Winter Wonderland: Your Guide To Victorian Cool This Chilly Season

23/05/2016 3:43 PM AEST | Updated 25/08/2016 10:45 AM AEST
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Crackling open fires, thick wool throws and red-wine-and-cheese-plates for dinner. While it's very tempting to hunker down in winter, fact is, you're not a bear and this is no time to hibernate.

This chilly season regional Victoria will once again become a living, breathing showcase for all that's great about the cooler months, playing host to a string of festivals, events and activities, many of which are now firmly stitched into the social calendar.

If the sea and beaches have the monopoly on summer, then these jamborees own the copyright on the winter moment. All that's standing between you and a good time is a warm coat.

JUNE

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Friends enjoy wine tasting together

At the Winter Wine Weekend (11-13 June), it won't matter if Mother Nature fixes the Mornington Peninsula with one of her cold stares: the annual tasting extravaganza takes place under cover, with more than 50 wineries parading 200 premium wines at the Red Hill Showgrounds. Wine seminars and tutored tastings will be hosted across the Queen's Birthday weekend, focusing on the grapes that rule the regional terroir: cool whites, pinot noir and shiraz. Selected vignerons (that's winemakers to you and me) will also open their cellar doors to the public. Meanwhile, a weekend in Woodend for the Woodend Winter Arts Festival (10-13 June) offers piano recitals, pottery exhibitions and musings on the politics of power -- as well as being set in the magnificent surrounds of the Macedon Ranges.

A distinctly more Italian flavour pervades the cool High Country air at the Weekend Fit For A King (12-13 June) wine festival, staged in the King Valley. The valley's fertile soils lured families of European winemakers after World War II, and visitors can taste this legacy first-hand as Italian-heritage wineries, including Dal Zatto, La Cantina and Politini, extol the virtues of exotic, less-celebrated grapes such as Barbera, Saperavi and Vermentino. Local Italian food menus provide the perfect foil.

Doug Menuez
A group of children enjoy face painting.

While kids might not be the ideal accompaniment to wine-soaked weekends, they're guaranteed to be centre of attention at the Fun 4 Kids Festival (June 26-July 2). Held in Warrnambool, the week-long whirlwind of arts classes, sports, music, live performances and more showcase 17 'zones' in one location, giving the event a theme-park feel. And since little ones from age two to 12 are catered for, you can consider one of those huge school-holiday gaps now plugged.

JULY

Greg Elms
Echuca, Victoria, Australia.

There's something about the Murray River and its steam paddleboats and slow, timeless ambience that seems like a perfect fit with the Winter Blues Festival (29-31 July), set in historic Echuca Moama. The action orbits around the town's heritage precinct, the Port of Echuca, where more than 40 artists in 20 venues will strum bass guitars, pour their souls into microphones and caress harmonicas like only real blues disciples know how.

Really, though, the vibey town is a joy to visit at any time during the winter, where days are clear and mild, and night skies are a riot of stars. For those seduced by the Murray's meandering flow, a number of companies offer luxurious houseboats.


AUGUST

Falls Creek Sled Dog Classic

While the Murray's water vistas are quintessentially Australian, in August, you can -- for two nights at least -- get a taste of a winter sport more commonly seen in the likes of Russia, Canada and North America.

The Falls Creek Sled Dog Classic (5-6 Aug) gives teams of Siberian and Alaskan Huskies, as Alaskan Malamutes and Eurohounds -- and their human mushers, of course -- the opportunity to battle it out over two evenings of races that follow a 5km route through the darkness of Falls Creek Village.

While snow may be in abundance during Victorian winters, the Falls Creek Sled Dog Classic is the only spot in Australia where you can encounter such a race in a village environment. That means getting rugged up (mulled wine optional!) to watch more than 40 teams of excitable dogs and mushers -- hailing from all across Australia and New Zealand -- compete in 2 dog, 4 dog and 6 dog categories. There are cash prizes, so expect it to get very competitive.

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Contestants in Kangaroo Hoppet cross-country ski race.

There's definitely something Scandinavian in the water during August. The Kangaroo Hoppet (27th) is the country's premier long-distance cross-country ski race – an event in which those Nordics collect medals for fun every Winter Olympics. The course begins in Australian skiing's unofficial HQ, Falls Creek, before winding 42 alpine kilometres. (Yes, that's full marathon length...on two fibreglass toothpicks!)

Entry forms are already available online, but if you're just a regular, run-of-the-mill powder fiend, then Falls Creek has enough ski-runs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to keep you occupied... until the spring sun's warm fingers eventually peak over the horizon, calling time on another epic Victorian winter. And while winter is undeniably the right time to hit the slopes, there's always time at the end of the night to curl up with a glass of red and a good read. Get inspiration from The Bendigo Writer's Festival (12-14 August)-- which this year is welcoming none other than Cheryl Strayed, author of bestselling novel -- and Hollywood movie -- Wild.

Discover the winter wonder. Wander Victoria.

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