A mere 90 minutes or so in the car north of Adelaide, the Clare Valley (luckily!) still scoots just under the radar. This laid-back pocket makes an unhurried summer retreat of Aussie bush and rolling vineyards, stone buildings and intriguing history, cellar doors, good food, bike trails and country hospitality. Here’s how to make the most of it.
1. Breakfasting until lunch
A sun-dappled back road leads past vines curving away on the slopes of hills (‘planted to the contour’ in vigneron speak) to the 1860s cottage of Skillogalee; a winery, restaurant and cellar door. Slate slabs cool the wisteria-draped verandah and there are tables beneath the sprawliest-ever olive. Head chef Nicola Palmer, whose parents bought the Skilly vineyard back in the 1980s, has hospitality in her DNA. Her seasonally changing, Ottolenghi-veering menu (baked eggs with pungent Mauri Taleggio and baby spinach, or baked local haloumi with roast beetroot fresh from the garden) is right on the money. And moreish.
We say: Stop at the cellar door before leaving and sample Skillogalee’s sparkling riesling (who knew?).
2. Eating local
In Auburn, Terroir chef, Dan Moss, works culinary magic with seasonal local ingredients at his decidedly French-looking shop-front restaurant. The philosophy is ‘strictly locavore’, but the food has a modern edge – roast quail with sesame and lime, black barley and basil – and you may as well loosen up that belt because desserts are divine. If you’re not up for dinner, while away an afternoon matching their tapas with the local vino. Another option is to join the savvy locals at Seed Winehouse + Kitchen, in Clare, where the menu (confit and fried globe artichoke, or duck leg sausages with soft polenta) has a similar farm-to-fork freshness. And the bar has a real buzz.
We say: Seed has a fabulous list of Clare Valley rieslings (and a smattering of French wines – why not? They’re fabulous too).
3. Riding the Riesling Trail
When the sun’s shining and there’s that crackle of heat in the bleached grass, cruising along on a bike is like being a kid again. The 35-kilometre Riesling Trail rail is peppered with postcard views, wineries, cafes and plenty of signage along the looping route; Watervale to Penwortham is rated one of the prettiest sections. You can hire bikes at Auburn, Clare and Sevenhill.
We say : You don’t have to cycle. Pack a picnic basket and stroll for a while before tossing down your rug under a shady tree.
4. Wandering the wineries
Riesling aficionadas will love clos Clare Wines in Watervale and Crabtree Wines. Follow the gorgeous, leafy drive to the century-old cellars at Annie’s Lane and stop by the region’s oldest vineyard, the Jesuit-run Sevenhill, started in the 1850s and still going strong. The quirky Mad Bastard Wines specialises in shiraz. For wine with sweeping scenery, lunch on the deck at Paulett Wines. For art with your wine visit Pikes.
We say: There are 30-plus wineries but it’s not all wine. Craft beer and cider are bubbling up. Try the Tonic Ale (with lemon peel and ginger) from Pikes Beer Company.
5. Discovering Mintaro’s magic
The tiny town of Mintaro has spades of character in its timeworn slate buildings, vast Moreton Bay fig trees and old-world gardens. Visit Mintaro Maze if you have the kids in tow, or delve into the past at the palace in a paddock, Martindale Hall, where the ’70s classic Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed.
We say: Share a lazy lunch at Reilly’s Wines – leafy courtyard, gourmet platters, vineyard views.
6. Exploring Flinders’ history: Burra
Burra’s wide streets, stone buildings and tree-lined creek are a backdrop for country folk in cowboy boots and battered hats, and grey nomads stopping en route to the Flinders Ranges. You can get your urban-fix coffee at St Just Café or enjoy a veritable tea party at colourful Good Golly Miss Polly. For organic juices and wraps head to Burra Fresh, while several shops are piled with collectables, curios, and gifts for those who like to fossick.
We say: La Pecora Nera (The Black Sheep) serves up bona fide Roman-style pizza from a woodfired oven, and cucina casalinga – handmade pasta, spiced pork. The deck’s the spot to be on a balmy evening – get there early like the locals do – the kitchen closes at 7.30 pm for dinner. You’ve been warned.
7. Staying over
A swag of heritage cottages and houses are dotted all around the Clare. There’s Watervale’s upmarket Stanley Grammar Country House, converted stables at historic Bungaree Station, original miners’ cottages in Burra and even the stylish loft-style Irongate Studio B&B in Mintaro.