Longleat Wines

About 30 minutes south of Shepparton (on the way home to Melbourne!), is the modest and unassuming little cellar door of Longleat Wines at Murchison – a short detour that’s worth the effort.

This is a true family run winery and cellar door. Guido brings his passion for making wines designed to share and enjoy (especially with food), while Sandra draws from her passion for cheese to keep the cellar door well stocked.

Guido’s Italian heritage is evident in the styles of wine that he makes, and words like ‘generous, flavourful and food-friendly’ spring to mind. In fact, all conversations with Guido and Sandra quickly turn to the food that will best complement the wines.

It’s a lovely, intimate experience chatting, eating, and drinking with people who genuinely love what they do. Guido brings his heritage to the fore in wines like Garganega and Sangiovese, both textural and interesting in a white and red wine respectively.

The deck cafe is lovely for a glass of vino, a coffee and a platter, but they also do lunches – which are a generous feasting occasion and definitely require a booking.

Australian Botanic Gardens, Shepparton

Put your hands in the air if you fit any of the following:
Nature-lover, environmentally aware, recycler, re-user, lover of anything to do with sustainability. Well, that’s most of us. So, here’s something pretty exciting – a botanic garden built entirely on top of a landfill site.

You read that correctly. A botanic garden, high atop a landfill site. It’s seriously amazing. It’s been a long time coming because no-one has done this before and there are so many things to iron out. But through dedication and community support, the amazing team of landscapers and gardeners have done it.

The hilltop site takes in a panoramic view of the Shepparton area. It’s built with re-used materials and planted out masterfully in Australian native plants. It’s still a work in-progress, but how often do you get to see the beginning of something so significant?

There are a range of cycling and walking paths to explore, from the river paths to the hilltop track. All are accessible and vary in length. There are also themed gardens around the park, like the Refugee Garden, which celebrates the ‘melting-pot’ that is created by the welcoming of refugees to the region, and the Children’s Garden –which promotes play and sensory experiences.

Sonny

Inverleigh is not quite a “blink and you’ll miss it” town – its wide street and small collection of shops are enough to slow you down for a look. But take this as a reason to stop – Sonny.

Shaun and Amy started Sonny a couple of years ago, and OHO always promised to go back after stumbling inside on what turned out to be his opening day. Well, the years have gone by quickly and Sonny is now firmly a part of the Moorabool Valley food scene –thanks in no small part to the owner’s dedication to keeping it fresh, local and seasonal.

Coffee is from the ever-reliable Market Lane, and made well. This should possibly be the headline for a cafe on a roadtrip route like Sonny – but in fact, the food is the best excuse to stop and take a lunch break in Inverleigh.

There’s a lot of love from local producers when it comes to the food at Sonny. Veggies are literally delivered to the kitchen by a tractor from the farm over the back, beef comes from Sage Farm down the road and wines are from the Moorabool Valley.

In keeping with the commitment to local, fresh produce, Sonny hosts a swap-meet for growers of fruits and vegetables on the weekends. If you happen upon this, don’t be shy! Just because you’ve come empty-handed doesn’t mean you have to leave that way.

Bannockburn Station

Railway Stations are generally fairly functional spaces, not usually described as ‘pretty’. Bannockburn is blessed with a beautiful stone cottage built in 1862 as a railway station, and now that trains don’t operate, it serves as a stunning venue for food and wine.

Cakes are something of a specialty at Bannockburn Station. In fact, in a way it’s the cakes that are responsible for Fiona starting the cafe in the first place. She was already turning out cakes for others from her own kitchen, and it seemed logical to give them their own cafe!

The menu is simple and generous – local produce cooked with care, nothing pretentious, no molecular gastronomy. It’s the kind of place that becomes a regular stop if you’re driving the Geelong to Ballarat route. You’d happily make time in your plans to stop for breakfast in the morning or lunch if you leave a little later.

Shepparton Brewery

For a place that hasn’t been open long, the Shepparton Brewery sure feels like a part of the furniture already. Maybe it’s the relaxed architectural design, the familiar and comfortable food, or the family-owned vibe. There’s a “Hey, this place is cool!” moment as soon as you walk in, followed by a sense of ease when it comes to ordering beers and food, and just having a bloody good time.

If a couple of items on the menu sound familiar, it might be because some of Anaya’s greatest hits have migrated from that perennial Shepparton fave with Chef Karan ‘Dave’ Bisht – like the eggplant chips (OMG). They sit comfortably on the list with wood-fired pizzas, house-made pickles, and slow-cooked ribs.

If some of the faces seem familiar too, it might be because owners Daina Winch and Matt Milsome have brought their vast experience from running The Teller Collective and Fryers Street Food Store to this new venture.

While there’s a deal of comfort and familiarity, don’t mistake it for cliches. The small-batch nature of the brewery means they can push the boundaries while still catering to beer newcomers.  There are some cheeky references to Shepparton culture, too. Look for the mid-strength beer, and ask about the name for a good story and a trip down memory lane.

Chateau Tahbilk

The area around Tahbilk, just outside Nagambie in Central Victoria, is a unique little pocket of land almost surrounded by the Goulburn River and eight kilometres of permanent backwaters and creeks. The Purbrick family first planted vines here in 1860, and some of those vines are still producing fruit for their ‘1860’ shiraz today.  The location adjacent to so much water has enough impact on the climate that the grape-growing creates flavours unique to the region. The French would name this little area for its own ‘appellation’, as a result.

Tahbilk’s historic winery and cellar door is an experience in itself. The ancient oak fermenters in the cellar door are not just for show. This is a working winery, using equipment that in some cases is over a hundred years old.

The restaurant on site is modern by comparison, and the food equally so. It’s a menu of sure-fire winners and crowd pleasers. Who can say no to the perfect pork belly or luscious little lumps of slow-cooked beef, pulled, pressed, crumbed and deep-fried. Ooh la la. A 2014 shiraz from the Estate was a sublime pairing with the beef.

Definitely take the short detour off the highway near Nagambie, and drop in for lunch and a lesson in the history of winemaking. Don’t forget to spend some time walking around the pristine wetlands at Tahbilk. There’s eight kilometres of waterfront, and a boat tour that’s totally worth the time. Tahbilk has a commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality that is leading the way for the wine industry.

Billson’s

In 1865, George Billson purchased the old Ovens Brewery with the aim to fulfil his ambition to be a brewer (after spending time as a publican). Outgrowing that premises, and in response to the vast requirements of a burgeoning settlement during the gold rush, George built a brew tower at the current site in Beechworth. George went on to brew beer here until the 1950s, after which it became a site for the production of cordials by Murray Breweries.

In 2017 the site was bought by Nathan and Felicity Cowan and carefully renovated to house a modern small-batch brewery and distillery alongside the continuation of cordial production.

Today they are brewing a growing range of quality beers, a (proper!) ginger ale, a cider, and with a clever addition to the brewery, are also distilling gin. All are excellent, and there’s something for every taste. It would be remiss of us at this point to neglect to mention the basement Speakeasy bar. It’s spectacular and reminiscent of the hidden bars of the temperance days.

Speaking of taste, cordials are a nostalgic thing. The classic flavour of raspberry cordial will transport you back to your childhood while the raspberry vinegar cordial is so resplendent with ripe raspberry flavour, it’s like a time-machine back to the “please mum, can I have a cordial” days.

There is a cafe on-site serving good coffee and a short but delicious food menu. Take a good look at that coffee machine too – it reflects the Billson’s way with its hand-operated lever pump, and is a thing of great beauty.

Also on-site and worthy of a visit is the Carriage Museum. It houses horse-drawn carriages of various kinds still in their original condition.

Beechworth Historic Walking Tour

Beechworth is bushranger central. At least, it was in the 1800s. That’s where this walking tour takes you back to – the heady and dangerous days of the frontier and goldfields in Victoria’s high country, centred in Beechworth. It’s Ned Kelly and Harry Power country, and the streets come alive with the aid of a professional guide. They’ll fill in the blanks and point out the large and small points of historical significance.

Walking down the streets of Beechworth, where buildings have remained largely unchanged since they were constructed during the gold rush, and listening to stories and characterisations that give voice to the moments we learnt about at school is an immersive experience. Imagining the likes of Ned Kelly walking through the door of the pub or being escorted from the courthouse is easy when the story is told so vividly.

Tours run daily and are well worth the small price, which also provides entry to the Burke Museum, Ned Kelly Vault and Courthouse.

The Spa Beechworth

The Spa Beechworth is an intensely personal experience where each treatment is carefully considered and customised to your needs. The old Benevolent Children’s Home building, stunningly renovated and fitted out, is a peaceful and quiet place to be. Each room is so tastefully designed, right down to the linen, that you can’t help but take a deep breath and smile that little smile of being in your happy place.

The therapist sets aside ample time to make sure that treatments happen slowly, quietly, and in a very honest and genuine way. There’s none of the pretense of day-spa speak. Just gentle, smiling faces and a conversation that leads through how a schedule of treatment could include quiet contemplation, massage, skin therapy, a bath or shower – whatever is needed to just relax for the afternoon.

Treatment is discreet, quiet, professional, and in the most beautiful way, gentle and honest. The therapists respect shyness, and ask lots of questions to make sure that any existing injuries are delicately handled. There’s no sense at any time that they are running to a time limit or a budget. Treatments like this take quite a while, but the time passes easily and it’s over all too soon.

For a longer retreat, The Spa is opening its accommodation in July 2019, so bear this in mind when you’re booking an escape from the noise of everyday life.

Montsalvat

A Bohemian icon for decades, Monstalvat sits in the bushland just outside of Eltham, about half an hour from Melbourne. It’s been an artist colony since it was founded by Justus Jörgensen in 1934 and is an eclectic collection of buildings rambling across an expansive garden property.

The large halls house galleries, which host exhibitions and functions with a bohemian edge. The smaller buildings house studios for resident artists – painters, jewellers, potters, textile designers, glass artists, sculptors and writers. Some of these artists have work for sale in the larger retail space, some offer classes where you can come to learn their techniques.

Montsalvat is rich in the art history of Australia and a wander through the sprawling gardens is the perfect way to slow down from whatever fast-paced life you’re taking a break from.  When you’re exploring the grounds and the great halls, and see the pool, the small artist studios and dwellings, it’s easy to imagine being part of the bohemian movement that was inspired by the vibrancy of the surrounds.

The cafe on site is a nice place to stop and recharge, but don’t let your exploration stop there. Take in the various exhibits and spend some time with like-minded people. Who knows, you might find inspiration from the surrounds like Justus Jörgensen.