Eildon is famous for its water sports and trout fishing. By Paul Edwards.

WHY GO NOW?

Soon the B&Bs, caravan parks, motels and houseboats will be bursting at the seams, but with spring just around the corner, accommodation bargains can be hunted out, little towns are quiet but fully operative and you can echo Michael Caton's sentiments in The Castle by asking: "How's the serenity?"

WHERE IS IT?

Follow the Maroondah Highway through Lilydale and Healesville, over the Black Spur, under the broad flank of the Cathedral Range, cross the Rubicon and you're almost there. Its about 140 kilometres from Melbourne, but it's no superhighway - allow two hours.

ROUND AND ABOUT

There are some lovely little settlements up this way. Alexandra, originally known as Red Gate back in the gold-rush days, is the largest and has an interesting main street with several good delis and restaurants. Taggerty and Acheron are shaded by mountain ranges, with wonderful trout streams ready for the angler from September 1. Thornton has the Snobs Creek trout hatchery and spectacular views of the Torbreck Range.

Eildon itself has a neat little shopping centre and services the thriving holiday scene around our largest man-made lake. All around is the Lake Eildon National Park, a fairyland of forest and water with abundant wildlife. Bonnie Doon, Maindample and Yarck are all close by and all have points of interest.

WHAT'S HERE?

This is a hugely popular area for outdoor pursuits - bushwalking, climbing, fishing, water sports and horse riding - but you can have a wonderful weekend without working up a sweat. There are some excellent wineries, there's a fascinating freshwater aquarium, mini-golf and several little museums and craft markets, notably at Alexandra, on the third Sunday every month. The trout season opens on September 1, and the Upper Goulburn Winegrowers' Wine Expo is on August 20 in Alexandra, with 80 wines on display and gourmet local food and produce.

I'M HUNGRY

Meikles Cafe, Alexandra (5772 2122) is a great spot for lunch or dinner in the heart of town. The Mount Pleasant Hotel in Alexandra (5772 1083) has a well-regarded lunch and dinner menu, fusing pub favourites with gourmet and local delicacies. Taste of Eildon (5774 2642) is a quaint cafe open for lunch and dinner. There's also a produce store and gift shop. Vicki & Albert's Cafe (5774 2865) offers outdoor dining close to many accommodation properties.

Stonelea Country Estate at Acheron (www.stonelea.com.au) is a Victorian tourism award-winning venue, with licensed restaurant, bar and luxury accommodation. The Yarck Hotel (5773 4226) is a cute little country pub with a fine beer garden. The Golden Trout hotel-motel in Eildon (5774 2508) is on the north bank of Eildon Pondage and less than a kilometre from the lake. The bistro is open for lunch and dinner. Eildon Waters in Thornton (5773 2211) has 24 hectares of Goulburn River frontage, with a large restaurant, tennis courts, playground and BBQ.

I'M TIRED

The Old Convent B&B in Alexandra (5772 3220) is a 100-year-old Victorian building in the heart of town. Craftsman-built furniture is modrelled from the original veranda and altar boards.

Athlone Country Cottages of Alexandra (www.athlonecountrycottages.com.au) is a luxurious rural retreat, with three cottages and a well-stocked dam for fly fishing. Alexandra Redgate Motel (www.alexandraredgatemotel.com.au) is a comfortable motel 500 metres from the shopping centre and eateries. Rudawe Lodge B&B at Taylor Bay (www.cute.com.au/rudawe/) is a waterfront holiday home, with 18 beds and a private jetty. For something really different, consider the "boatels" (www.jerusalemcreekmarina.com.au), self- contained floating log cabins on the lake, each accommodating up to six people. Yarrolyn Holiday Park, Taggerty (www.yarrolynholidaypark.com.au) has ensuite cabins, powered and non-powered shaded sites. Eildon Lake Motel is a family-oriented motel (5774 2800). Blue Gums Caravan Park (www.bluegums.com.au) is on the Goulburn River and is ideally placed for access to fishing, kayaking, canoeing and rafting.

SEE, DO

Australian Adventure Experience (www.ausadventures.com) boasts mild to wild adventures: rafting, canoeing, climbing, abseiling, skiing, mountain-bike riding and bushwalking. Ashton's mini-golf range and cafe (5774 2487) blends an entertaining 18-hole course with coffee, preserves and baked goods.

At Freshwater Discovery Centre, Snobs Creek (5770 8052), you can tickle a trout in the touch tank and discover native fish, frogs and turtles. Rubicon Valley Horse Riding (www.rubiconhorseridingcom.au) offers scenic rides over one of the region's noted properties, with guidance for new riders and introductory family and children's rides.

Alnwick Antiques of Alexandra (5772 1174) has an interesting selection of cedar, Huon pine and blackwood furniture and a range of collectables. Houstonia Day Spa (www.houstonia.com.au) is a therapeutic centre. Thornton Smokehouse (5773 2224) has a huge range of home-smoked products and preserves.

TAKE HOME

Visit Clearstream Olive Farm to stock up the larder, the Eildon Trout Farm for fish, pates and cheese, the Eildon Bakery for oven-fresh goodies and Snobs Creek Estate for shiraz, pinot noir and dolcetto.