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Early on Monday afternoon, several fires burn near Toolangi. Seen from across Yarra Valley above Yarra Glen

Early on Monday afternoon, several fires burn near Toolangi. Seen from across Yarra Valley above Yarra Glen

A typical scene on the ravaged hills. Remarkably, the house behind was saved with only superficial damage

A typical scene on the ravaged hills. Remarkably, the house behind was saved with only superficial damage

Although no flames penetrated this tin shed, the bike inside melted from the intense heat

Although no flames penetrated this tin shed, the bike inside melted from the intense heat

Rob Fries surveys the damage, thankful the house he only finished building 12 months ago is still standing. He lives at the end of a valley to the south of Kinglake National Park that a fire front tore through, ripping up to his house with a deafening roar

Rob Fries surveys the damage, thankful the house he only finished building 12 months ago is still standing. He lives at the end of a valley to the south of Kinglake National Park that a fire front tore through, ripping up to his house with a deafening roar

Angie MacMillan surveys the wreckage outside her home. With husband Greg, she took shelter in the room to the left but was forced to flee into a basement when flames from the collapsed shed adjacent to it began flicking through the door frame

Angie MacMillan surveys the wreckage outside her home. With husband Greg, she took shelter in the room to the left but was forced to flee into a basement when flames from the collapsed shed adjacent to it began flicking through the door frame

The two-tone sky just before sundown. The horizon - over Melbourne - is clear, the sky above the fire-ravaged areas thick with smoke for hundreds of kilometres

The two-tone sky just before sundown. The horizon - over Melbourne - is clear, the sky above the fire-ravaged areas thick with smoke for hundreds of kilometres

What Bruce had to say about it here.

What he wrote about it here.

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Feeling just vine

Call it luck, but I can’t imagine Bruce and Fran could have picked a better time to cruise into the Yarra Valley. With Autumn finally setting it, the vines may have been yellowing and threadbare, but were more than compensated for by the glorious shades of red, orange and yellow that were swarming over the tree-covered hill sides.

Pulling up outside their apartment in Healesville (thanks to a welcome tip off from Sam in the Prince Wine Shop, off Fitzroy Street. He’s a lovely man), it was remarkable to think this was little more than an hour from central Melbourne, well, if you can resist the urge to stop for a mid-afternoon Hungry Jacks en route – Fran couldn’t. What was as remarkable was that it turned so lovely so soon after the outer suburban horrors of places like Ringwood – Home of the Hoon TM.

Healesville itself is no real charmer; its setting is all, cradled in the arms of a valley and populated by hundreds of noisy cockatoos and galahs. It is home to a number of delights, however, from the Healesville Hotel (which had the one off Coopers Vintage Ale on tap – 7% alcohol and a meal in itself) with its log fire lounges and top class restaurant, to the delis lining the main street and its own winery – Giant Steps – just before the road leaves town for Marysville.

Should have cleaned the glass first, perhaps...

Wine tasting

Sadly, expecting Bruce or Fran to hold off the booze for a day’s wine-tasting is like expecting Hillary Clinton to stop being a poisonous, lying cow – you can’t teach these old dogs new tricks – so $90pp had to be handed over to Yarra Valley Winery Tours for the pleasure of being driven around for the day. Five wineries were included: Boat O’Craigo, where Bruce was surprised by his love o’Chardonnay; some full-flavoured reds at Riverstone; lunch and a blistering family argument between some of the fellow day-trippers at Domain Chandon; the discovery that Viognier is a white grape and tastes like peach juice at Punt Road (they’re such amateurs… (Bruce and Fran, that is, not the guys at Punt Road)); two wonderful $75 reserves – Pinot Noir and Shiraz Viognier – at Yering Station thanks to an earlier visit by a renowned wine writer. By the time they staggered back from Giant Steps to the apartment (armed with a 2001 Shiraz and a fortified vintage red), Fran was in need of a three-hour pre-dinner kip.

Bruce is not one for advertising (the unstoppable curse of modern media), but the Healesville Apartments, where they stayed deserve a glowing mention. The Treetops apartment, for just $140 a night, contained a king sized bed under Japanese style decor, comfortable lounge and outdoor balcony with great views of the surrounding hills, dining room set up for two, well-equipped kitchen, spa bath for two and matching his and hers robes. Oh, and great fresh bread and locally made preserve and granola for brekkie.

Fran post-wine slumber

They’re sweets, not “lollies”

The following day took in the spectacular drive to Marysville, through awe-inspiring corridors of towering trees and dozens of scurrying lyrebirds (like scuzzy peacocks). What Healesville lacks in beauty as a town, Marysville makes up for, reminiscent of the New England havens scattered around Vermont and New Hampshire. A smattering of waterfalls, forest walks, an incredible sculpture garden and an old school sweet shop (OK, lolly shop), where Bruce learnt that Victorian health and safety rules prevent Aunty Val from mixing two types of sweet in one bag. Government weirdos. And for a real drive into the wilderness, you can head practically offroad to Yarra Glen from just west of Marysville, but expect a bumpy ride (we didn’t).

Bruce and Fran have 21 more Victorian wine regions to check out yet, but will be back in the Yarra Valley soon enough. The only way it could have been better was if we’d had a teetotaller or obedient Muslim with a driver’s licence along for the ride.

American Beauty, but with winter clothes

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