Wine, peaches, motorsports and gold. Four things rarely heard in the same sentence, except in Bathurst. The Central Tablelands town is a mystery to most folks from outside the area (and even to many who know it). Car nerds will know Mount Panorama, history buffs know about the mine sites and bushranger Ben Hall, sommeliers know the region’s top-notch orange, and fruit merchants know it produces the nation’s best peaches. But few know about it all.
The historic town and its surrounds are going through something of a renaissance. Young entrepreneurs are bringing new ideas to the food scene and local artists are finding an outlet to channel their vision of the area and its people through the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery.
Here’s our pick of what to do, and where to eat, drink and stay in the Bathurst area.
Painted Horse, Sofala
The ideal country cafe of mythology is a quaint little place in a tiny town that serves food as humble and elegant as the decor around it. A place where you feel like the only outsider but where you could stay all day. Painted Horse is the rare example of that myth becoming reality. Kate Geale and Nicole McIlwaine opened Painted Horse in the 200-person town of Sofala, where McIlwaine used to camp as a kid. They serve local roaster Bills Beans, and their menu is a mix of CWA simplicity and dishes McIlwaine learnt working alongside acclaimed Italian chef Stefano Manfredi. Whether you want crab linguini or just scones and jam, you’ll be eating in a rustic courtyard with the locals.
27 Denison Street, Sofala
Webb and Co
A live music venue that dishes out $10 pastas, kebabs and classic cocktails – probably not the place you’d expect to find in a historic colonial building. But it all works at this rowdy spot on George Street. There’s something very 18th-century tavern about Webb and Co. People seem to care less about the past and more about what the stranger they’ve just met has to say – and of course whether they should order a mound of bolognaise or the local riff on san choy bow. If cocktails aren’t your thing, choose from six tapped beers or a tablelands vino.
175 George Street, Bathurst
Church Bar + Woodfired Pizza
Church Bar is exactly what it sounds like: a bar and pizzeria in an old church building. The bar side of things is cocktail- and wine-forward but there’s a good selection of craft brews, too. Cocktails are less classic and more creative, and the aforementioned wines focus on local vineyards. Pizzas are delivered straight from a woodfired oven (as the name suggests) and are the crispy thin-base style with unashamedly inauthentic toppings – see the croc and coconut or the Thai spiced prawns with mozzarella. The building which houses all this is, like many old country churches, charmingly brick-laid and weather worn, and the courtyard is the best place to take it in.
1 Ribbon Gang Lane
Mudgee Brewing Company
Certainly this is the only place in the state where you can get a beer brewed on-site, a cappuccino, a malted-grain schnitzel and a plate of eggs, all while listening to a local band in a 100-plus-year-old hall. Best accept that there are so many things going on at Mudgee Brewing Company it’s impossible to try it all in a single visit – though fortunately, it’s open all day.
One thing you should definitely invest your time in is the Mudgee Mud imperial stout, a beer named after a funny failure by the company’s predecessor, Federal Brewery. The long-since-closed beer maker used to brew a stout using well water from a nearby farm, but when it switched to town water, customers started calling the beer “Mudgee mud” due to the sheer amount of sediment inside. This one is mud only in name: expect far less sediment and a complex aromatic profile with a roasted, bitter coffee flavour.
4 Church Street, Mudgee
While the other venues listed here take their inspiration from the local landscape, stories and produce, Dogwood BX is inspired by another far away: America. It’s sorta the modern version of an Old West saloon, with families traipsing through in the day and lights dimming at night. Inside, you’ll find creaming soda, bourbon, scotch and American ales, and a menu touting cornbread, heftily stacked burgers and ribs so tender they could be eaten by a newborn with a plastic spoon. It’s also worth checking out the local Mexican joint, El Guapo Cantina on the same street – a more recent venture by the same couple who opened Dogwood in 2017.
87 Keppel Street, Bathurst
Royal Hotel Sofala
From the outside, no one is going expect a room like this. You’re looking at a country pub that’s been watching its town shrink since it opened in 1851, charming but austere and seemingly unchanged for decades. But upstairs at the Royal Hotel is an oasis, a simple and beautifully fitted out room that puts the average budget pub accommodation to shame. You can soak in the history of the tiny town from the pub’s sunny veranda but still seal yourself away at night, undisturbed by banter downstairs or the goings on in Sofala’s picturesque streets.
The name gives a lot away. This property has that rare sense of quiet country isolation, and a humble interior to match. But it also sells the place short. The Barn is a full two-bedroom house with a proper kitchen, log-fire heating, an outdoor hot tub, a wooden deck, a landscape garden and 400 acres of rolling tablelands bush, all just for you. Use it as a base to explore the area or take a few days to recharge, go bushwalking or just read your book.
The owners sell it as an authentic farm experience, but there’s nothing strenuous or stressful about staying at Bella. No cow is going to hassle you at four o’clock in the morning. The only thing to do here is whatever fun you invent for yourself, because around you there’s just 140 acres of pristine bush. The home is a beautifully designed timber farmhouse, with an elegant and efficient fit-out. There’s room for eight inside and another four can sleep in the nearby granny flat, but you’ll probably all end up fighting over who takes the sunny loft space. The property’s close to all the pubs and eateries listed above, not to mention the historical town of Hill End and Mudgee’s acclaimed wineries.
Mayfield Garden is the biggest privately owned cool-climate garden anywhere in Australia. Oddly, it started out in 1984 as a sheep farm, but gradually, with the help of many local tradespeople and gardeners, the paddocks were transformed into models of the great European gardens of yore. Now, there’s an 80-metre cascade that flows into a walled kitchen garden, 2.5 hectares of water gardens, a cafe that uses produce grown on-site, a store selling fruit and veg, and, naturally, a box-hedge maze. It’s open to the public almost every day of the year – but it’s worth checking the garden’s website for upcoming festivals and events.
530 Mayfield Rd, Oberon
Bathurst Regional Art Gallery
Bathurst’s local gallery is one of the oldest in NSW but, thankfully, it’s not at all dated. With its strident ongoing commitment to the local arts community, BRAG (as it’s known to locals and arts aficionados) has maintained both a progressive approach to new art as well as a more classical collection that speaks to the area’s history and landscape. The permanent exhibitions, which gather some $8.5 million worth of art, include a large selection of Lloyd Rees paintings and ceramics from some of Australia’s leading sculptors. There’s also 25 exhibitions a year showcasing locals as well as touring national and international artists.
70–78 Keppel Street, Bathurst
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