Rustic luxury at 1806.
Whether you're looking for a winter escape complete with log fire or planning a spring fling, north-east Victoria's High Country offers generous helpings of everything needed for a great getaway - beautiful scenery, boutique accommodation and fine food and wine, plus a serve of history on the side.
It's a long time since rivers of gold ran through Beechworth, but this former boom town maintains its grandeur. During the 1850s and '60s gold rush, more than 115 tonnes of gold were found here, drawing fortune seekers from around the world. At its peak, Beechworth was home to 30,000 people and 61 pubs. Today, the imposing sandstone buildings lining the town's wide streets have a diverse set of tenants, from chic boutiques to gourmet provedores, but retain their sense of grandeur.
Picture window … the view from Chinaman's Kilnhouse.
To maintain the trip-back-in-time feel, book yourself into 1860, a quirky cottage just outside the town built around the time of its name. It looks anything but flash: a timber cattleman's hut that the owners relocated to this tranquil spot overlooking Spring Creek. Step inside, however, and you enter a luxurious hideaway, painstakingly renovated using antique timber and corrugated iron sourced from the region's old stables, pubs, warehouses and farms.
The feel is five-star rustic. There are polished jarrah floors, a blue-gum dining table, slab-and-mortar walls and a coffee table made from a blacksmith's bellows, but also a plasma TV, a bathtub for two, a king-size bed and a full kitchen. That's the way we like our time travel: all mod cons included.
DROP BY DROP
Great outdoors … looking out onto the deck and beyond at Cavedon's Kilnhouse.
While some locals were digging for gold, others were interested in a different kind of treasure. The first vineyards were planted in Victoria's north-east in the 1860s and many of the area's wineries are still family-run. A number of distinctly different wine regions are just half an hour's drive apart, allowing visitors to sample a range of wines in one day.
Perhaps the best-known wine region is Rutherglen, famous for its rich fortified wines. The area has 21 cellar doors, including All Saints Estate, which is helmed by young siblings Eliza, Angela and Nicholas Brown, fourth-generation winemakers. The estate itself is imposing - elegant gates, carriage lamps and an avenue of towering elms lead to a 120-year-old castle - and the wines are terrific. While their fortifieds are superb, All Saints' crisp whites and warm reds also are worth sampling. Enjoy a lunch at The Terrace Restaurant, or pop into the Indigo Cheese Co. next door for something lovely to nibble on.
Other Rutherglen winemakers worth a visit include Jones Winery, where the grapes grow on vines planted in the 1860s (try the Jones The Winemaker durif) and the acclaimed Morris Wines (their muscat is exquisite). If Italian varietals are more your styles, head to the King Valley, where wineries such as Dal Zotto and Sam Miranda specialise in drops such as pinot grigio, sangiovese and some delectable proseccos.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The High Country offers plenty of opportunities to get active. Winter is the time for skiing and snowboarding, but during spring, head to the town of Bright to stroll through its avenues of deciduous oaks, elms, poplars and maples. There are alpaca, deer and emu farms and even a berry farm with delicious sundaes.
Whatever time of year you visit, a network of scenic trails lets you get out and about. From Bright, hop on the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, a 100-kilometre sealed cycling and walking trail that winds its way through the Ovens Valley's historic towns and wineries. The trail follows an old railway line – some of the station sites are still standing - and if your leg muscles feel like they've had enough, the Bus-A-Bike service offers pick-ups and drop-offs anywhere along the trail.
Stay at The Kilns, a character-filled property featuring three accommodation options (Cavedon's and Chinaman's Kilnhouses, and The Sorting Shed) built into the old tobacco-drying kilns that are typical of the area. Now set amid vineyards and cow paddocks, these architect-designed two- and three-bedroom houses offer big-city luxuries, from underfloor heating to a sauna, in a rural setting.
HIGH COUNTRY LIFE ...
4 Surrey Lane, Beechworth, 0408 273 783, 1860 luxuryaccommodation.com.
Rates start at $290 a night for two people.
All Saints Estate
All Saints Road, Wahgunyah, 1800 021 621, allsaintswine.com.au.
Indigo Cheese Co.
All Saints Road, Wahgunyah, (02) 6035 2222.
61 Jones Road, Rutherglen, (02) 6032 8496, joneswinery.com.
Mia Mia Road, Rutherglen, (02) 6026 7303, morriswines.com.au.
Cavedons Lane, Porepunkah, 0400 733 170, kilnhouse.com.au.
Rates start at $325 a night for two people; two-night minimum stay.
From: Sunday Life