A guide to the Mornington Peninsula: How travellers are seeking out Australia’s hot springs

The travel hotspot near Melbourne has a network of geothermal pools, as well as wineries and boutique hotels to explore, finds Fiona McIntosh

Thursday 21 December 2023 11:57 GMT
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<p>Peninsula Hot Springs is one of several retreats putting the Mornington Peninsula on the international tourist map </p>

Peninsula Hot Springs is one of several retreats putting the Mornington Peninsula on the international tourist map

It was a wet, blustery day on the Mornington Peninsula, but the outdoor geothermal pool we were bobbing around in was a bone-warming 38 degrees. For the next hour we roamed through the gardens of the Alba Thermal Springs, dipping in and out of 30 bubbling mineral pools, ice-cold plunge pools, steam rooms and saunas until we were as pink as piglets. Later we ate crab croquettes inside the vast, concrete temple of wellness where guests silently shuffled around in white bathrobes on their way to one of the 22 treatment rooms for a massage, floral milk bath or cryo-facial.

This is the latest, swankiest addition to the network of eight hot springs retreats and sea baths popping up near Melbourne in Australia’s southern state of Victoria. The discovery of underground geothermal springs, rich with healing minerals, kickstarted a new bathing boom. It will eventually lead to the creation of the Great Victorian Bathing Trail, a 900km route which is set to rival the Colorado Hot Springs in the US, New Zealand’s Thermal Explorer Highway and Switzerland’s Grand Tour Deluxe.

The Alba Thermal Springs & Spa has 30 mineral pools, ice-cold plunge pools, steam rooms and saunas

The Alba Thermal Springs, and the pioneering Peninsula Hot Springs nearby, are already wildly popular with soothe-seeking Melburnians and have helped put the Mornington Peninsula on the international tourist map. An easy 1.5 hour drive from Melbourne, this pocket of lush countryside is surrounded by surf beaches on one side and sailing bays on the other. It is developing a chic, Hamptons-style scene with wineries, farmer’s markets, boutique hotels and now world-class spas with laid-back, eco-friendly vibes. In short, the Mornington Peninsula is like a one-stop holiday hotspot – here’s how to make the most of it.

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What to do

Hot springs

You can’t go to the Mornington Peninsula without booking a session at the hot springs. The biggest and most well-established is the Peninsula Hot Springs, which offers up to 50 different bathing experiences, from hilltop hot tubs to ice caves, saunas, reflexology pools and sprawling pools, all hidden among indigenous trees and shrubs.

There is a huge menu of experiences, starting from £19 for an hour’s bathing. You can stay in one of the luxuriously kitted-out glamping tents for £348, based on two people sharing (including all day and late-night bathing, breakfast, yoga classes and fire and ice rituals). The food is excellent and my grilled barramundi on a huge superfood salad was just what was needed after some virtuous hot and cold-water therapy.

Peninsula Hot Springs boasts hilltop hot tubs, saunas and refloxology pools, all nestled between greenery

The Alba Thermal Springs & Spa has a high-end, high-tech European feel with excellent food and treatments. Day passes start from A$80 per person (£42).

The Aurora Spa & Bathhouse at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sorrento is an ultra-swish bathhouse with an underground network of state-of-the-art mineral pools with massage jets, glacial mist rooms, a Himalayan salt room, cold plunge pools and the southern hemisphere’s largest sauna. From £50 for a 1.5-hour session.

Wineries

There are 200 wineries on the Peninsula, from big-name brands to hipster start-ups and sophisticated boutiques. One of the jewels of the Peninsula is the slick Pt Leo Estate, which has recently had a £24m makeover and includes a sculpture park overlooking the ocean and an excellent restaurant, Laura.

Another big hitter is the award-winning Montalto winery, where you will find sprawling lawns by the vineyards where you can book a picnic of local produce. There’s also a table on the piazza terrace for a casual lunch, or you can tuck into a set menu in the restaurant.

Ten Minutes by Tractor is a boutique winery with a renowned fine-dining restaurant

Boutique winery Ten Minutes by Tractor has a beautifully designed cellar door and offers in-depth tastings. Plus its fine-dining restaurant is one of the most lauded in the area.

And it’s not just about wine – there are also several stylish gin and vodka distilleries. Hot tip: the award-winning Penni Ave Distillery wattleseed and burnt honey vodka is a delicious and uniquely Aussie drop.

Beaches and adventure

Bushrangers Bay in Flinders is among the prettiest beaches Victoria has to offer

Visit some of the prettiest beaches and seaside towns in Victoria, including Portsea with its multi-million-pound holiday homes, and Flinders with its quaint homesteads and wide, calm sandy beach. Catch some waves at Sorrento or Portsea back beaches and kayak, sail, or paddle-board at Safety Beach. Coastal bushwalking is also a big thing here – trek the stunning Two Bays Trail over two days. Or for an action-packed day, book a B Corp-certified eco-adventure with WAM! (Wild Adventures Melbourne).

Delightful ex-pat Brit Nic Cooper can take you bush-walking, paddle-boarding, whale-watching, and swimming in rock pools in a group or as a bespoke trip. Our coastal bush walk (with banging Aussie music in the van on the way there) included a tasty picnic lunch made with local produce from award-winning Torello Farm.

Wild Adventures Melbourne can take you bush-walking in a group or as a bespoke trip

Where to eat

T’Gallant offers a fun lunch with beautiful views across vineyards. It’s a great place to recharge; stop for a spritz at the Sputino Bar or grab a table inside at La Baracca restaurant (or an outdoor seat among the vines) and enjoy simple, Italian food with prices starting from £10 for a pizza.

Buckley is a cute cafe in the chic beachside town of Sorrento that serves a classic Australian brunch and Bloody Mary to boot. A huge plate of cauliflower and halloumi fritters will set you back £13.

Ready for a splurge? Try to book a table at Tedesca in Red Hill which, according to word on the street, is the hottest restaurant in the area. Set on a biodynamic estate, the cosy osteria with a huge open fire and art gallery offers a sublime farm-to-fork experience from celebrated chef Brigitte Hafner. It’s open for lunch only, from Friday to Monday, with a fixed menu from £95.

Where to stay

If you’re ready to splash the cash and can book early enough, Jackalope is the hot ticket on the Peninsula. With all-black aluminium architectural sleekness set in a rolling vineyard, its excellent food, in-house massages and infinity pool hit all the five-star buttons with prices starting from £280 for a double room.

Crittenden Wines is one of the most established and sustainable estates in the area. Its new large, sunlit, accessible self-catering apartments, which can sleep a couple or a family of four, overlook a beautiful private lake on the estate. Prices start from £210 per night and this includes a wine tasting and a bottle of wine.

The Flinders Hotel in the pretty seaside town of the same name offers large, bright, good-value rooms. There’s no pool or gym, but you will find a great pub and a selection of restaurants on your doorstep. Prices start from £123 for a double, B&B.

For more information on planning a trip to the Mornington Peninsula, head to visitmelbourne.com.

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