Detour a little west and you’ll not only escape South East Queensland’s infamous crowds but also discover a foodie’s paradise. Rosemary Desmond samples Stanthorpe’s tree-ripened apples and full-bodied reds.
If you fancy burning off some of your indulgence, the Girraween National Park is just is 26km south of Stanthorpe.
After sweltering through a long, hot and humid Brisbane summer , the chance of a weekend on the Granite Belt seemed like a breath of fresh air.
And so it was.
About two-and-a-half hours south-west of the Queensland capital, the tidy little town of Stanthorpe has for years laid claim to being a wine and food lovers’ destination – with an added bonus of a cooler climate due its altitude around 1,000 metres above sea level.
Having made the journey, we woke the next morning to a tapping sound on a glass side door of our villa at Alure, a 50 acre luxury retreat just south of the town.
There was no-one at the door, except a startled magpie who may have wanted to share our breakfast basket of locallymade bread, cereals and jams.
He didn’t wait around.
Alure has two modern villas and a tented construction for those who like ‘glamping’. But the term ‘tent’ does not do justice to the villa built from the floor upwards, with canvas framing it from the roof down.
Alure is a place for couples only – no children allowed – but you can bring your dog.
The owners’ Maremma sheepdog zealously guards her half dozen charges from behind one of the few fences on the property.
There are plenty of other cosy and quirky accommodation options in Stanthorpe but for most visitors, it’s all about the food and wine.
One of the region’s oldest wineries is Ballandean Estate, home to the Opera in the Vineyard black tie charity event, slated this year for 1 May.
Ballandean’s Barrelroom Restaurant late last year welcomed young chefs (and partners) Travis Crane and Arabella Chambers who source the vast majority of their produce locally, with seafood from the nearest fishing port at Ballina on the NSW north coast.
Travis also forages for fresh greens such as wild fennel and asparagus growing nearby.
“We did have a beautiful patch of watercress but someone let their cows onto it,” he told us.
Naturally, the wines take centre stage at Ballandean Estate, and it’s not just the more usual offerings such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Stanthorpe has its own alternative wine trail known as ‘Strangebird’ – featuring varieties representing less than one per cent of the total bearing vines in Australia.
We tried Fiano, a fresh white variety, originally from Campania, Italy, then after lunch, decided to take home a bottle of a ‘big’ full-bodied red with an alcohol content of 14.8 per cent called Saperavi, which originates in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
It was made for drinking with roast meats such as beef or lamb.
Dinner that night was at the Granite Belt Brewery and Happy Valley Retreat’s restaurant where brewer Geoff Davenport has matched craft beers with a mixed platter
of local produce, followed by dessert (with a beer, of course!
The rare roast venison, fig and walnut chutney, paired with Irish red ale, was memorable. For dessert, there was Pozieres Porter, matched with a rich, dark chocolate
tart with mascarpone and fresh berries. Bliss for chocolate lovers.
And you cannot leave Stanthorpe without calling in at Sutton’s Farm, a family-run apple orchard 13kms north of the town (opposite the Big Apple – where else?)
There you can pick apples which have never seen a cold room and taste-test a variety of apple products, including cider, cider vinegar, juice, syrup and brandy.
In a large tin shed, a part of which is furnished with old timber desks and chairs sourced from schools, you can order lunch from a changing menu. But leave room for the apple pie with cider ice cream and cream, highly recommended and well worth the wait.
Former sheep farmer turned prawn trawlerman and now orchardist, David Sutton, cooks 300kg of apples a week for the pies alone. The pastry is made from scratch every day.
Just don’t ask David or his wife Ros for a pie to take home. They are not interested in ‘expanding’ their business into takeaways. They like things just as they are.
However passionate the locals are about their produce, there is more to do in the area than just eat and drink.
The area is home to around 120 local artists who exhibit and hope to sell their work at the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery where there are 253 pieces, including paintings, sculpture and pottery, on a three week rotation with many more exhibits kept in the basement.
And if you fancy burning off some of your indulgence, the Girraween National Park is just is 26kms south of Stanthorpe – and a world way in terms of peace
Girraween is a curious mix of eucalypts and granite boulders – some the size of cars – perched precariously on top of one another. There are 17kms of walking tracks and water holes where the local wildlife comes to drink. The silence is only broken by the occasional bird call.
A visit to Stanthorpe can be a little pricey, depending on where you eat and sleep, but for a special occasion, such as an anniversary or birthday, it’s a delightful change from the hotter and more crowded coast.
This article by Rosemary Desmond originally appeared in the April/May 2016 edition of 50 something magazine. The writer was a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism.