With the border with NSW recently re-opened, South Australia and its world-class wineries, stunning scenery and historic towns are sure to become one of the country’s hottest post-lockdown travel destinations.
Flights to the state capital Adelaide are fairly cheap — especially if you were lucky enough to snag some in Jetstar’s flash sale — and Spring school holidays are almost underway, making it a great time to visit in the ‘Festival State’.
Which begs the question, where are the best places to eat, drink, play and be merry in Adelaide?
Sean Baxter, brand director for Never Never Distilling Co., has done the legwork for prospective holiday-makers by pulling together a local’s guide to McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s premier wine regions.
He tells Yahoo Lifestyle that local business owners are ready and raring to go when it comes to welcoming visitors from out of state (aside from Victoria, of course).
“With domestic tourism in Australia booming as a result of COVID cases easing, there’s no better time to eat and drink your way around one of Australia’s premier wine regions,” he says.
Below, Sean walks us through just a handful of ‘The Vale’s’ hot spots as well as some insider tips on top drops to sip and when to book to avoid busy times.
What’s the McLaren Vale wine region all about?
Just 45 minutes from Adelaide, McLaren Vale is one of Australia’s premier wine regions and has been producing some of the country's best wines for over 100 years.
Nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf St Vincent beaches, the distinctly Mediterranean climate has paved the way for the region to produce its signature dry reds and a culinary scene inspired by the incredible local produce. A thriving cellar door scene made up of over 80 wineries means there is always something new to discover amongst the picturesque rolling hills of ‘The Vale.’
Where to eat and drink
Comprising of Never Never Distilling Co, Chalk Hill Wines and Cucina Di Strada, Chalk Hill has become one of the hottest destinations in South Australia. The architecturally designed corrugated structure is home to Never Never’s Distillery Door, delivering gin flights, distillery tours and cocktail experiences.
Chalk Hill Wines offer fabulous wine tastings with chocolate and cheese pairings to boot. Cucina Di Strada offers an incredible selection of Italian treats, including their already famous ‘Pinsa,’ a Roman pizza variation that’s light and fluffy and smothered in generous toppings. It has some of the best views of the Mt Lofty ranges hand down and it’s sprawling lawns
Down the Rabbit Hole
McLaren Vale has a history of pushing the boundaries when it comes to its wine experiences and Down the Rabbit Hole Wines have one of our favourite contemporary cellar doors. In fact, the cellar door has a name, Lennon, the blue double-decker bus lovingly converted into an intimate tasting space. With sprawling lawns and some cracking wines, it’s a great place to spend a balmy summer evening with friends.
Hugh Hamilton Wines
Another of our favourite Mclaren Vale gems is definitely Hugh Hamilton Wines. Perched atop a small hill with a panoramic view of expansive vineyards, every element of the Cellar Door has been designed to enhance your tasting and give you permission to settle in and engage with the wines and the surroundings. We love what they’re doing with new and exciting wine varieties — if you can get your hands on their Black Ops Shiraz Saperavi you’ll see what we mean.
The Salopian Inn is a Mclaren Vale institution, knocking out banging food without pretension. The cuisine is varied, mirroring owner-chef Karena Armstrong’s own eclectic food inspiration with dumplings, steamed buns and noodle dishes comfortably sitting alongside pies, tagines and confit duck. The garden onsite grows a fair whack of the produce used, with the rest sourced locally within the region.
Star of Greece
Star of Greece is not a Greek restaurant, it’s named after a ship of the same name that wrecked along the coastline in 1888. With one of the most spectacular ocean views in the area and fresh, locally caught seafood, Star of Greece is a mecca for those who celebrate amazing dining experiences. They also have a kiosk located just outside of their restaurant doors, so if you miss out on a table, you can always grab some salt and pepper calamari and take in the views.
Pizzateca is from the same operators as Cucina Di Strada and are one of the most popular venues in the Vale. Their authentic Napoli pizza style is widely celebrated as the best in South Australia and no wine tour is complete without first mopping up the remnants of a few local bottles of red with some pizza and red sauce. It’s very popular on weekends, especially in the warmer months, so if you’re trying for a walk-in, try later in the afternoon after 2pm.
Where to stay
Tent on a Hill
Tent on a Hill is more than just a ‘glamping’ experience. It offers guests the opportunity to truly experience the beauty of the McLaren Vale landscape, take in a few meteor showers before waking up to watch the kangaroo’s graze one paddock over.
No bedrolls are required, each tent comes with a queen bed, luxurious linens, plush towels and private toilet and shower facilities. It’s perfect in winter with the fire pit roaring paired with a local Shiraz.
The Vineyard McLaren Vale
Comprising several luxurious guest houses and cadoles, the Vineyard McLaren Vale is an incredible slice of luxury in regional South Australia. Each room enjoys views over the vineyard, pristine linens and a complimentary mini-bar. Cadole Avalon is the newest offering, which is an elegant ‘pod’ that almost floats above the vineyard canopy. A real log fire and spacious king bed offer guests the perfect contemporary space for a romantic Retreat.
Things to do
Port Willunga beach and the fishermen’s caves
Grab some take away from the Star of Greece Kiosk and head down to Willunga Beach to check out the fishermen’s caves. They were hewn into the soft limestone rock by fisherman, who used them to store their boats and gear.
The fishermen are long since gone however the caves remain and offer the perfect place for a beachside picnic or impromptu shelter. The caves sit adjacent to the remains of the Port Willunga pier, another famous South Australian landmark.
Willunga Farmers Market
The Willunga Farmers Markets are another McLaren Vale institution. It was the very first farmers market established in South Australia and definitely has the volume and quality to make it one of the best.
Expect to run into a variety of local chefs shopping for their seasonal menus along with local producers of fruit, vegetables, cheese and olive oil. If you’re a foodie and love to cook, these markets are a snapshot of the incredible produce McLaren Vale has to offer.
Who can travel to South Australia?
According to the South Australian government website:
“Travellers from ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, TAS and WA are able to enter South Australia directly without the requirement for COVID-19 testing or 14 day self-quarantine upon arrival, as long as during the 14 days immediately before their arrival in South Australia, they have been the low transmission zone (ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, TAS or WA) for that preceding 14 days.
“Travellers from Victoria, other than approved categories of Essential Travellers, are not permitted to travel to South Australia.”
Details correct at time of publishing.