Adelaide City Break
I’m just back in Rome after a two-month hiatus in Australia, of course spending precious time with family and childhood friends, but also showing off my homeland to my Swiss husband. We started with a bang, spending New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Opera House (post to come). We watched the world’s best tennis players battle it out at the Australian Open in Melbourne (post to come) and of course we explored my home town and surrounds in South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales (posts to come). But the surprise entry on our tour of Australia was Adelaide!
Adelaide gets a bad rap from Australians. It’s thought to be a bit slower than its capital city counterparts but that couldn’t be further from the truth. After two and a half days in the ‘city of churches’, I was in need of recovery after overindulging in the fabulous local wines and produce. Thank goodness Lent began the day I left Adelaide. This year I gave up alcohol between Ash Wednesday (Valentine’s Day) and Easter Sunday (April Fool’s Day). Yes, it’s a strange year for Christians! Anyway, I certainly went out in fine style, devouring the light crisp whites from Adelaide Hills and full-bodied reds from the Barossa Valley - and everything in between! It’s all within easy reach of the city center. We were blessed to be able to stay with friends in the enviable position of Brougham Place in North Adelaide with an amazing view over the Adelaide Oval in one direction and a stone’s throw from some of Adelaide’s best dining along O’Connell Street. Best of all, our host generously doubled as our designated driver - an absolute must when visiting Adelaide’s wine regions.
We booked some last minute flights from the Gold Coast on Jetstar (Qantas’ low-cost sister airline) and we were happy with the friendly service both ways. Arriving in Adelaide at midday, we were in the Adelaide Hills by 1pm and sitting down to a flight of Shaw and Smith wines paired with a selection of local cheeses. HEAVEN! I’ve always loved their Sauvignon Blanc but this visit introduced me to their Riesling. I’ll have to track down a couple of bottles to take back to Rome! The cellar door is well set up for tastings. Friendly staff talked us through the five wines (three white and two red) and two cheese platters were plenty for lunch for our group of six. Luckily we arrived before the lunch crowds and had no trouble being seated without a booking.
We used this great cellar door guide to find our way around the hills and the plethora of wineries. Throughout the afternoon we visited Nepenthe and Hanhdorf among others, but the standouts were Bird in Hand for the beautiful setting (and fun, easy-drinking sparkling) and Petaluma winery. Petaluma has an abundance of great wines and ‘Croser’ (their sparkling wine) is my favorite Australian sparkling. I tried four varieties of the Croser and then ordered another glass of the Croser Piccadilly Valley Vintage 2013 to finish off our first afternoon in the Adelaide Hills. My husband who is more of a red drinker picked up several special bottles of Shiraz and Coonawarra Merlot, some to lie down for a few years and some to enjoy now. Here, the service was superb! We were brought complimentary cheese platters with our wines and our server, noting how much I loved the Croser, gifted me a champagne stopper, the perfect memento of our visit.
Our hosts booked Tony Tomatoes for dinner, renowned for the best pizza in Adelaide and even certified by the Accademia Italiana della Pizza in Italy. It was only a few minutes’ walk from our accommodation, and the drive back into the city from the wineries gave us just enough recovery time. The restaurant was buzzing. We shared some delicious pizzas and could only watch the bar staff turn out cocktail after cocktail since we were saving ourselves for a visit to another great wine region the next day - the Barossa Valley! Walking home along restaurant-lined O’Connell Street we magically found room for dessert and coffee and stopped in at Cucina for some great coffee and friendly service from Italian owner Peter. When we returned for breakfast the next morning, Peter was there again laying out crisp white cloths on the tables and greeting us with a big smile. I couldn’t go past the grilled haloumi with scrambled eggs, asparagus, snow peas and rye bread on the side. I won’t get that in Rome! The good news is that breakfast is served at Cucina until 4pm daily. The bad news is that we didn’t have a chance to go back before we left Adelaide.
After our big breakfast, we arrived mid-morning in the Barossa, stopping first at the famous Penfolds winery, home to some of Australia’s best-known and loved reds, including the world-famous Grange. I was on my own drinking at our first tasting stop of the day and the understanding staff member happily offered to let me try a couple of wines without charging me the tasting fee. There were plenty more tourists behind me waiting to try their delicious wines. This was the best place for wine accessories, even displaying a stunning crystal decanter. We will definitely return!
Then on to Maggie Beer’s farm shop and eatery to try some local produce...and even meet the lady herself! Despite a power blackout the celebrity chef managed a quick hello and photo with us. We stocked up on lots of delicious chutneys, jams and salad dressings before sitting down to lunch at the farm restaurant. A starter each was all we needed to be ready for some serious wine tasting. I loved the fried green tomato slices accompanied by creamy stracciatella cheese and plenty of cracked pepper and olive oil. Yum!
Back on the road, we tasted at the wineries Bethany, Rockport and one of my favorites - Grant Burge. We couldn’t leave here without picking up a couple of bottles of their amazing single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (2009). I wonder how long that will last in our house...!
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better we pulled off the road into boutique winery St Hugo (deciding to forego larger operation Jacobs Creek next door). Imagine a large tasting room overlooking the vineyards with plush leather couches and a fireplace. Everything is beautifully done here and we happily relaxed into the couches, everyone trying their own personalized wine flights, accompanied by local cheese and beetroot dip. Ahhh!
Again tonight, only a short time to recover on the drive back to Adelaide City before dining at a floating pavilion on the River Torrens at the stunning River Cafe, one of Adelaide’s premier restaurants. This was one of the best meals we’ve had in Australia - lightly fried whitebait, mussels in a rich broth with crusty bread, beef fillet and plenty more local wines. Well, why would you drink anything else?
After two days of wineries, we were a little wined out and of course we had to leave something to try on our next visit! Our host drove us two hours south along the National Highway to the tiny town of Meningie to visit the family-owned and run Mill Park Stud where he keeps some of his racehorses. What a treat to see such happy horses on 50+ acre paddocks. Raised in their natural environment with individual feeding programs, the Watson family’s horses are achieving big wins on the Australian racetrack circuit. After driving between paddocks, treated to the occasional kangaroo sighting, we were welcomed into the family home for a generous ‘ploughman’s lunch’. South Australian hospitality at its finest.
We raced back to Adelaide just in time to leave the men at home and head off to an invite-only event for Adelaide’s fashion set: iconic local designer Sally Phillips’ AW18 runway show. Much to my delight we were showered with one of my new local favorite sparkling wines from Bird in Hand and then treated to a showing of absolutely stunning designs. Each piece could add so much to a girl’s wardrobe! Looking around the well-heeled crowd I could see that Adelaide women agree, since many were sporting Sally’s designs. The woman sitting next to me, obviously an expert, could even point out Sally’s belts and neck pieces on those sitting nearby. I fell in love with the plaited leather boots worn by all the models and hopped backstage as soon as the parade finished to check my size and pop in an order!
So whether it’s fashion, food, wine or friendly locals that determine your travel plans, all I can say is visit Adelaide. For the next visit we’ll leave it slightly later in the year (mid-February to mid-March) to capitalize on the city's Fringe Festival, the world's second-largest annual arts gathering with hundreds of events scattered throughout the city and as far as the wineries we visited. Next time!