Its most famous landmark is an artists’ community, but there’s a lot more to discover in this lush, leafy suburb.
Back in the 1930s a group of artists created a place to work and live in a serene green landscape. They built more than a dozen buildings using rammed earth and mud bricks, many of them in a grand, medieval style, and established beautiful gardens on the five-hectare site. Today, Montsalvat is Australia’s longest running artists’ community, and many craftspeople and practitioners — painters, glass blowers, ceramicists and more — still reside and work on the site. That doesn’t mean it’s off limits to visitors. Head here and wander among the buildings, many of them now used to host exhibitions, functions and workshops, and enjoy the historic gardens. There’s the [email protected] store, featuring products created on the property, and a lovely garden cafe, called the Boulevard, where you can relax during a light lunch or something more substantial.
While Montsalvat is the best-known attraction in this part of the Artisan Hills, there’s much more to discover. Housed in an old bike shop is Zen Den, with its distressed brick walls and sunny garden. The dishes, whether you’re perusing the all-day breakfast or lunch menus, all have a puntastic name: the Shroom Raider is balsamic roasted mushrooms with poached eggs, potato gratin and goats curd, while the Cluck Norris is a salad of ginger and cumin chicken, kale, tabbouleh, pomegranate and cucumber.
Feeling suitably fuelled? Head to Eltham Lower Park, where you’ll find the Diamond Valley Railway (Sundays and public holidays only). This miniature railroad carries passengers around a bushland track using steam, diesel/petrol and electric engines that are about a sixth as big as their full-sized counterparts. When the railroad is running, the park is in full swing, with sausage sizzles, ice-cream trucks and coffee vans keeping everyone satisfied.
Indulge in a little retail therapy at Run to the River, a women’s fashion and accessories store that stocks a wealth of local labels, including Elk, Nancy Bird and Poppies for Grace among many others. Readers will love Eltham Bookshop, a welcoming space with shelves packed from floor to ceiling with a huge variety of tomes in every genre. There’s also a space behind the store that’s used for events, from author readings to wine tastings.
There’s a fantastic neighbourhood vibe at Machan Indian Restaurant, where service is as important as producing delicious dishes. There are plenty of favourites, including butter chicken and lamb rogan josh, but let the wait staff know if you’re a vegan or have dietary requirements and they’ll come up with something to suit.
If you love cured meats and small-batch beers, Prosciutto Bros Craft Bar is the place for you. There’s plenty of seating — a spot at the brick bar is much sought after — 20 beers on tap and many more in the fridge. The food has an Italian bent, with charcuterie boards, antipasti and wood-fired pizzas. And while Prosciutto Bros is run by brewers from Kooinda and Sideshow, another Eltham gem, Little Drop of Poison, is a bar run by chefs. Behind the mid-century shopfront, you’ll find a concise but knowledgeable selection of craft beer and Australian wines and a bar menu that changes every couple of weeks.