The Roadtrip Series: embrace the change of seasons with a cosy Granite Belt sojourn
As much as we love Brisbane, the city doesn’t really cop much seasonal variation. Sure, we’re finally getting a reprieve from the blistering summer, but our winters are mild at best. While it’s nice to be able to get around in shorts for most of the year, some of us long for the chance to rug up by a crackling fire with a glass of red and a hearty feast. There is no better time than now to plan your southern escape to the Granite Belt, where rolling hills and cool-climate vineyards will lure you in and have you wanting to stay. The Roadtrip Series is here to hook you up with a cheat sheet of the best places to chow down, play up and rest your bones in the Granite Belt region.
So let’s cut to the chase – the Granite Belt is some bona fide wine country. Thanks to its blessedly cooler climate, the grapes can thrive and survive to create delicious drops. Fussy palates best pay a visit to Jester Hill Winery in Glen Alpin, where owner-operators Michael and Ann Burke truly believe there is a wine out there for everyone. The cellar door, landscape and terraced gardens host regular tastings and events, adding to the lively atmosphere. Symphony Hill Wines is a must-do – the stunning vineyard boasts unique topography that creates amazing wine and is home to Mike Hayes, who just won the coveted 2017 Winemaker of the Year award. Delicious drops abound at Balancing Rock Wines, a Stanthorpe gem that produces one-of-a-kind vegan wines for all tastes. Ballandean Estate should definitely make your list – you can experience the magic (and skill) of five generations’ worth of winemaking expertise.
The natural life
The Granite Belt sure is a show-off when it comes to natural beauty. Boasting some of the most scenic vistas this side of the Great Dividing Range, one of the must-do destinations for sightseeing is the Girraween National Park. Straddling the Queensland and New South Wales state line, this massive natural phenomenon features granite outcrops, large angular tors (that’s rock formations for us layfolk), and precariously balanced boulders that create serious Stonehenge vibes. You can get your hike on with more than 17 kilometres of walking trails available, plus there’s plenty of pretty wildlife to look out for. If the park poaches your heart, you can plan to stay overnight at the Girraween Environmental Lodge. How’s the serenity?
No trip to the country would be complete without getting in touch with your inner cowboy. Kent Saddlery in Stanthorpe is a treasure trove of handmade leather goodness, specialising in equipment for horseriding. The family owned and operated business offers up everything you could possibly need to kit out your equine friend, as well as loads of stock for camping and outdoor activities. If you’re keen to see how the magic happens, Kent Saddlery also offers tours of the leather workshop where goods are made on-site. It doesn’t get much more authentically country than this.
Fruits of labour
If your friends are the kind that hassle you for souvenirs, we have just the thing to benefit you both. A trip to Jamworks will provide you with preserves for days, selecting only the freshest and best quality ingredients from the region to make the tasty stuff. Take home jams, relish, butters, pickles and pretty much anything else you can think of, and be sure to stop by the larder for an in-house bite to eat. Another top spot for preserves aplenty is The Bramble Patch, a Stanthorpe institution that makes more than 50 amazing products on-site – think jams, coulis, sauces, fruit vinegars and pastes, chutneys, pickles and relishes. After you’ve stocked up, settle in for a feast at the in-house dessertery, where your wildest sweet fantasies will come true. Sample fresh berry ice-creams, sundaes and sorbets, or go for a toasty treat along the lines of waffles, poffertjes or hot chocolate.
Feast of plenty
The Granite Belt is teeming with venues that really take advantage of the region’s abundance of delicious fresh produce. The McGregor Terrace Food Project is helmed by Chef Ben Lanyon and his wife Lou, using locally sourced ingredients in the modern Australian bistro-style menu – some of the fare even comes from their own garden! This swish spot was recently placed at 89 in The Sunday Mail’s annual ranking of Queensland’s 100 Most Delicious Restaurants, so you know the food will impress. The Barrelroom and Larder really takes the paddock to plate ethos seriously, as in if you can’t find it within three hours of the kitchen you won’t find it on the menu. Now that’s fresh! At Varias Restaurant, you will find a delicious seasonal menu and the famous Medley of Mains, an all-inclusive option featuring portions from three main dishes with matched wines, dessert and port.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the Granite Belt experience, the best way to see it all is on two wheels. Granite Belt Bicycle Tours & Hire offer leisure cycling all through the region, with both guided and self-paced options available depending on what you’re after. Take in wineries, providores, cafes and stunning views, stopping as you wish. Making it even easier, the crew can deliver bikes to your door and even pick you up if you’ve tuckered yourself out for the day.
A life less ordinary
As well as an amazing wine culture, the Granite Belt is home to a number of truly unique events that showcase the region’s cultural side – here are a couple to pencil in to your calendar. In May, Grazing the Granite Belt brings together award-winning wines with dozens of gourmet food dishes. Spend the first day on the hop-on-hop-off bus visiting cellar doors and indulging in artisan eats, and then follow it up the next day with a breakfast with the winemakers and some solo exploring time. Another event worth your time is Opera in the Vineyard, a magical night where Ballandean Estate Wine’s vineyards come alive with music, wine, food and unforgettable ambience. As an added bonus, proceeds from the event go back into local charities.
Looking for something different to do over the festive period? Granite Belt’s Christmas Farm is a family-friendly experience that is sure to help create some wholesome memories. The kids are free to roam around exploring and feed Santa’s animals, not to mention given the chance to experience fields of real Christmas pine trees (that smell – heaven!). Grown-ups can get in on the spirit with a visit to the Mistletoe Store for some gift shopping, and enjoy the fruits of Mrs Claus’ labour with handcrafted chocolates and sweet treats. Patrons are also welcome to visit the farm during harvesting season to pick a tree and take it home.
Wake up in wine country
There is a whole lot to do in the Granite Belt, so it would be wise to plan some accommodation in order to max out your trip. One of the coolest things about the Granite Belt is its unique wine culture, and in turn one of the most memorable experiences you can have is staying at one of the area’s wineries. The Twisted Gum farm cottage is an absolute delight – built in the 1920s, the charming renovated house is located right in the middle of the winery’s vineyard. Another option is the Ridgemill Estate Vineyard, which is home to eight schmick self-contained studio cabins – think log fires, king-sized beds and tranquil vistas for days. If beer is your tipple of choice, the Granite Belt Brewery Retreat is a fantastic getaway destination. With a choice of a whole house, cute timber cabins or spa cabins.
The Roadtrip Series is a collaboration between The Weekend Edition and Southern Queensland Country.