The Cobram region on the Murray River is an easily attainable slice of country life. Just three hours’ drive north of Melbourne on the border of Victoria and NSW, the town’s sublime landscapes, paddock-to-plate dining, local drops and one-of-a-kind businesses make for an attractive weekend away.
We headed north and spent more than a little time traversing the highways and byways around the area to find the best places to eat, sleep, play and drink.
The Big Strawberry
You’ll find the Big Strawberry in Koonoomoo. Run by Darren and Tarn Hayes, the Big Strawberry is a prime local example of paddock-to-plate dining: outside is the (strawberry) paddock, inside the nearby restaurant is the plate (of strawberries). And, of course, there’s literally a very big strawberry outside too.
It’s a pretty interesting paddock, with some very fancy heating and cooling systems keeping the berries from turning to jam before they’re meant to. Visitors can wander around and pick their own, but we preferred being served an enormous stack of strawberry pancakes topped with cream, accompanied by some freshly-churned strawberry ice-cream.
Everything here is made in-house: wines and liquors, chutneys and relishes, as well as jam – lots of it. There’s also a shed out back with a pretty sweet collection of ’70s and ’80s trailbikes, along with a wrecked Ford hanging from the ceiling. Darren says he’s going to fix it – one day.
The Big Strawberry, Goulburn Valley Highway, Koonoomoo.
This little Italian diner on Cobram’s main street is pretty unassuming, but there’s some very interesting stuff going on inside. Owner Antonio Indriolo grew up in Sicily before moving to the Murray as a farmer. When that industry dipped, Indriolo began making chilli and selling it at farmers markets. Next he thought he’d give bread a go (he made his 8-year-old starter from an apple and some vinegar), followed by pasta with outrageous colourful stripes, and now pizza.
Indriolo’s proudest creation on the day Broadsheet visited was a new stuffed gnocchi dish. Unlike most gnocchi, it tastes almost exclusively of potato (rather than flour) and has a delicate spinach-and-ricotta centre. He also smothers it in truffles. A true slice of Sicily on Main Street.
Casa 68, 66/68 High Street, Cobram.
Rich Glen Olive Estate
This is, perhaps, the sweetest venue in town. Hosted in an old-timey farmhouse surrounded by verandah on all sides, this farm-to-table cafe is the quintessential country day out.
Kids play badminton on the lawn; adults kick-back with wine on garden chairs. A windmill turns slowly as a family discusses an enormous piece of lemon-drizzle cake. There’s brassica and parsley in the kitchen garden, and beyond that, thousands of olive trees stretching across countless fields all the way down to the Murray.
Run by former chef Ros Vodusek and her husband Damien, the menu is simple and sensible: four or five dishes featuring what’s in season, all perfectly prepared. Think pie with a classic rough-puff top, handmade sausage rolls and a soup-of-the-day. The Goodness Bowl features parsnips, tomatoes, chargrilled capsicum and a little brown rice, all drenched in delicious olive oil. Along with olive oil, there’s also an in-house skincare range and other fine-smelling things available to purchase.
Rich Glen Olive Estate, 734 Murray Valley Highway, Yarrawonga.
Carlo Monichino, a refugee from Piedemonte, began making wine in Katunga back in 1962. In fact, he was the first immigrant following World War II to get a vigneron’s license. He even invented his own machine to chill the grapes as they were picked from the vine to slow down the ferment and retain those delicate flavours. The family tradition remains strong, with daughter Anna Sergi running the business side of things while son Terry Monichino makes the wine.
The winery’s roots might be traditional, but its methods are modern: Anna and Terry are completely into their wild yeasts and their whole-bunch fermentation. The estate now oversees 25 hectares and produces 27 varietals. And the Monichino Wines cellar door is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm – look out for their semi-regular pizza pop-ups.
Monichino Wines, 70 Berrys Road, Katunga.
RACV Cobram Resort
Nestled on the banks of the Murray River, this easily accessible, comfortably appointed and tastefully designed resort is smack-dab in the centre of one of the country’s richest agricultural regions.
With its own lake at the centre of the property, mountain bikes to borrow, both indoor and outdoor pools, and a well-equipped gymnasium, it’s as much a spot for movement as it is for relaxation. If you’re an RACV member you can also access discounts to a range of local attractions.
On-site cabins are quiet and comfy, with built-in kitchenettes and make the ideal setting to explore the local area or just sit back and watch the sun rise and set..
RACV Cobram Resort, 154 Campbell Road, Cobram.
Cape Horn Vineyard
Part of the pleasure of Cape Horn Vineyard is getting there. The route takes you behind Echuca, through a forest of river red gums and across the Goulburn River, before wending its way towards the Murray. There, on its tangerine-coloured banks sits the vineyard – with a substantial cellar door and vast outdoor garden. Serving varieties grown in its gnarly old vineyard, there’s free-flowing marsanne and durif, as well as some harder-to-find primativo. On weekends you’ll find cheese platters and woodfired pizzas, as well as local and touring artists performing.
Cape Horn Vineyard, 489 Stewarts Bridge Road, Echuca Village.
Byramine Homestead Brewery
There’s a grim story behind this National Trust building: in 1842, Elizabeth Hume’s husband was murdered by bushrangers in Gunning, NSW, so her brother-in-law Hamilton Hume – then a well-known colonial “explorer” – built the homestead as an act of mercy for Elizabeth and her nine children. The homestead, which features odd octagonal rooms (designed fortress-style to defend against attack) and period decorations, still stands today. Outside lies one of the largest veggie gardens around. If macabre colonial tourism isn’t your vibe, then perhaps the beer will be – stout, lager, red ale and cider are all made in-house here.
Byramine Homestead Brewery, 1436 Murray Valley Highway, Burramine.
I thought I’d seen cacti before. I’d never really felt anything about them one way or the other, and I was pretty sure that a vaguely Mexican cactus theme park wasn’t my jam. But Cactus Country in Strathmerton blew my mind.
For the last 40 years, Jim Hall, a local farmer and natural green thumb, has been building a 12-acre cactus landscape that feels like another planet. There are eight different trails that guide you through the botany of South America, Mexico, North America and South Africa – as well as some giant hybrids unique to this location. There’s also a very sweet little cantina with all the charm of a Melbourne taqueria (not to mention Mexico), where you can feast on delicious cactus cake, coffee and nachos with toppings like pulled pork and chilli con carne. Once a year, Cactus Country also holds its annual Day of the Dead Carnival. We’ll be back.
Cactus Country, 4986 Murray Valley Highway, Strathmerton.
Bike Trails along the Murray
Cobram boasts a wealth of bike trails. A 15-kilometre round trip will take you along the banks of the Murray, passing through ancient stands of red river gums, and the phascogales and gliders who live within them. It’ll also take you through the Barooga Botanical Gardens and ¬– conveniently ¬¬– through the Cobram Barooga Golf Club, where there’s either a cup of tea or a cold drink at the 19th available at your leisure. Bike hire is available at RACV Cobram Resort.
Fishing at Lake Mulwala
About 40 minutes drive from Cobram is Lake Mulwala, an enormous man-made reservoir created by the Yarrawonga Weir – more a giant inland sea. A natural floodplain, a stand of bone-white red gums still stands in the centre of the lake. They’re both beautiful and startling. The chief attraction of Lake Mulwala is the mighty and mightily delicious Murray Cod, and this is one of the few remaining places to get it. You’ll need a NSW fishing licence to angle for this mythic fish, since the lake falls in NSW’s jurisdiction.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with RACV Resorts.