Love wine almost as much as you love each other? Get a kick out of wildlife? Enjoy being outside? Appreciate art and design? Savor gorgeous food? If the answer to any of these questions is a resounding ‘yes,’ then Melbourne might just be your magic honeymoon match. Then there’s Qantas’ new Dreamliner (with direct routes between Melbourne and LA, and later in 2018, to SF as well), a 787 whose comfy seats and larger windows are not only the most pleasant way to start your romantic getaway, but whose better air quality actually reduces jet lag. The capital city of Victoria in Australia makes a strong case for itself—even against perhaps more conventional couple-y destinations such as Sydney or the Great Barrier Reef—when you add up all the many ways in which it and its surroundings excel.
For one, there’s the up-and-coming Mornington Peninsula, which is as compelling a place, if not more so, than California’s wine country. The peninsula a short drive from the city is teeming with attractive wineries—Ten Minutes by Tractor and Ocean Eight, among others—alongside pick-your-own fruit farms, galleries, beautiful vistas, golf and beaches (surfing and snorkeling with almost mythical Weedy Seadragons, too). It’s also home to Peninsula Hot Springs, a perfect place to spend a full day post-wedding, kicking any last stress to the curb from the warm embrace of dozens of geothermal mineral pools and the pampering bliss of couple’s spa treatments in private pavilions. (Another sexy option is the Clay Ridge Experience, in which you paint each other with healing clay sourced from all over the country.)
Then there’s Jackalope, a new art-filled boutique hotel that melds high design with vineyards and imaginative—and fantastic—food at the restaurant Doot Doot Doot. Deep Japanese-style soaking tubs are the place to be post-dinner (they’ll fill them for you if you ask during your fourth course), while the infinity pool and Geode-cum-spa beside it are hot spots by day. Not too far from there Pt. Leo Estate provides aesthetes with an expansive sculpture garden overlooking the coastline alongside impeccable and incredibly vibrant dishes and vinos. You could easily spend three days just on the peninsula.
If more wine is what you’re after, Yarra Valley—one of Australia’s most famed grape-growing regions with 100-plus establishments—is a good answer. Again, it can be done in a day, but is better given a couple, if only to enjoy all its offerings in a lush and laid-back manner. Healesville is a hub—like St. Helena is to Napa—where vino meets other creative edible endeavors (like the Four Pillars Gin tasting room, Yarra Valley Dairy for cheese, and beloved Beachworth Bakery), and the Healesville Sanctuary gives couples the opportunity to get up close with koalas, kangaroos (including surprisingly adorable tree kangaroos), wallabies and dingos. Coombe, the cellar door, restaurant and former home of local icon Dame Nellie Melba, an afternoon can be spent in a bucolic setting sipping and tasting bites like the famed dish made for the opera singer, Peach Melba. Other renowned vineyards like Yearing Station have a history—it was first planted in 1838—as well as honeymoon-ready experiences, such as a “wine and fly” helicopter tour from Melbourne, including a three-course paired tasting menu—if you don’t have time for the hour drive.
Phillip Island is yet another favorite day trip from Melbourne proper, and is especially attractive to animal lovers with affection for the marine sort. The small island facing Mornington Peninsula is a low-key, bucolic place where you can expect locally made chocolate, great fish and chips and charming B&Bs such as the magical Clifftop Boutique Accommodation, perched over the surfing beach of Smiths, and quaint renovated Oak Tree Lodge in Rhyll township. Tasty, down-to-earth dining options include Goat in the Boat for Greek, Sherwoods for local paddock-to-plate style cuisine, and Madcowes for a classic Aussie brekkie, though Cape Kitchen—with its outstanding and beautifully plated dishes—is worth the trip alone. But the wildlife is why most people come. Boat tours to admire the fur seals are fun, coastal hikes overlooking the turquoise water are beautiful, but it’s the petite so-called little penguins that steal the most hearts. Every night at sunset hundreds or even thousands waddle up on to the beach and into their burrows in the “penguin parade” where photos are not allowed, forcing you to truly be in the moment for the absolutely adorable spectacle.
Of course, a Melbourne honeymoon itinerary can’t skip Melbourne itself. (And road trip fans should leave time for a scenic Great Ocean Road trip.) The best, most efficient and enlightening way to get a handle on the city is with a curated several-hour Walk Melbourne tour, which may take you through vivid art-filled laneways, to the city’s best coffee or dumplings spots, rooftop bars, or past historical landmarks—it’s also possible to book a customized private tour for just you two. Station yourselves at the luxe and stately Park Hyatt, or the newish QT Melbourne (with envelope pushing design, top-notch food, a lively rooftop scene and luscious beds and baths), both in easy walking distance from mouthwatering restaurants. (The latter can also organize a laneway art tour with a local artist.) Because there’s not just a lot to see in Melbourne, there’s a lot to eat, too. Cumulus—one of the city’s most reliably excellent meals featuring favorites like haloumi with honey and fennel and melt-in-your-mouth lamb—can’t be missed, and for brunch there are stellar go-tos including Higher Ground and Auction Rooms. Taxi Kitchen is a classic choice with pretty plates, while new entries on the scene include Long Song and the Vietnamese-inflected Annam. Tipo 00 makes a great Italian-style date night (or go old-school with Cecconi’s), while Entrecote, a French steakhouse in a 19th century terrace house, makes for a romantic evening, too.
And even after you’ve reached your limits with the cuisine, there’s lots to drink. Supafish is the newest cocktail-slinging destination to hit the Yarra River (you’ll recognize it as the only giant fish on the water), and is well worth a stop for Mexican snacks and a margarita or espresso martini (in true Aussie fashion), along with the hot spot Ponyfish Island, built around a bridge pylon) down the way. For a more intimate, quiet nightcap, try Arlequin—a dimly lit late-night bar where bartenders with an encyclopedic knowledge of local artisanal booze blend of original libations and reimagined old standards—or the tiny Bar Americano, serving classic cocktails only to a crowd of no more than 12 at a time. Really, it’s impossible to go wrong.