A road trip to Orange is all about food, nature and relaxation for Tatyana Leonov.
In the last few years, Orange has popped up on the radar as a great weekend getaway, thanks to a bourgeoning food and wine scene, beautiful scenery and friendly locals. My husband and I travel to Orange often, but usually it’s to visit family and friends. Typically, we leave late on Friday night and zip up in under four hours, then spend Saturday and half of Sunday running around, before dashing back down to Sydney.
This time we decide to take it slow, leaving earlier, arriving later, and taking our time with the drive. We’ve driven the scenic stretch from Sydney to Orange many times, but never in a Volkswagen Golf – so we’re keen to put the iconic hatch to the test. Our first port of call is Palette Dining in Katoomba for dinner, a fantastic restaurant where charismatic chef and owner Petrina Kerr wows diners with contemporary fusion fare. She sources predominantly local food – as well as grows her own herbs on the rooftop garden – and concocts delicious, seasonal dishes.
Although we only plan to stay a short while, we end up on a three-course journey because we just can’t resist… that is after enjoying a cocktail in the upstairs bar first – a cosy and vibrant space where quirky artworks don the walls.
We share crisp fried prawns atop a lovely Asian-inspired vegetable medley, move onto mains (braised lamb shoulder atop white beans for my husband and cous cous-stuffed quail served with persimmon puree for myself), and culminate the meal with a buttermilk panna cotta that tastes amazing, but feels so light and fluffy I’m convinced it’s healthy.
We spend the next couple of hours making our way along the meandering road to Lithgow, before hitting the highway through to Bathurst and finally onto Orange.
A big part of the Orange attraction is the food and wine, and we’re keen to get right into the good stuff after a restful night’s sleep. However, our plan is to also balance out our weekend with nature, shopping and relaxation. We start with nature first.
I’m not an early riser, but my husband convinces me to join him for a drive up to Mount Canobolas, the highest peak between the Blue Mountains and the Indian Ocean. It’s still dark when we get into the car… and frosty (it can get to below freezing in Orange). I speedily turn the heating up and within minutes we’re cocooned in our little warm bubble, rocketing up the mountain and there’s not another other soul in sight. Bliss. We reach the top just in the time to watch the sun’s first rays dance over the gumtrees and silently sit and gawk at Mother Nature’s morning spectacle.
Nothing beats a good hearty breakfast after an early start and Nile Street Cafe is one of those well-loved cafes everyone knows – the coffee is fantastic, the breakfasts are delicious, and service always comes with a smile. We’re there before the morning rush and share a couple of egg-based dishes – a much-needed energy hit before we continue exploring.
Most smaller shops in country towns close Saturday afternoon and remain that way until Monday, so we cruise down to Summer Street – the main drag in town – to show off our car before taking a stroll to soak up the weekend vibe. With no particular plan, we simply pop our head into quirky boutiques, although I do walk out of Mary & Tex Curious Emporium – a chic interiors store – with a beautiful serving platter.
If wine is your thing, Orange will definitely be your place, and although my husband or I are not big drinkers, we decide to pop into one cellar door for that quintessential Orange experience. We choose Heifer Station, because apart from wine there is a small petting zoo, golf buggy vineyard tours, and lovely tasting platters…. weekends, after all, are about letting go.
We continue we that theme into dinner, choosing to eat at the recently opened Charred Kitchen & Bar. The wood-fire oven is the star of the restaurant, with chefs preparing culinary handiworks such as charred lamb rump, charred beef and confit duck leg in the commissioned oven. It’s worth coming with a large group to try as many of the options as you can, but the two of us manage to get through a few dishes and promise each other that tomorrow we’ll go light… or maybe just lighter.
I believe that healthy days should begin with an activity that promotes wellness, so I start Sunday with a massage at Anula Healing, one of Orange’s top health and beauty parlours manned by a team of skilled staff. It’s worth booking ahead if you want a weekend appointment and highly recommended. After my deep tissue relaxation massage, I stumble out as if in a trance… my husband gives me one look and laughingly offers to drive the next leg.
There are several smaller towns surrounding Orange that are well worth a look. Millthorpe is one the best known and home to renowned restaurant Tonic, a few snug cafes, and a scattering of quirky-cool ships. We drive here first, doing a few laps of town before squeezing into a park near next to a good-looking Kombi.
It’s not uncommon for car enthusiasts to travel to Millthorpe to show off their vehicles, and it’s as much a car-watching town as it is a people-watching one. We do both, strolling around popping our heads into boutique shops and checking out the cars parked on the main street. I’m sure our ride, although not a vintage, gets a few admiring looks.
With no set plans beyond this point we decide to take the scenic road to Carcoar, a tiny town not often frequented by visitors because it doesn’t have much in terms of tourist attractions. For us, however, Carcoar holds special meaning, as we were married in the little brick church perched on the top of a hill close to five years ago. The church is one of the prettiest sights in town; there’s a pub that comes alive with locals on Saturday night; and a couple of shops are dispersed on the main street.
It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Sydney – a busy and buzzy city crammed with people, shops, pubs and traffic. We know it’s time to head back to our chaotic world, but we linger in the countryside for as long as we can, driving with the windows down and singing at the top of our voices. Because that’s what road trips are all about.
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.