By Derek Schlennstedt
Nestled in the leafy green heart of the hills, the Belgrave village buzzes with an energy that’s more akin to an inner-city hotspot than a sleepy hollow.
Located only 40 kilometres from Melbourne, Belgrave boasts a number of natural attractions and a main commercial centre that offers a chain of shops, restaurants, accommodation, boutiques, gift shops and the unique historic Cameo Cinema; all set against the verdant backdrop of the Belgrave forest.
9AM: A walk through the town will delight, with the sounds of Puffing Billy providing echoes of yesteryear. The tempting aroma of coffee from one of the many excellent cafes and eateries is sure to entice visitors off the street and the plethora of great breakfast options make the most of the fresh produce available. Whether it’s home-made bircher muesli, pancakes and strawberries or the big Aussie breakfast with all the trimmings, visitors can get off to a great start.
10AM: What better way to see the verdant paddocks and forests of the Dandenong Ranges than by train? One of the finest preserved steam railways in the world, Puffing Billy runs from Belgrave to Gembrook several times a day. With the main station located in the town centre of Belgrave, visitors can jump on board and visit Lakeside, before returning to Belgrave just in time for lunch. The open-sided carriages are arguably the best way to see the stunning fern gullies of the Dandenongs.
Noon: Just around the corner in Belgrave Heights is Birdsland Reserve. This 75-hectare bushland reserve is best known for its rich bird life and diverse species of native animals, which flourish over the spring months. With a plethora of walking tracks to choose from, bushwalkers are spoilt for choice and can spot the echidnas, wombats and kangaroos that call this reserve home. The most popular walk and one that offers stunning views is also the shortest at just 3 kilometres. This loop is loved by families as it is not too challenging for kids to cycle. Add to this the barbecue facilities provided and it is easy to see why Birdsland is a favourite spot for picnics.
3PM: After a brisk walk or ride, it’s time to head back to town and have a quick browse through some of the charming, bespoke shops before replenishing spent energy and treating the tastebuds with a delicious lunch. A quick walk around the Belgrave township will uncover the unique and colourful street art that adorns many of the vacant walls, and if visitors are in the right place at the right time they might even run into the famous and colourful Belgrave wizard Baba Desi.
6PM: There’s no better way to relax after a busy day of exploring than by sitting down and watching a movie. Imbued with an authentic art deco glamour dating back to the thirties, the Cameo offers a mix of mainstream, blockbuster, world cinema and quality art-house movies for discerning audiences. The permanent screen tally of eight swells by one over the warmer months with cult classic and first-release films on show at the picturesque Cameo Outdoor Cinema.