Head to the Artisan Hills for a feast of arts, culture, nature and fine food in semi-rural neighbourhoods that feel a world away from city life.
You’d never guess that Nillumbik was just a 20-minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD. Life moves at a different pace here; the suburbs have a village vibe and brim with artists and creative types inspired by the lush landscape. The suburbs here — from Heidelberg to Diamond Creek — form what is known as the Artisan Hills, a region where artists have played an important part in day-to-day life since early European settlement.
The Heidelberg School, an art movement of the late nineteenth century, was a unique Australian expression of impressionism. It described painters, like Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, who created in the great outdoors (or en plein air). Today, their works, many of which are in the collections of major institutions, are considered part of Australia’s cultural heritage. The Heidelberg School Artists Trail is a self-guided 40km tour through Nillumbik and surrounding areas. Its 57 explanatory signs show reproductions and explanations of some of the most famous paintings in the locations (or near them) where the artwork was born.
Another significant artistic landmark is Montsalvat, the oldest artists’ colony in Australia and a beautiful property to explore. Ceramicists, luthiers, painters and other art practitioners still live and work here, and you can visit them in their studios.
Exploring parks and gardens is one of the most relaxing ways to experience Nillumbik. On the highest point of the Artisan Hills, you’ll find Kangaroo Ground War Memorial and the Tower of Remembrance. Stroll through the park and to the hill’s peak and you’ll have uninterrupted views of Melbourne, the north eastern suburbs and the Dandenong and Kinglake Ranges. Picnic at Sugarloaf Reservoir in Christmas Hills, discover the Diamond Valley Miniature Railway in Eltham Lower Park, and hike through thick bush on the 340m Gawa Wurundjeri Resource Trail, where signage explains how the Indigenous people once used this land.
Even though it’s considered a suburban part of greater Melbourne, there are still many producers and farmers in the area. The Edendale Community Environment Farm in Eltham is one that’s open to the public. Here, you can find out about sustainable land practices, buy a few additions for your garden at the indigenous plant nursery or visit with the chickens, goats and other farm animals who live here.
Perhaps the most surprising attribute of Nillumbik is a slew of local wineries taking advantage of the volcanic hills to grow fruit for pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz. Some, like Kings of Kangaroo Ground and Lovegrove Vineyard and Winery, have cellar doors open each weekend; others will let you pop in for a tasting by appointment. Twice a year, in June and October, the Open Cellars of the Artisan Hills event sees progressive tastings at many of the wineries during an entire weekend.
Of course, each suburb within the City of Nillumbik has interesting and unique shopping precincts, lined with independent stores, cafes and restaurants. Spend a few hours getting to know them, and you may never want to leave.