Road Trips

Road trips that are all about food: Best food trails from Melbourne and Sydney

A favourite weekend getaway for Sydneysiders, the Hunter – Australia’s oldest and most famous wine region – is much more than just wine. Home to about 60 restaurants, including the double-hatted Muse, Margan and Bistro Molines (which also both have coveted Good Food Guide chef’s hats) as well as leave-your-diet-at-the-door temples to indulgence like the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company and the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory, there’s no better place to go for a food-themed day trip from Sydney. The beauty is you don’t have to follow a set trail because there’s something fine to eat and drink at almost every turn. Shop at the many local art galleries, wander the garden paths of the Hunter Valley Gardens, hit your way around one of the Valley’s three premium courses or surrender to some pampering at one of the Hunter’s many day spas. Of course, no trip to the Hunter is complete without sampling some of the valley’s much-celebrated semillon, or its chardonnay and shiraz – most of the 150 or so wineries and cellar doors are clustered in and around Pokolbin, Broke and Lovedale. See www.winecountry.com.au

Southern Highlands

Biota Dining in Bowral.Biota Dining in Bowral. Photo: Steven Siewert

It can be tempting to make the 70-minute drive from Sydney to the Southern Highlands just to eat at Biota, the Bowral diner that food critics are calling the one of the finest regional restaurants in Australia. It’s just one of the many eateries that has transformed a region until recently more well known for its chintzy cafes, antiques shops and spring tulips into one of the state’s most exciting emerging food and wine destinations. From Sydney head south on the M31 to Berrima for a flaky mid-morning snack at Stones Patisserie and wander around the beautiful sandstone village. Stock up the picnic basket with local jams, condiments and pickles from the 100-year-old Exeter General Store, visit one of the cellar doors clustered around Sutton Forest or pick some berries at Montrose Berry Farm. There are dozens of good eating options in Moss Vale, Bowral and Mittagong for lunch, including the acclaimed Biota. Take the long, but scenic, way back to Sydney via Robertson – visit the Old Robertson Cheese Factory for some “off the farm” cheeses or afternoon gelato and snake your way down the range to hook up with the Grand Pacific Drive and coast home via the sweeping curves of the cantilevered Sea Cliff Bridge. See www.southernhighlandsfoodandwine.com.au

MELBOURNE

Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, is celebrated for its cool climate wine – pinot noir, chardonnay and beautiful bubbly are top drops to try while you’re here – but it’s also home to some very clever growers and makers who produce everything from honey and fruit, herbs and cheese, to game, preserves, chocolates and clotted cream. Follow the Melba Highway from Lilydale north through the heart of the valley to visit wineries and a chocolaterie and ice-creamery, or loop around the southern end of the valley between Mount Dandenong, Lilydale and Yarra Junction to visit orchards and fruit farms and pick a basket of cherries or berries – Lilydale Lake and the Upper Yarra Reservoir Park are top spots for a picnic. Cider fans probably already know that the Yarra Valley was the birthplace of Australian Champagne Cider in the 1960s – try some at Kellybrook Winery, one of seven cider and craft beer producers on the Cider and Ale Trail that loops through Coldstream to Healesville and Yarra Glen. See www.visityarravalley.com.au

Daylesford and Spa Country

Daylesford.Picturesque Daylesford. Photo: Tourism Victoria

You don’t have to go very far in Victoria’s spa country – the area around Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Trentham about an hour north-west of Melbourne – to find something good to eat. Take the Western Freeway from Melbourne out past Bacchus Marsh and up to Trentham at the top of the range, where a cluster of cafes serve coffee and cake worth the drive – Redbeard Historic Bakery is the place to re-embrace your carbs with some of their delicious wood-fired organic bread and pastries. Head west to Daylesford, past wineries and cideries, for lunch at one of the spa towns many cafes – the Lake House or Farmers Arms Hotel are always good – before slipping into some of the region’s famous healing waters at historic Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa.  Treat yourself at Mount Franklin’s Chocolate Mill and have afternoon tea with lavender scones (or the Sicilian apple cake or French pear upside-down cake, or maybe even the castagnaccio chestnut cake) in a lavender field at Lavandula in Shepherds Flat. Stock up on local goodies at Cliffy’s Emporium at Daylesford on your way back to Melbourne. See www.visitdaylesford.com.au

Mornington Peninsula

This boot-shaped peninsula about an hour’s drive south of Melbourne has all the perfect ingredients for a foodie road trip. Beyond the beautiful beaches lined with rows of brightly coloured wooden bathing boxes, lovely sheltered bays and seaside towns full of grand old mansions is a lush hinterland where vineyards produce some of Victoria’s best cool climate wines (think crisp pinot gris and fruity pinot noir) and fertile farmlands yield rich crops of olives, apples and strawberries. Follow your nose from the top of the peninsula to the toe, and call into Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm in Main Ridge (be healthy and pick your own fruit, or splash out in the Dessert Cafe) and Mornington Peninsula Chocolates in Flinders on the way. Explore the wild coastal scenery along the sole of the peninsula’s foot and then head to Red Hill in the centre of the peninsula. Have a silver service gourmet picnic amongst the vines at Montalto Vineyard, a cleansing ale at Red Hill Brewery – they’re one of the few boutique breweries in Australia to make beer from their own hops, which they grow on site – learn how to make your own bespoke gin in a distillery workshop at Bass and Flinders Distillery and finish off with some artisan ashed logs or washed rind at Red Hill Cheese. See

Robin Cole