't have to like wine to enjoy this region northeast of Melbourne (but it helps). Just check in to one of these friendly retreats and drop out in style.
Mount Rael Retreat
Each of the five suites at Mount Rael Retreat has its own subtle style. There's the Shecky, with somber furnishings offset by a fuzzy purple rug and African tribal art; the Louie, a springy bungalow painted in a palette of greens; the Tzar, modeled on a 1950s smoking lounge; the Tane, the largest room but with the fewest high-design toys; and the Sharman, where the views are dazzling and the sparkling wine is part of the deal. The vintage furnishings and objets d'art were part of co-owner Sean Lee's personal collection. "Pretty much all we had to do was buy five beds," he says, explaining how he and his partners transformed what had been a mountaintop lodge with peeling paint and lace curtains into quite possibly the most impressive design feat in the valley. Regulars flip through back issues of Wallpaper while waiting for tables at on-site Restaurant 3777, where dinner might include a tart of locally grown zucchini flowers, crispy-skinned duck breast with a sweet-potato-and-orange raviolo, and, for dessert, a marquise made with chocolate from Kennedy & Wilson in the nearby town of Coldstream. Outside, the restaurant's terrace takes in 180-degree views of Mount Riddell, Mount Donna Buang, and the Great Dividing Range. 140 Healesville-Yarra Glen Rd., 011-61/3-5962-1977, mtrael.com.au, $173-$302, with continental breakfast (discounts sometimes available midweek).
The vineyard at Outlook Hill is dotted with a trio of midnight-blue wooden cottages, as well as a rustic building that houses a tasting room and restaurant. Two of the cottages (which can sleep up to four) are outfitted with kitchens stocked for breakfast and snacks, spa-quality bathrooms, potbelly stoves for warming up in winter, and retractable doors that open onto an expansive deck. The third is the same size but set up for just one couple, making it a contender for the world's biggest hotel suite. There are two chocolate-brown couches with embroidered blue and beige throw pillows, a kitchen with a 10-foot counter, a wooden dining table fit for a dinner party, and a bedroom closed off by French doors. Owners Lydia Snow (a marketing consultant) and her husband, Peter (a former accountant), have brought in two strong personalities to run Cru Restaurant: Gil Spence (a veteran of the Conran Group in London) manages, while Leonard Kusnezow (known throughout the valley for inventive dishes like duck-and-porcini agnolotti) cooks. The narrow dirt road to the vineyard can't accommodate large tour buses, which is appreciated by discerning locals, who favor Outlook Hill when they need a break from the crowds. 97 School Ln., 011-61/3-5962-2890, outlookhill.com.au, $190 weekdays ($173 per night for two or more nights), $224 weekends (two-night minimum on weekends).
Ainsworth Estate Winery
The best days to visit Ainsworth Estate, a working vineyard and inn, are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when there are no wine-touring groups and even owners Kerri and Denis Craig take off, giving guests the run of the place. On working days, the Craigs pour samples of their unoaked chardonnay and Shiraz, which you can supplement with antipasto platters or even a full meal at the restaurant, which is open for lunch Thursday through Monday and for dinner on Saturdays. The three adjacent apartments (laid out as duplexes, each with an elevated sleeping area and a lounge below) are aligned in such a way that if your neighbors wanted to invade your privacy, they'd really have to work at it. Amenities at Ainsworth Estate Winery are generic but reliable: a television with a VCR in front of a plush purple couch, and a fully equipped kitchen with breakfast provisions in the fridge; the Yarra Suite also has a hot tub for two. There are so many windows that you could take in the unobstructed vineyard view from the bed. Wander through the grapevines and you'll meet the ducks and frogs that jump in and out of the irrigation reservoir. This patch of rural terrain off the Warburton Highway is home to a cluster of other family-owned wineries; if you only have time for two, make a beeline for Seville Hill and Five Oaks. 110 Ducks Ln., 011-61/3-5964-4711, ainsworth-estate.com.au, $164-$173 midweek, $195-$213 weekends (two-night minimum on weekends).
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