There’s nothing new about the appeal of Orange – the award-winning New South Wales wine region has long been pulling Sydneysiders into its weekend-away orbit.
But while the prospect of a four-hour drive from the city might once have put people off, Qantas has added three new weekly return services that take only 50-minutes, meaning that by the time you’ve had your inflight snack, you’re already preparing to land and go off for your adventure.
Whether you drive or fly, here’s how to get the most of your trip.
Grab coffee and breakfast at Byng Street Local Store & Cafe. There’s apple-crumble porridge and fluffy pancakes, but our pick is the breakfast roll. It’s stuffed with crisp bacon, smoked cheddar, house-made ketchup, chilli mayo and egg (which are gathered each morning with the help of owner Jeremy Norris’s four-year-old son, Monty).
For breakfast-dessert (that’s a thing), there’s Racine Bakery in the carpark near Harris Farm. First opened to supply the now-closed Racine Restaurant, the bakery is a standout, and soon to be part of Racine Bread + Wine. If there’s an apple tart left, nab it.
Across the road (a benefit of regional towns) is the recently opened gelato shop Spilt Milk Bar. Using local ingredients, owners Sarah Quigley and Andrew Hamilton take a “cow to cone” approach to create flavours that are low-sugar and seasonal. In small-town style, sometimes they are even crowdsourced: a call-out to locals to swap their Meyer lemons for gelato resulted in a lemon sorbet and a lemon curd they use to top off their milk gelato. Our pick? The kiwifruit sorbet.
For fine dining with no fuss head to Charred Kitchen and Bar. Dishes might include spanner crab with a smoked bonito butter; potato-and-parmesan dumplings; or charred lamb rump. Pastry chef Hyeonju Jeon is behind the excellent desserts. Locals also love Lolli Redini and Agrestic Grocer (see more about those here), and Forini's Italian run by sisters.
When it comes to fruit, there’s one in particular Orange is known for (and it’s not oranges.) The cool climate and high altitude makes it the perfect grape-growing region, and it boasts more than 80 vineyards.
Ross Hill Wines started as a cherry farm and is now the first certified carbon neutral winery in Australia. Its cellar door and vineyard sit at 1020 metres above sea level, making it one of our highest and coolest. Its chardonnay challenges a generation of “I-don’t-do-chardy” drinkers, and it’s the house wine at restaurants such as Sydney's Catalina. If you need more convincing, regional pioneering maestro Michael Manners offers cooking classes at the winery.
Philip Shaw took a step back from his eponymous label in his “retirement” and released Hoosegg. The eight-bottle series is split between “Hoo” (three playful wines designed to be drunk straight away) and “Egg”, five wines that can be cellared, including a $250 cabernet sauvignon blend. The cellar door is Shaw’s house surrounded by vines, and a tasting conducted in his living room will take you through each drop with his dog Luccie by his side. It’s a very casual affair (and you’ll get an idea of where those cheeky label designs come from). Tastings are by appointment only and cost $50.
The brothers behind Printhie Wines have opened a cellar door for their Swift Sparkling on the slopes of Mount Canobolas. While most vineyards have a sparkling option, Ed and Dave Swift saw the potential with Orange’s altitude to explore the traditional winemaking technique further. Greater elevation means greater acidity retention, and in turn, great sparkling. In just three years their five-bottle series has won a huge stack of awards.
For the vineyards that don’t have cellar doors, there’s Ferment. It’s in town, in an old Hibernian Society building (with a friendly ghost, apparently), and owner Simon Forsyth operates an all-inclusive cellar door in the day, and wine bar at night.
But Orange is more than vino. Parrot Distilling Co is a new family-run distiller with a suite of gins run by founder Ben Cochrane. It’s collaborated with local teahouse Remy & Max to create two gin cocktails. Also in the works are tastings at The Aviary, their cellar door and bar serving toasties from the pizza oven (so they can pump them out quickly).
Walk it all off at Federal Falls. The four-kilometre loop around Mount Canobolas leads you down through snow gum forests to the base of a tumbling waterfall. It’s not for everyone though – the walk incudes a steep hill on the way back. If you’re looking for something lighter, try the nearby Pinnacle Lookout for stellar views of the sweeping valley.
If you didn’t pack your activewear, there are plenty of shops to get your steps up. The Sonic is a good looking store with clothing, homewares, art and a cafe. And The White Place, run by a mother and daughter, is a boutique inspired by the colours of Santorini.
While staying on a vineyard is an attractive offer (there’s glamping at Nashdale Lane Wines and a boutique villa at Rowlee), there’s something to be said for staying in the middle of town. For that, you can’t go past Byng Street Boutique Hotel.
Housed in a historical homestead with a clever contemporary extension, the hotel is filled with theatrical light fittings and splashes of colour. The modern wing has 19 rooms and suites, the latter with sizeable bathtubs and spacious king beds. If you can, opt for the three rooms in the heritage wing within the original homestead. The Yallungah suite even has a fireplace. It doesn’t get much more country cosy than that.
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