Rutherglen is often the pick of travellers heading toward Victoria’s northern border, but a little to the east Albury is well worth a visit, hugging its own part of the Murray River. Technically, it’s on the New South Wales side, but the small township is an easy trip from Melbourne.
Albury is three-and-a-half hours’ drive from the Victorian capital, and it boasts plenty to eat, drink and explore. It’s a steep walk (or easy drive) to the top of Monument Hill, but from there you can see the full sprawl of the town, population 52,000. And there’s plenty beyond the historic facades of the heritage-listed buildings, 21 of which can be found on the CBD walking tour. The locals are big on regional produce, the art is inclusive and there’s a slice of luxury to be found right on the main drag.
This modern European bistro in the middle of Albury has a dedicated local following, meaning it’s booked out most nights. It’s owned by Matthew Fuller, who spent years in front-of-house positions at restaurants around the region, before teaming up with head chef Tara Davis at Bistro Selle. It’s pared back; there are black bentwood chairs, varnished wooden tables, sheer curtains and very little else. Davis serves wholesome food, such as market-bought fish and lamb, with fine-dining finesse.
The menu changes regularly, but the popular (if polarising) mainstay is crispy tripe served with cauliflower puree, boudin noir (blood sausage) and a sweet-and-sour curry sauce. Fuller is passionate about matching wines and chooses from a rotating local list. There’s often a durif or muscat from the nearby small-batch winery Scion, in Rutherglen.
The River Deck Cafe
Overlooking the Murray River in Noreuil Park, The River Deck Cafe sits part way along the five-kilometre Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk. The cafe opens for breakfast and lunch through winter, and for dinner come summer, and the menu changes with the seasons.
There’s always a house-made gnocchi with toppings such as mushroom ragu, ricotta with pumpkin, and Mansfield trout cured with citrus or gravlax-style (cured with salt and sugar). Wines from King Valley, Beechworth and Rutherglen make up most of the list, and you can order 150-millitre or 250-millitre glasses.
Come for a whisky, stay for a trim. Or vice versa. The Two Fingers bar and barber is set up like a gentleman’s den slash prohibition-era bar. The novelty is part of the fun. It’s all leather, dark wood and old-school barber chairs, with a token deer’s head above the fireplace. Side note: they serve coffee by day as well.
Temperance & General
Since opening in mid-2019, Temperance & General has apparently been abuzz with locals thanks to its modern, moody decor and relaxed after-work vibe. It’s open Wednesday to Saturday and has an approachable drinks menu, with international whisky, predominantly Australian gin and beer, local wines and classic cocktails. The tapas menu features spicy beef bulgogi meatballs, roasted corn cobs, tinned fish, chips and a charcuterie board. You’ll find it down a laneway in the middle of Albury, ready for a pre- or post-dinner pop in.
The Brothers Cup
The Brothers Cup in North Albury is where residents get their coffee Monday through Friday. It’s a small-batch roastery with an espresso bar attached. In-house they serve filter and espresso with several blends to choose from (or take home). Pair your coffee with a pastry from nearby milk bar and burger joint Frankies – there are almond croissants and pain aux raisins (if you were wondering).
Corowa Whisky and Chocolate Factory
It’s worth the 45-minute drive to visit the heritage-listed flour mill in Corowa, now home to the Corowa Whisky and Chocolate Factory. It’s nestled in a township that calls itself the “birthplace of Federation”, where the resolution to make Australia a commonwealth passed 1893.
Built in 1921, the mill sat dormant for 40 years after closing in the ’70s. The current owners bought it from the council for $1 with one condition: that they make it a tourist attraction. It was refurbished and is now the home of boutique whisky-maker Corowa Distilling Co. Try the single-malt Bosque Verde aged in American oak port barrels, or the spicy Mad Dog Morgan aged in muscat fortified-wine barrels. Whisky tastings are paired with Green Grove Organics chocolate, and you can make your own chocolate freckles in the engine room-turned-kitchen just over from the tasting room.
Murray Art Museum Albury
The Murray Art Museum in Albury (MAMA) has an impressive collection of local and international talent, and pays close attention to Indigenous artists. Some visitors come for the classics, such as a lithographic print of Kandinsky’s expressionist Improvisation 31. But there are forward-thinking contemporary exhibitions as well. A 2019 show, Zzzzz: Sleep, Somnambulism, Madness, included a 16-millimetre black-and-white film called Sleep (1963) by Andy Warhol and a collection of work from Lee Hadwin, who is a prolific sleep-drawer (like a sleepwalker).
This spa hotel in a former bank building is named after the year it was built. Owners Ririn and Kevin Yaxley are also behind Circa 1936 in Corowa.
There are two rooms to choose from. The Dean suite spans the length of the building’s facade and takes its name from the street it overlooks. It boasts a super king bed, desk nook, complimentary mini-bar and hand-beaten copper bathtub.
Inspired by self-taught New South Wales artist Pro Hart (who was born in 1928), it features red-metal ant sculptures on the wall alongside Hart-style paintings. Across the terrazzo tiled floor (a hangover from the bank days), the Stanley suite is Warhol-inspired (he was also born in ’28) with pop-art painted lips dotted on the ceiling and a self-portrait of the artist above the bed.
The adjoining spa has a mix of Indonesian and native Australian treatments, including an Ultimate Vinotherapy treatment complete with a body wrap using shiraz grapes and a wine-infused bath to finish. Rates start at $350 a night, with some packages including a welcome beverage, breakfast, cocktail-hour drinks and nightcap to enjoy at reception or in your room.