When I was young, road trips usually meant havoc… generally of the fun kind, but havoc nonetheless. I am one of four children and my parents would pile us into the trusty family wagon and we’d set off. We stopped frequently, sang dreadfully, laughed a lot, and fought a little. It was a heap of fun, but the word relaxing does not come to mind when I reminisce.
These days, road trips have a different meaning for me. It’s just my husband and I and we take our time getting to know the road we are travelling on and the vehicle we are driving in. We even name our cars – whether they are rented, borrowed or bought.
We’d spoken about a weekend getaway to Mudgee for a long time and once we had the right car (we named our Volkswagen Passat Alltrack Alfred – Alfred the Alltrack) we set off for a weekend of leisurely driving, beautiful scenery, plenty of food, and the occasional drop of wine. With a little pre-planning we were able hit the road running and within 40 minutes we’d left Sydney behind, aiming to reach the Blue Mountains by dinnertime and Mudgee a couple of hours thereafter.
We’d timed our sojourn just right, cruising into the Hydro Majestic Hotel grounds to watch the evening’s colourful sunset performance. Parking Alfred, we got out to stretch our legs as the fiery oranges and candy pinks faded into dusk.
Next on the agenda: dinner. My husband and I have driven past Alchemy Woodfired Pizza (located in Little Hartley) many times, but have never found the opportune time to stop in until now. I honestly think that all pizza should be cooked this way – in a woodfired oven. Nothing more needs to be said here.
With the Blue Mountains behind us and traffic easing, we turned onto the Castlereagh Highway just after Lithgow, giving Alfred a chance to stretch his legs a little. With next to no traffic on the road and making the most of cruise control, we make great time and see the city limits of Mudgee pop up close to 10pm.
Parking Alfred, we got out to stretch our legs as the fiery oranges and candy pinks faded into dusk.
I say of course because Mudgee is renowned for its food and wine and most people come here to eat and drink. There are over 40 family-owned cellar doors; the food is top notch with seasonal produce making star appearances across imaginative menus; there are cute galleries and shops to peruse; markets are fun affairs; and the locals are delighted to chat to visitors, keen to share their idyllic town with anyone who is interested.
We find that driving around offers us the freedom to explore all these aspects easily, starting with the Church Markets in the grounds of St John’s Anglican Church Saturday morning. Although it’s our first stop, we walk away with a purchase – local honey bought from a chatty fellow donning a wide-brimmed hat, who enlightens us about the many health benefits of creamed honey before handing over the goods.
Truth is, most food in Mudgee is healthy – in the traditional sense – that is fresh and seasonal. For example, Di Lusso Estate. They are best known for their Italian varietal wines, but they also grow and sell figs and olives in season. Here we scoff fresh figs straight off the tree before our wine tasting – an Appassimento (a dessert wine) for my husband and a low-alcohol frizzante Moscato for myself (we’re sharing the driving and taking it easily).
You could eat and drink continually in Mudgee, so we take short drives between each outing. We skirt the fringes of town; we visit the Putta Bucca wetlands; we cruise the main street watching locals go about their days. No one is in a rush and it’s lovely driving around soaking up the relaxed country atmosphere.
The driving respites also give us time to digest and prepare for the next foodie find – first a delicious lunch of spinach dahl and Mediterranean vegetable treats at Artisan on Lewis, then a cheese tasting at High Valley Cheese Co., the only company in town producing their own cheese. Of course, we stock up again (a feta cheese infused with sun-dried tomatoes and oil) after trying a number of varieties.
We end our day with more food. Eltons is a snazzy wine bar-cum-restaurant with a polished menu for discerning guests. We feast here again (barramundi for myself and a tender eye fillet for my husband) before taking a stroll to soak up Mudgee’s nighttime vibe, knowing we won’t have the opportunity tomorrow.
To balance out the food and wine, Sunday morning’s excursion is to The Drip with some friends, about 30 minutes drive north on Ulan Road. The one-kilometre hike to the dripping wall – a huge and spectacular sandstone formation – is an enjoyable way to spend the morning and we take our time, stopping to skip pebbles across the creek and snap photos of small rock caves, ferns and gum trees, and anything that takes our fancy.
Eventually, hunger calls, so we make our way back towards town for our last food adventure – a banquet of country-style food at the newly opened Craigmoor Pavilion, run by the son of the family who manage swish restaurant The Zin House. We pile our plates with antipasto treats, salads prepared from vegetables picked straight from the garden, and tender chicken and roast pork. We sit and chat and laugh until it’s no longer lunchtime.
We have a four-hour journey ahead of us and plan to take it slow… and we do. We get just 20 minutes out of town and see Logan Wines with its striking contemporary cellar door jutting out over the vines. “Just one glass of wine?” I ask my husband, who is behind the wheel. He opts for water as it’s his turn to drive, but not me – I’m still feeling the Mudgee magic.
Tatyana Leonov can't keep away from an adventure and spends a lot of time on the road searching for that exceptional travel story. She writes for a diverse range of magazines, newspapers and websites, both in Australia and overseas. When she's not on the road she's in Sydney typing away at her desk... or planning her next adventure.