The ultimate travel guide toMcLaren Vale

The mere mention of McLaren Vale conjures up visions of free-flowing red wine, platters piled high with all manner of edible delights, and elevated dining experiences that draw communities together around a meal that will be remembered long after the last mouthful is devoured – but that barely scratches the surface of what’s waiting for you. Discover all this and more in our McLaren Vale travel guide below.

Getting to McLaren Vale

Drive 45 minutes south of Adelaide to arrive in the picture perfect McLaren Vale wine region. There are a number of operators that offer day tours of the winery cellar doors and vineyards that include transfers from Adelaide (see the tours section below), but then you’d miss out on the many other charms of the Vale. Hire a car or drive your own to spend a long weekend exploring this magical coast-meets-vineyard escape.

Top things to do in McLaren Vale

Wineries & Vineyards

As the birthplace of South Australia’s thriving wine industry it’s no surprise that McLaren Vale has over 80 cellar doors and wineries to explore. The Mediterranean-like climate creates near perfect growing conditions for most grape varieties, so while it’s renowned for producing some of Australia’s best red wines – notably shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and grenache shiraz mourvedre (GSM) blends – you’ll also find a wide variety of chardonnay, tempranillo, marsanne, rousanne, sangiovese, fiano and vermentino to taste along the wine trail.

 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a winery that doesn’t deliver a memorable experience, but there are a handful that should make it onto your itinerary. Coriole Vineyards, a Tuscan-inspired estate founded in 1967, is a farm shop, cellar door and award-winning restaurant in one. The five story cellar door at d’Arenberg winery is fashioned after an unfinished rubik’s cube and features a wine sensory room and 360-degree video room in the Alternate Reality Museum, a panoramic tasting area, and an art gallery. Wirra Wirra offer a seated tasting experience at their recently-renovated cellar door. Exposed brick, brown leather seating and oak timber tables create a warm and inviting space to enjoy one of the curated tasting flights – one of which includes a tasting plate by Chef Tom Boden.

 

Still want more? Sample the organic and biodynamic wines at Gemtree Wines; see what six generations of the Oliver family have accomplished at Oliver Taranga; stop by Hardy’s Tintara for the history – the first vintage was bottled back in 1857; and visit Mitolo to gain insight into the Italian heritage that underpins everything they do, from the grape varieties to the winemaking techniques.

Breweries & Distilleries

Once you’ve sampled McLaren Vale’s exceptional wine offering, it’s time to make your way along the region’s brewery and distillery trail.

 

There’s the popular ale and lager at Vale Brewing in McLaren Flat. Goodieson Brewery sources local ingredients to create seasonal brews – think Christmas Ale and Chocolate Stout. Swell Taphouse makes a delicious Cloudy Apple cider. And Ekhidna Wines have struck gold with a ginger beer that has fast become a local hit. Nearby in Willunga, you’ll find South Coast Brewing Co. is as much about the brew as it is the food and the views. Its neighbour, Shifty Lizard Brewing Co., excels in crafting small batches of beer onsite that run the gamut of Pale Ale to IPA. Finally, stop by Victor’s Place for a brew, kitchen and winery in one in Old Noarlunga.

 

A unique distillery offering has emerged in the Vale, with brothers Lachlan and John Rochfort leading the charge with the McLaren Vale Distillery. The boutique distillery produces gin, vodka and premium whiskey – which is aged in 100-year-old McLaren Vale fortified wine barrels. Ideally set among the region’s best vineyards, stop by for a tour, tasting or masterclass on the weekends. Chalk Hill is home to Never Never Distilling Co. Stop by the cellar door for a distillery tour, cocktail experience, a gin flight – and an espresso martini. Settlers Spirits is the other major player in the region. Find their flagship gin range, single-malt whiskey, rum, vodka and liqueurs available for tastings at the Maximus Wines cellar door. Splurge on a masterclass or pair the tasting with a platter to round out the experience.

Nature & Beaches

Jump from the vines to the coast to enjoy long summer days spent at any of the six sprawling beaches that fringe McLaren Vale’s wine region. Snorkel at Port Noarlunga or dive the 127-year-old Star of Greece shipwreck at Port Willunga; surf or fish at Sellicks Beach; Aldinga, Moana and Port Noarlunga are all patrolled during the warmer months; relax on the sand at Moana; and go for a (skinny) dip at the south end of Maslin Beach – Australia’s first ‘clothing optional’ beach and the site of the annual Nude Olympics. Driving on the sand in a 4WD is permitted at a number of beaches. Pick up a permit and beach access pass at Onkaparinga City Council.

 

Follow the Shiraz Trail along the old railway line between McLaren Vale and Willunga on a bicycle or opt for an easy two-hour walk. The eight-kilometre trail will weave along the coast through vineyards, past restaurants and fields – spot the sheep and llamas grazing. Stop by the Visitor Information Centre for a map before setting out. Continue on for another optional 30 kilometres along the Coast to Vines Rail Trail to see more of the region’s wine country.

 

Drive 12 minutes outside of town to arrive at Onkaparinga River National Park. There are a number of diverse hiking trails to suit varying levels of fitness throughout the park. If you’re visiting towards the tail end of winter to the start of spring, opt to hike the Nature, Echidna or Hardy’s Scrub trails to spot the orchids and wildflowers in full bloom – the Echidna Hike also leads to a heritage hut from the 1800s and connects to a trail that leads to a waterfall. Alternatively, take the Sundews Ridgetop or Sundews River hikes during the warmer months to appreciate the vast size and beauty of Onkaparinga Gorge. Take a dip in the Punchbowl – the spectacular rock pool in the gorge – and admire the surrounding cliffs and rock formations that hem you in before taking the trail up to Sundews Lookout to admire it all from above.

Markets

Follow the locals to Willunga Farmers Market every Saturday morning to stock up on the best produce to cook with throughout your stay. Market stalls overflow with freshly cut flowers and countless edible delights – think local cheeses of every description, homemade chutneys, chocolates, organic fruit and vegetables – from more than 80 farmers and artisan food producers. The markets operate from 8am to 12 noon.

Best places to stay in McLaren Vale

Hotels & Motels

The family-owned and operated McLaren Vale Motel & Apartments have 44 rooms that range in size from two-bedroom units and family rooms to studio deluxe and king two-bedroom apartments. Ideally located in town, just three kilometres from d’Arenberg Winery and seven kilometres from Maslin Beach. There’s also an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi and free parking.

Luxury Accommodation

Stay in one of the six luxurious self-contained guest houses at The Vineyard Retreat on a 15 acre working vineyard. Each guest house features a private deck, a complimentary mini bar stocked with the best locally-sourced food and drink, access to a Jacuzzi and concierge service for a personalised itinerary. Opt to stay in the Cadole Avalon or Cadole Sierra – Cadole is French for a small building located in a vineyard. Both properties ooze romance and feature a log fire, spacious king bed and views of the vineyard canopy.

 

Find the four star Serafino accommodation behind the award-winning restaurant and popular cellar door of the 300-acre property. You’ll be perfectly positioned to enjoy the surrounding wineries and cellar doors – and swim in the solar-heated onsite pool. There are 14 deluxe spa rooms included in the 30-room accommodation offering.

 

Spend the night on a secluded hilltop, surrounded by nature within a luxuriously-decked out bell tent – including a queen bed, toilet and shower facilities – at Tent on a Hill. Sit by the roaring fire pit at night with an award-winning drop from any of the surrounding wineries and admire the stars above or keep your eyes out for the native wildlife that is sure to make an appearance throughout your stay.

 

Escape to a luxurious country retreat at the award-winning Mulberry Lodge. The two-acre property boasts vineyard views, beautifully landscaped gardens and exclusivity – with only one couple or group accommodated at a time. Bicycles are available to use and find access to the Shiraz Trail directly from the property. It’s also located within walking distance to the Willunga Farmers Market.

Caravan Parks & Camping

BIG4 Port Willunga Tourist Park is located just a 10-minute drive from the region’s wineries and across the road from Maslin Beach. Facilities include a games room, giant chess board, giant jumping castle, mini golf course, tennis court, playground and swimming pool. Accommodation options include a range of cabin sizes, powered and unpowered caravan and camping sites.

 

Christies Beach Tourist Park overlooks the beach on the esplanade. Go from the beach to the cinema to the shopping centre and then out to dinner or for a drive to the wineries – it is all within walking or driving distance to the park. Opt to stay in the fully self-contained villas, or the powered sites that cater to caravans, tents or annexe and car. Features include laundry facilities, amenities block, camp kitchen and playground.

 

Aldinga Beach Holiday Park offers guests easy access to both Aldinga and Port Willunga beaches and the drive-on beach, Silver Sands. The 10-acre park offers accommodation in Yurt cottages, cabins to suit a variety of budgets, and powered and unpowered caravan and camping sites. Kids will be well entertained with the swimming pool, playground, and jumping pillow. Facilities include two BBQ areas, camp kitchen and laundry.

 

Moana Beach Tourist Park is adjacent to the popular family and surfing beach, Moana (it is also patrolled during the summer months). Accommodation options include villas in various sizes and powered sites to suit tents, caravans, fifth wheelers and camper trailers.

 

For a more off-the-grid camping experience, opt to camp in Onkaparinga River National Park at Pink Gum Campground. The small campground features 11 camping sites (including three that accommodate caravans), a camp kitchen, toilet and fire pit (for use outside fire ban season), but you’ll need to bring your own drinking water. The park is only a five-minute drive from McLaren Vale and you’ll have easy access to the many hiking trails and swimming spots within the park.

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Best Places to Eat & Drink in McLaren Vale

Stop by Chalk Hill Collective for an all-day affair. Start with wine tastings at the Chalk Hill Wines cellar door with the added indulgence of chocolate and cheese pairings. Head outside to find Cucina Di Strada on the deck and order a mouth-watering selection of Italian fare for lunch, including the Pinsa (a part-pizza, park-focaccia creation) that arrives on a paddle for you to enjoy on the lawn. And for the grand finale, head next door to the Never Never Distilling Co. for a tour of the distillery followed by a gin flight for good measure.

 

Visit Coriole Vineyards to dine in the courtyard under a canopy of vines at Gather. The seasonal menu utilises the best local, ethically harvested and sustainable produce available – including the fresh produce sourced from the property’s own kitchen garden. Think Coffin Bay oysters drizzled in a lemon aspen vinaigrette or perfectly-cooked kangaroo with garden greens, Jerusalem artichoke, macadamia, native fruits and spice. Select the set menu and add the wine pairings for an additional fee for the full experience. Cosy up to the fireplace in winter or enjoy the cool ocean breeze that flows through the courtyard in the warmer months.

 

Another first-rate dining experience housed within a winery can be found at d’Arenberg. The Cube Restaurant offers a luxurious dining experience, while d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant serves up local and seasonal produce in a more casual setting within the restored 19th century homestead.

 

The team at Salopian Inn, under the careful direction of chef and co-owner Karena Armstrong, prides itself on sourcing the freshest, quality ingredients to create an eclectic mix of cuisines – think steamed buns and dumplings alongside beef pies and braised rabbit gnocchi – that will stay with you long after you’ve devoured the final mouthful.

 

Dine on the best locally-caught seafood in the region at the Star of Greece restaurant (named after the famous shipwreck), sip on local wines and drink in the incredible ocean views out over the Gulf of St Vincent. Self-described as fine-and-friendly dining, it strikes the perfect balance between fancy and approachable. The restaurant’s Port Willy Kiosk is also open for takeaway during the warmer months – order a burger, salt and pepper calamari, fish and chips and more.

 

For the best pizza in McLaren Vale – if not the state – head straight to Pizzateca. The Mitolo family, who are also responsible for bringing us Cucina Di Strada, are renowned for spinning out authentic wood-fired Napoli style pizza – made by hand, without a rolling pin!

Tours & Packages for McLaren Vale

Whether you want to tour the wineries on a bike, in a small group or in luxury, there is a McLaren Vale winery tour for you. Enjoy a full-day food and wine tour of McLaren Vale with Top Food and Wine Tours – including a sit-down lunch, tastings at four cellar doors, a driver for the day and transportation from Adelaide.

 

Join Escapegoat Adventures for a Cycle and Wine tour that includes local produce platter for lunch, tastings at two cellar doors and a full day of cycling through the vines with a guide.

 

For something a little more adventurous, explore the 127-year-old Star of Greece shipwreck in Port Willunga with Diving Adelaide. Or opt to dive at Rapid Bay Jetty and The Bluff to spot the graceful leafy sea dragons.

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