With probably the nation’s best cycling experiences including road trails and world-class mountain biking, as well as stunning alpine walking and trail running tracks, and kayaking and abseiling – the region is the very definition of natures gym for active and adventurous travelers.
On the flip-side, the North East of Victoria is a culinary hot bed with three chef’s-hatted restaurants, and 11 more listed in the Age Good Food guide, five distinct wine regions, three new breweries, two gin distilleries and many opportunities to discover local gourmet produce. With all that and more combined, here are the top 10 reasons to visit the High Country this summer:
Victoria’s High Country is one of Australia’s premier cycling destinations. Cyclists can go it alone, or book in for one of the region’s newest cycling tours. The new self-guided twilight tour, Sunsets & Sombreros kicks off at Bright Electric Bikes where visitors can collect their eBike before cycling to Porepunkah for a Mexican Meal at Rail Trail Cafe – trading a mini sombrero for a life size one on arrival. Beauty & the Bike is a new girls’ getaway complete with Bright pink bike hire, deluxe accommodation, and hampers for dinner and breakfast. The ride takes cyclists along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, to Feathertop Winery for lunch and then past Ringer Reef Winery on the return journey. Beechworth Honey’s Blossom to Blossom ride is a self-guided tour around the historic town of Beechworth, where visitors can learn about the local flora that gives Beechworth Honey its distinct Australian flavour.
Tour de Vines also offers a range of tours for cyclists pedalling the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. From the easy, self-guided Tour de Gourmet in a Day around Beechworth and the Milawa wine and gourmet region, and the Tour de Murray to Mountains all-inclusive, small group weekend cycling tour to the Tour de Grand Gourmet, an immersive five day cycling tour through the gourmet highlights of North East Victoria and Tour de Milawa Gourmet Escape the perfect weekend escape for the light or social cyclist with two nights accommodation in Beechworth.
Hot air ballooning
Two new hot air ballooning options are available in the High Country this summer, thanks to local operators, Goldrush Ballooning. In Mansfield, Beans Above the Hops combines hot air ballooning with the art of coffee and the craft of beer. The experience begins with a morning hot air balloon flight, followed by breakfast and a coffee making class at Mansfield Coffee Merchant. Then, at The Social Bandit, tasting paddles and wood fired pizza are provided for lunch and visitors can learn about the history and art of micro brewed beer. Accommodation is available at farm stay, Traquair Estate, in foot Hills of the Victorian Alps just outside of Mansfield.
Renowned winery, Brown Brothers has also launched a gourmet hot air balloon experience in partnership with Goldrush Ballooning. Starting at dawn with a one-hour hot air balloon flight, visitors can enjoy views of the High Country and the King Valley from the sky. On landing, a Prosecco breakfast at Patricia’s Table is served, making the perfect start to the day.
New ways to glamp
The ever-popular accommodation style of glamping is taking off in the High Country with two operators launching their own lux alternative to camping. Grapevine Glamping at Cofield Estate enables guests to sleep in a five metre diameter canvas Bell Tent, complete with king size bed and quality bedding, on a working vineyard in Rutherglen. The two night experience includes a bottle of Cofield wine on arrival, $50 ‘Cofield cash’ redeemable at Cofield Cellar Door and a breakfast hamper delivered daily. The tents are kitted out with board games, a stargazing kit and fishing gear, as well as a mini bar with a selection of Cofield wines, local beers and treats. Cofield Wines Cellar Door and Pickled Sisters Cafe are both on site for wine tastings and lunch and dinner hampers.
At Falls Creek, Diana Lodge and Freaugh Village lodge have a new experience on offer of either three or five days in duration. Night one is spent either at Diana Lodge or Frueauf Village before a cycle ride (or vehicle transfer) the following morning to the glamping site set up at the back of a cattlemen’s hut, equipped with a comfortable bed, lux linen, food supplies, books and a telescope for stargazing. Visitors can choose to extend their stay or return to spend the third night at either lodge.
For those who prefer campervan style accommodation, Maui Winery Havens offers the chance to spend the night at some of the High Country’s most renowned wineries including Brown Brothers, Feathertop Winery, Dal Zotto, Cofield and St Leonards.
Get active in the alps
Professional sports outfits including Australian Rules Football teams and Australian junior Cross-country regularly decamp to Alpine Victoria for fitness camps and training during summer, but it’s not just professional athletes who can reap the benefits of the mountainous terrain. Road cycling, trail running, kayaking and hiking are just a few of the activities available across the alps for sporty-types. River Tribe Adventure Tours and Absolute Outdoors both run tours for active humans.
The 21 trails of the 7 Peaks Run, taking in Mt Baw Baw, Mt Buller, Mt Buffalo, Dinner Plain, Mt Hotham, Falls Creek and Lake Mountain make for a rewarding hike, run or ride. The spectacular mountain trails are graded and marked Green (less than 5 kilometres, moderate easy terrain), Blue (5-10 kilometres, moderately challenging terrain) and Black (10 – 15 kilometres, difficult terrain).
The pristine sub-alpine Mount Buffalo National Park is home to more than 90 kilometres of trails ranging from one to 18 kilometres in length. Most are well defined and signposted, making it easy to take a self-guided hike through the park. Those looking for more adrenaline pumping adventure can book ahead for a Portaledge Picnic. The concept, launched last year by Absolute Outdoors, invites the adventurous to abseil to a platform suspended over Buffalo Gorge and enjoy a gourmet picnic hamper from Coral Lee cafe, Bright, with champagne to finish.
Mountain Bike Riders are well catered for in the alps with multi-fitness level tracks and trails. Falls Creek’s new Flowtown (which officially opened in November 2016) is a six kilometre XC flow from the Village to Howmans Gap, creating a continuous 10 kilometre descent of 525 metres from Summit to Ticket Box. Also set to launch at Falls Creek is the beginner’s Nordic Bowl where the easy greens of Induction and Short Circuit provide the perfect introduction to the sport.
Mt Buller’s Australian Alpine Epic track is the Southern Hemisphere’s first and only International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Epic trail. The 40km back country trail takes riders through some of the most inspiring landscapes in the state. This trail is the first in the Southern Hemisphere to receive Epic status from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), which means that it offers an iconic, diverse and world-class wilderness experience. It forms part of Mt Buller Bike Park which is comprised of more than 50km of singletrack, two skills parks, what could be the best cross country trail in Australia (Stonefly) and what is the first flow down trail in the country (Copperhead) – plus iconic rides like the Delatite River trail that crosses the river 13 times.
Waterways to keep cool
Victoria’s High Country offers many beautiful, secluded and family-friendly places to cool off over summer. Bush campsites and swimming holes are dotted along the region’s major rivers – The Murray, Ovens, King and Kiewa.
When the thermostat is high in the valleys below, visitors can head for the hills where the temperature is always around 10 degrees cooler. Lake Catani at Mount Buffalo is a local favourite. There is a jetty to jump off, the water is cool and the setting is stunning. At Falls Creek, the always-cool Rocky Valley Lake is the highest significant body of water in Australia at 1600 metres above sea level. Just a short distance from the heart of the alpine village, the lake provides a playground for a range of aquatic activities including fishing, boating and swimming and the annual Mile High Dragon Boat Regatta (28 January 2017). Nearby, lakes at Pretty Valley and Bogong Village are also well worth seeking out.
Down below, Lake William Hovell near Cheshunt in the King Valley is a popular for all types of watersports and Lake Eildon is one of Victoria’s favourite summer destinations for houseboating and waterskiing. Lake Sambell in Beechworth is perfect for a summer family holiday with walking trails, swimming and canoeing. And in Harrietville, the local favourite is Tronoh Lake (the dredge hole), with its pontoon, great fishing and beautiful setting.
Icy cold beer
Three new breweries have opened up this year, making the High Country Brewery Trail a must-explore for beer lovers. Rutherglen Brewery, Social Bandit in Mansfield and Australia’s highest brewery, Blizzard Brewery at Dinner Plain have joined a suite of existing breweries scattered across the region. Namely: Sweetwater Brewing Company in Mount Beauty, Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth, Bright Brewery in Bright and Black Dog Brewery in Taminick.
Because no one will want to be the designated driver on this scenic road trip, RiverTribe Adventures provides everything needed for a day of tasting local craft beers in the High Country. With the option of an old-school BMW, 4WD Troopy with room for 10, a mini bus or even just a driver to drive your car, visitors can select which breweries to visit and squeeze in some other local producers on the way.
Some of the High Country’s most renowned restaurants also offer cooking classes, providing visitors with new tips and tricks to take home. Politini, Simones of Bright and Chrismont are all great places to scrub up kitchen skills with a cooking class – the latter having just launched a new cellar door, restaurant and larder that is sure to inspire.
Gnocchi on Wheels is a guided food, wine and cycling tour on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. The day starts with a Gnocchi-making class at Cafe Delize, followed by a cycle ride to the Pumpkin Seed Factory at Ovens for a tour and tasting of seeds and oils. Then, it is a cycle ride to to Eaglerange Estate for a tour and tasting before returning to Cafe Delize for a homemade Gnocchi lunch.
Alternatively, visitors can stay at The Kilns in Bright and cycle the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail to Ringer Reef Winery, before returning for an Italian cooking class with Patrizia Simone of Simone’s of Bright.
Gourmet local producers
The new King Valley Dairy will officially open on 6 December 2016 in Moyhu, just under 3 hours drive from Melbourne, in the picturesque King Valley. With a collection of small batch, naturally cultured dairy products including ‘Fancy Butters’, such as black truffle, smoked salt, confit garlic and whipped Valrhona chocolate, the dairy compliments the other local food and wine producers located in the famous Milawa Gourmet region, just 15 minutes away. Its neighbours include Tolpuddle Goat Cheese (with its just-opened cheese cellar door) Milawa Cheese, Brown Brothers Winery (with their acclaimed Epicurean Centre), as well as olive, honey and mustard producers.
For an out of the ordinary tipple, Tani Eat & Drink is set to open a new gin distillery in January called Reed & Co Distillery which will join Hurdle Creek Still as the region’s second gin distiller. Beechworth Honey Mead can be sampled at Beechworth Honey and Beechworth Cider at Amulet Vineyard.
The High Country is home to five distinct wine regions, known for artisanal wines; fortifieds, full-bodied reds and Italian varietals in particular. The internationally renowned Muscats of the Rutherglen Wine Region is an ideal place to start. To sample all the finest Muscats of the region, visitors can travel between a selection of highlight wineries: All Saints, St Leonards, Campbells, Chambers, Scion, and Stanton & Killeen.
Prosecco Road in the King Valley takes sparkling-lovers to stand out producers, Brown Brothers, Sam Miranda, Dal Zotto, Pizzini and Chrismont. For a suggested weekend itinerary taking in all of these and more, see here.
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