Located around an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the beautiful Yarra Valley is peppered with cute-as-pie country towns, microbreweries and more than 50 wineries.

Located around an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Victoria’s beautiful Yarra Valley is a flat, sprawling region peppered with more than 50 wineries, cute-as-pie country towns, markets and even microbreweries.

It is possible to see most of its sights in a day trip but you should consider staying a day or two if you have time to spare. Make sure you check the opening days of places you are visiting – since the Valley gets most of its visitors over the weekend, some are shut on Monday and/or Tuesday.

Choosing a winery
Probably the most-visited of all the wineries, De Bortoli, has more than 240 hectares of vineyards. Their wines include cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot grigio, but the real highlight is the Richard Thomas cheese room – named after the onsite award-winning cheesemaker who will serve you cheese, tell you everything you want to know and then serve you more cheese.

The Moët group from France has a sister property in the Yarra called Domaine Chandon, which has a line of delicious and reasonably priced still and sparkling wines. (And no, they cannot call it Champagne.)

Another biggie to check out is Rochford Wines, with their renowned A Day on the Green series of concerts. Big names like Jamie Cullum, Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Simply Red have graced the grounds in previous years.

 The Yering Station winery is home to the excellent Yarra Valley farmers’ market, held on the third Sunday of each month. Pick up organic vegetables and meat, homemade pies, cheese, coffee, sinful sweets and organic olives, all made by small producers. Their restaurant is an elegant steel and glass structure set against a backdrop of lush vineyards.

For the more seasoned wine taster, Yarra Yering is all about the wine. Established in 1969 by Dr Carrodus, one of the great modern day wine pioneers of the Yarra Valley, Yarra Yering is one place they do not tell you about in the tourist brochures. The Dry Red No 1, 2 and 3 are the pick of the lot – and they sell out quickly. The cellar door only remains open if there is still wine for sale, so check before you go.

You could be forgiven if you are confused by the number of wineries with “Yering” in their name – Yering is the name of a nearby town and home to one of Australia’s first wineries – but Yeringberg is not one you should quickly forget. Its cellar doors are officially open only once a year in May on release of their wines. Top pick is the Yeringberg, a cabernet sauvignon blend with merlot, cabernet franc and some malbec. This winery is open by appointment only at other times, so ring ahead.

The craft beer scene
The Melburnian fascination with craft beers has exploded in recent years, and there are now several microbreweries in the area if wine is not your thing.

Opened in 2007, the Coldstream Brewery and its attached restaurant are set in an attractive standalone brick building. Order a pizza and pair it with one of the many Coldstream brews. Choose from the bitter, special bitter, pilsner, cider, ale and the seasonal summer ale, chocolate winter ale, spring lager and autumn porter.

While the other breweries serve up local-style ales, Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company takes you around the world with their selection of Hefeweizen, Kellerbier, Abbey Dubel, stout, pale ale and special bitter, all brewed on-site. Can’t decide? Do a tasting of all six beers for seven Australian dollars.

 Things are kept simple at the White Rabbit Brewery: dark ale or white ale. Grab a sausage roll from the Beechworth Bakery next door and pop over for a brew or two. Beers on tap are seven Australian dollars but their “stubbies” (bottles) are a bargain at only 3.50 Australian dollars a pop.

Exploring the country towns
If you are the designated driver, there are plenty of other things to occupy your time while your mates get merry.

Make sure you stop by the town of Healesville. It is a friendly “awww shucks” kind of place – wire baskets filled with local produce spill on the pavement outside shops, and locals seem to have permanent smiles on their faces. Look out for Kennedy and Wilson Chocolates: their range of the sweet stuff will make you abandon any diet. Their barista serves Toby’s Estate coffee, by far the best in the area.

Located at the end of the town, the massive complex of Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander is part winery, part coffee shop, part restaurant - and it sure is popular. Expect to wait up to two hours for a table on weekends. Wood-fired pizzas keep the punters happy, and White Rabbit ale and Giant Steps wine add to the merriment.

Head straight to the TarraWarra Museum of Art before visiting its winery. This not-for-profit gallery has a revolving collection of Australian art as well as special exhibitions, such as the Archibald Prize 2012, and concerts in the grounds.

The article 'An insider’s guide to Australia’s Yarra Valley region' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.