By Eleanor Scott
September 3, 2020 | 4 minute read
Just an hour out of Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges have long been a favourite place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. But what you might not know is that there’s a lot more to this area than tall trees and scones with jam & cream. From phenomenal cafes that double as community hubs to thought-provoking art galleries and traditional Japanese hot springs, after a day exploring Mount Dandenong you might find yourself thinking seriously about a permanent move!
* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.
Stop at the Burrinja Cultural Centre
Having won Victoria’s Best Small Museum Award in 2010, 2013 and 2017, it’s clear that the Burrinja Cultural Centre is well worth a visit. Set in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, the centre is the artistic focal point for the region and has a stunning 400-seat theatre, a wonderful displa of Indigenous and oceanic artworks from the Yarra Ranges Council's McLeod Gift Collection, several incredible gardens and a seemingly endless program of live music, activities and workshops including weekend mosaic workshops and one-off drama classes.
Coffee & cake at the Proserpina Bakehouse
Set along the main strip in Sassafras, Proserpina Bakehouse is the perfect place to start your day in the Dandenong Ranges. With high ceilings, quaint wooden furnishings and super friendly staff, the bright and airy space feels like it could easily hold its own against similar spots in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
All the mouth-watering pastries and baked goods are made on site thanks to their very own flour mill, plus there’s also a lovely community garden, a stall for the local flower growers to sell their wares and a colourful shipping container that houses Loam – a trendy gift shop that also includes a small nursery space. Make sure to snag a spot in the courtyard if the sun’s out.
Lawns bowls & lunch at Burnham Beeches
Burnham Beeches has lived many lives. Designed by architect Harry Norris, the charming old mansion has been the private home of entrepreneur Alfred Nicolas, a children’s hospital, an upmarket hotel, a country club and a research facility – but its current iteration will hopefully be its last.
Owned by renowned chef Shannon Bennett and developer Adam Garrison, the 23-acre site is now home to a mill turned microbrewery and bar, a 500-tree trufferie, an emu enclosure, a veggie garden and the top-notch Piggery Cafe. The latter, as you might have guessed, was once a pigsty, but you can’t tell that now. The industrial-chic exposed concrete walls and fresh farm-to-table fare are the ultimate combination for a delicious and aesthetically pleasing lunch. The best part? The sprawling estate also has lawn bowls, croquet and bocce on the menu.
Relax at the Japanese Mountain Retreat hot springs
If you've got time to include a treat - Japanese Mountain Retreat is it! Surrounded by five acres of landscaped gardens, this quiet and secluded spa offers traditional Japanese indoor and outdoor mineral baths that are completely private. After you’ve finished soaking away all your troubles, you can also indulge in a detoxifying steam in one of their beautiful mosaic-covered hammams or even enjoy a rose facial and a full body massage.
Movies at the arthouse Cameo Cinemas
Victoria is no stranger to bewitching picture-houses, but Cameo Cinemas in Belgrave is definitely one of the best. Built in 1935 and formally known as the Cameo Theatre and the Cameo Triple, it now has eight screens in total – although the prettiest is set in the original 1930s auditorium and has a curved screen with heavy gold drapes. There’s also a fantastic outdoor cinema located at the rear of the building with brightly coloured lawn chairs, so a warm summer’s night is a great time to visit.
Drinks and tapas at Sooki Lounge
Great bars aren't always easy to come by in the Dandenong Ranges but Sooki Lounge exceeds expectations. The atmosphere is always lively, the locals are friendly and the live music will have you on your feet for at least one dance before you leave. The kitchen serves up your standard pub classics, as well as some unexpected dishes like spicy Korean glass noodles and vegan nachos. However, for something truly tasty you need to order some of their tapas. The smokey eggplant croquettes and house made gyoza with wombok and shiitake mushrooms are to die for.
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