How to spend 48 hours in Geelong and the Bellarine

The Geelong Bollards are a popular spot for photographs.

The Geelong Bollards are a popular spot for photographs. Photo: Margaret Barca

It may be Victoria’s second biggest city, but that doesn’t mean Geelong is happy to play second fiddle.

A burgeoning food and arts scene combined with an easygoing vibe and a winning location on Corio Bay make it perfect for a relaxing weekend. 

It’s also the gateway to the Bellarine, the picturesque peninsula dotted with small seaside towns, restaurants, cafes, farm gates, wineries and distilleries – adding up to plenty of reasons to visit Geelong and its surrounds.    

What to see and do

It’s easy to be seduced by Geelong’s waterfront – the salty air, the heritage pier, yachts bobbing on Corio Bay.

You can pose with a painted bollard, ride the ferris wheel, enjoy a grassy picnic or a swim at the art deco sea baths.

There are plenty of pit stops for an ice cream, coffee or hot chips – though beware the swooping seagulls. 

Don’t miss the recently opened Geelong Arts Centre. 

A fabulous rippling curtain with a giant tassel – in concrete, mind you – swoops across the facade, and with its towering windows, golden entrance and multiple theatres, it’s a showstopper. 

Geelong Arts Centre

Geelong Arts Centre’s dramatic facade. Photo: John Gollings

The centre, on the traditional land of the Wadawurrung people, reveals a rich vein of storytelling referencing different local Indigenous areas.

Almost 200 vividly coloured panels by Indigenous artist Kait James wrap parts of the building. 

Book for an event (Shakespeare to fringe theatre, rock concerts to ballet), browse at a community market or just pop into Tutti Café for coffee or lunch. 

Where to eat and drink

Amid a number of cafes, bars and restaurants on Little Malop Street, Geelong Cellar Door occupies a corner store with tables spilling onto the footpath. Heritage glass windows, a floor-to-ceiling wall of wines, leather banquettes and bentwood chairs all channel a French flair.  

Geelong Cellar Door

Dine inside or out at Geelong Cellar Door. Photo: Margaret Barca

The focus is on regional wines.

Owner and wine buff Jon Helmer knows his stuff, so ask for his recommendations (we loved the buttery Bennetts Bellarine Chardonnay). French Champagne, King Valley prosecco and local craft beers are other options, while cheese, charcuterie and even vegan platters highlight local produce.

Another of Little Malop Street’s foodie destinations, The Arborist – a contemporary venue built around an ash tree – has a modern menu with a Middle Eastern twist.

There are share plates aplenty – baharat lamb shoulder, chermoula chicken – but I wasn’t sharing my orange blossom cream with spiced honey and nuts with anyone! 

Moody lighting, olive-green banquettes and simple table settings inside, while on the deck, Bertoia-style wire chairs make for a relaxed mood. Best to book – it gets busy. 

The Arborist Geelong

The Arborist’s leafy Geelong setting. Photo: Amy Evans

Up for a nightcap? The Arborist’s Roof Top bar is literally in the treetops.

Head up the stairs to find the bar, with its playful shades of Barbie pink, burgundy and green, sun streaming in by day (it opens at 3pm) and light filtering through the leaves by night. 

The space is smallish, but the drinks list is vast. Cocktails were all the go on our visit. 

Where to stay

Sleek and stylish, Geelong’s newest hotel, the Holiday Inn & Suites, is just the base for exploring the city, or day-tripping to the Bellarine.

The lobby is bright and welcoming, but it’s really all happening on the first level.

Blonde timbers, a palette of soft greens and pinks and comfy seating are perfect for coffee. Later in the day, take up a stool at the bar and order a craft beer or cocktail.

The hotel’s signature restaurant Maestro, also on this level, taps into a beachy vibe with big windows, sandy-pale bricks, cane-backed chairs and designer light fittings. The open kitchen adds a lively buzz.

Restaurateur/celeb chef and cookbook author Adrian Richardson and executive chef Migo Razon are passionate about local, seasonal and sustainable foods and source much of their produce from the Bellarine and Otway regions – Portarlington Mussels, Moorabool duck, free-range venison.

There’s a focus on premium steaks from the grill and ocean-fresh seafood but Razon’s vegetarian and vegan offerings are also a knockout. Their take on European desserts (tiramisù, crème brûlée) is masterly (and moreish).

Guest rooms are modernist with neutral tones, ultra-comfy bedding, coffee machines, and nutrient-rich Soak toiletries. Super-spacious suites come with deep tubs and views across Corio Bay.  And there’s an indoor heated lap pool and fitness centre.

Beyond Geelong

The Bellarine makes a lovely day trip from Geelong. Just 20 minutes or so by car, you can indulge your love of quiet beaches, rolling vineyards, wineries and more. 

Stop for breakfast at Ket Baker’s quirky, slightly off the grid shed–bakery. There’s a little bolthole on the timber deck serving top-notch coffee, but really, it’s all about the small-batch baking. 

Belgian-born, French-trained baker Miek Paulus, turns out sourdough croissants, sugar-crusted morning buns, fruit-laden Danish and racks of “wildly nourishing” bread.

Stock up on artisan jams, chutneys and mustards from the mini providore section, and filled lunch rolls if you’re planning a Bellarine picnic. 

If you prefer lunch at a table, Scotchmans Hill winery’s sun-dappled vines sweep towards Corio Bay and Melbourne’s jagged skyline for a mesmerising view.

Scotchmans is renowned for its premium, cool maritime climate wines – chardonnay, shiraz, pinot noir. Book for a tasting in the cellar door.

Scotchmans Hill Bellarine

The Scotchmans Hill winery is great for dining, inside and out. Photo: Margaret Barca

At the restaurant, sit inside or out. The menu is seasonal, some classic (oysters, the perfect steak), some inventive – think tempura chilli eggplant with saffron aioli, followed by spiced rhubarb with house-made marshmallow, toffee and cream.  

Gin lovers should make a beeline for the Bellarine Distillery’s cellar door, The Whiskery.

A converted farm shed, its wood-burning fire is a hit in the colder months, and if it’s sunny, you can settle on the veranda or landscaped grounds with tables and umbrellas. 

Order a flight of handcrafted gins, such as the cleverly named Teddy & the Fox or Trooper & the Roo, or sample its stellar, limited-edition whiskies. 

Small bites and grazing platters spotlight regionally sourced produce (Ket Baker sourdough, Bellarine Smokehouse fish, Lard Ass cultured butter). Or order pizza. 

Geelong and The Bellarine are on the traditional lands of the Wadawurrung People. Margaret Barca was a guest of Holiday Inn & Suites Geelong, and Tourism Greater Geelong & The Bellarine.

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