A leafy, undulating patchwork of cherry orchards, family farmgates, lush paddocks and grapevines, the Adelaide Hills offers a refreshing dose of fresh country air just 20 clicks from the city. It’s so accessible that the danger is forgetting it’s there: the hills have long been something of a local’s secret, overshadowed by the pulling power of the big wine dynasties that call neighbouring Barossa and McLaren Vale home. And all too often, the region ends up as a holiday footnote rather than the main feature.
But this pocket of greenery has plenty to keep foodies, oenophiles, and even kids occupied: it’s home to more than 50 cellar doors, plus a laundry list of breweries, distilleries and cider houses as well as numerous hatted restaurants, and a number of family-friendly activities too (hello botanic gardens, weekend markets and wildlife parks). Beyond the bucolic landscapes, it’s the warm country hospitality that keeps people coming back for more.
It’s impossibly easy to reach the Adelaide Hills. Though public transport options are limited (car or organised tour is really the only way to get around here) it takes just 45 minutes to reach the region straight from the airport, or it’s a 30-minute drive from the city.
Some visitors like to tick off all Adelaide’s nearest wine regions in one fell swoop by taking on the Epicurean Way Road Trip.
Really, there’s no ‘lesser’ time to take to the hills, as each season boasts its own charms. Summer is perfect for those who prefer to take their wine with a side of sunshine and picnics. Autumn brings beautiful shows of ‘fall foliage’. And winter promises plenty of crisp country air, open wood fires and hearty meals in cosy pubs, all best accompanied by a glass of local red.
With more than 50 cellar doors to hit, this hilly little enclave punches well above its weight in the wine stakes. The region is characterised by independent and progressive small-batch wineries, each with something different to offer.
Cobb’s Hill is set on the quaintest estate amid manicured, landscaped English country gardens. Although the property dates back to 1850, the winery is a relative newcomer to the region, with 2017 marking its first vintage.
A restaurant and cellar door in Hahndorf, Sidewood is a five-star rated winery by Halliday, and a showstopper of a venue (owners Owen and Cassandra are both avid art collectors). Not only is their wine spectacular, and their fruit-infused craft cider wildly popular, but the food is something else too.
There’s a growing microbrewery scene in these fair hills, not to mention several up-and-coming distilleries. Of the former, Prancing Pony, and Mismatch Brewing at Lot 100 are among the local favourites. For the latter, Ambleside is a great place to start. This family-owned gin distillery sources fruit straight from local farmers and grows many of the native botanicals that infuse its gins in the onsite distillery garden, all of which just happens to be within the owners’ backyard. Take a tasting flight or sign up for their gin blending masterclass.
Stretch legs that have spent too long on cellar door bar stools at the sprawling Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, brimming with magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias come spring. Or for scenic landscapes with a side serve of Aussie wildlife, venture to 35-hectare Cleland Wildlife Park, home to more than 130 species of Australian critters, many of which are free-roaming in the park.
Mix up the pace with a leisurely Saturday morning stroll around the Adelaide Hills Farmers Market, in Mount Barker. Or pick your own strawberries at historic local family farm Beerenberg.
Adelaide Hills accommodation has come a long way in the last decade, and there are now plenty of options to choose from whatever your budget.
Part-pub, part-accommodation, The Crafers Hotel ticks a lot of boxes. This property, established in 1839, offers rooms with tall ceilings and simple yet homely interiors. In historic Hahndorf, four-star The Studios by Haus make a great base for adventures. The one- and two-bedroom units have kitchens and are dressed up in neutral shades.
Luxury boltholes are in plentiful supply around these parts. Mount Lofty House, is the grand dame of the hills offering old school luxe (think four-poster beds and period furnishings) and a host of onsite facilities (spa, hatted restaurant, pool). Or opt for a taste of modern minimalism at the Pavilions at Lenswood.
For a radically different stay try the whimsical Thorngrove Manor Hotel. An adults-only property, that’s basically a castle, complete with baroque towers and a turret.
Uraidla is something of a hotspot for fine food. Don’t bypass contemporary hatted restaurant and wine bar The Summertown Aristologist, which produces practically everything in-house, from butter and bread to house-cured charcuterie, and even house-milled flour. The small town is also home to Lost in a Forest, a relaxed wine bar/pizzeria housed in a tiny 130-year-old church: a passion project of beloved late winemaker Taras Ochota. The wood-fired oven turns out tried and true options (the humble margherita) as well as more unconventional takes (behold the raja, topped with confit garlic, Bombay potatoes, chickpea dahl, red onion, mozzarella, crunchy chickpeas, smashed pappadams and mint raita).
For breakfast, brunch or lunch, you can’t go past cafe-cum-restaurant FRED Eatery, which has an impressive list of breakfast juices and hot drinks, and a menu with an Asian slant: perfect for the morning after a day spent cellar door hopping. Or, for a cheap lunch on the run, pick up a pretzel or three at hallowed local bakehouse Brezel in Hahndorf.
When you’ve had your fill of fine dining, and crave a simple, hearty pub dinner, make for the Hahndorf Inn. This storied German beer hall is heavy on meat options but offers a smattering of veggie alternatives too.
Unless you have a designated driver in your party, book a chauffeur. Companies such as Door to Door Chauffeurs can organise a bespoke tour for you, based on your group’s needs and tastes, or they can simply follow your itinerary. Their fleet of luxury cars and vans can host up to 25 passengers.
While cycling and hilly terrain might not seem like a perfect pairing, a number of local outfits offer e-bike tours (both self-guided and escorted) of the region, which make getting around a breeze.
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