Thanks to a flourishing food and wine scene, Victoria’s largest regional city is now a worthy destination in its own right, finds Leanne Clancey.
Take a walk through Geelong’s city centre today and it’s clear there’s something in the air. Talk to the locals and they’ll likely agree. Geelong is changing – it’s growing up. When the big factories that long drove the local economy closed down recently, it was time to think differently. Today’s Geelong is a product of the city’s changing demographics and newfound optimism.
The city’s industrial past left behind many relics, and some of the more characterful old buildings are now finding new life as part of Geelong’s thriving hospitality scene. The hugely popular King of the Castle started as a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe back when coffee wasn’t yet ‘a thing’ in Geelong. Now the airy converted warehouse space is ground zero for top-notch specialty coffee and colourfully inventive, Instagram-worthy brunches.
When Little Creatures Brewery breathed new life into a disused old woollen mill in 2013, it set a new bar for what was possible in Geelong. Now one of the city’s most vibrant venues, the sprawling space incorporates on-site brewing facilities and casual all-day dining, drawing families and crowds of all ages. Catering to a decidedly more grown-up clientele is sister brewery White Rabbit just next door, a craft outfit with an offbeat offering of ales, handsome interiors, artisan cheeses and a charcuterie bar.
Geelong’s backstreets and laneways hold many culinary secrets, and recent addition Geelong Cellar Door is proof that ‘G-town’ has truly come of age. The atmospheric wine bar pays homage to the wines of the nearby Bellarine Peninsula, celebrated for their cool-climate sophistication. With its stylish fit-out, dedicated wine wall and buzzy vibe, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to a hip Melbourne laneway bar. Talented local chef, Aaron Turner made a name for himself with his highly awarded fine diner Loam, which closed in 2013. After time spent cooking in Nashville and a more recent detour with fried chicken (his Hot Chicken Project is a must), Turner has returned to put Geelong on the culinary map, wowing diners and critics alike with his classy backstreet newcomer, Igni. The intimate dining room offers creatively inspired five- or eight-course degustation dining and exceptional service.
Just a short drive out of town is the beautifully scenic Bellarine Peninsula, where much of the region’s vinous and culinary inspiration finds its origin. Surrounded by stunning ocean vistas, rolling hills and verdant farmland, the Bellarine is more than a pretty face. It produces some of the state’s most exceptional wine, cheese and fresh produce.
With a copy of the Bellarine Taste Trail map in hand, you can spend a leisurely afternoon visiting cellar doors and roadside produce stalls. Drysdale Cheeses offers a range of deliciously fresh, award-winning goat’s cheeses, while at Lighthouse Olive Mill Shop you can taste fruity, cold-pressed olive oils while admiring the picturesque olive grove (the region’s largest). Local seafood is always a winner, and at Advance Mussel Supply you can try fresh local mussels straight off the boat.
Still hungry? Local brunch favourite Piknik is wildly popular for a reason. Great coffee, warm service, local wines and tasty cafe fare (with an eye on all things homemade) are a winning combo here. With countless wineries and cellar doors to choose from, vino lovers will be spoilt for choice. Its hilltop views across Corio Bay make Terindah Estate big on ‘wow’ factor, while its light-filled restaurant and award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay keep the ‘wows’ coming.
For old-fashioned service and exceptional biodynamic wines, Basils Farm is a treat. Grab a bottle of pinot, a seat in the orchard and take in the serene Swan Bay vista. For a take-home bounty of the best local produce, make a quick stop at Farmer’s Harvest. You’ll find everything from local organic meats and artisan cheeses, to smallgoods and sourdough.
A few minutes down the road is the hard-to-miss Flying Brick Cider Co. Do a tasting of their delicious handcrafted ciders (all made on-site), choose your favourite and pull up a spot on the lawn for some serious afternoon relaxation, Bellarine style.
Geelong is one hour by car or V/LINE train from Melbourne.
Jetstar flies daily to Avalon airport (20 minutes’ drive to the Geelong town centre) from several major cities; jetstar.com
Devlin Apartments offer a range of contemporary loft-style apartments, housed in an impressively remodelled 1920s school building right in the centre of Geelong;
On the road
For more information visit Bellarine Taste Trail