By Melissa Keogh
McLaren Vale – it has a cellar door around every corner, world-class culinary offerings and the unforgettable d’Arenberg Cube.
While a day in McLaren Vale is undoubtedly best spent with wine on your lips, we reckon there’s many ways to kill some time in the land of the rolling vineyards.
But first, a few facts.
- McLaren Vale is only 45 minutes from Adelaide and incorporates 30km of stunning coastline that is worthy of an Instagram snap or two.
- The region was originally populated by the Kaurna Aboriginal people.
- John McLaren surveyed McLaren Vale in 1838, establishing two separate townships, Gloucester and Bellevue.
- Over time these two merged and the area came to be known as McLaren’s Vale. By 1866 it had houses, businesses, a church, a pub and a steam flour mill.
- The first grape vines were planted in 1838 by settlers John Reynell and Thomas Hardy, with the Seaview and Hardy wineries up and running by the 1850s.
- Now McLaren Vale is respected as the birthplace of SA wine, is renowned for its favourable Mediterranean climate and is home to some of the country’s top winemakers.
OK, enough. Let’s get into the good stuff.
1. Graze your way through the Willunga Farmer’s Market
Fill your I Choose SA tote bag so the straps are stretched to their limits.
You’ll find the finest SA artisan produce you can get your hands on, from crusty sourdough loaves to pastured eggs, homemade jams, honey, and veggies so fresh they’ve still got the dirt on them.
The best thing about SA farmer’s markets is that you can meet and chat to the local makers and growers in the flesh.
WHERE: Cnr St Peter’s Terrace and High Street, Willunga.
2. Visit the cheese room at Romeo’s McLaren Vale Foodland
Lock us in there and throw away the key!
McLaren Vale Foodland has its own walk-in cheese room offering a selection of bries, camemberts and matured varieties – you name it!
The supermarket also has a sushi bar with its own chef.
In February 2018 McLaren Vale Foodland was crowned international retailer of the year at the IGA’s annual global awards in Las Vegas.
WHERE: 130 Main Road, McLaren Vale.
3. Be amazed by the d’Arenberg Cube
Is it Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Is it a giant Rubik’s Cube? Nope, it’s Chester Osborn’s imagination at work.
Even if you’re not into wine, this fascinating piece of architecture is a hit to the senses.
The d’Arenberg Cube features a variety of features and art installations that must be seen to be fully understood and appreciated.
The views are also spectacular.
WHERE: Osborn Road, McLaren Vale.
4. Venture along the Shiraz Trail
Need to wear off all that cheese and dukkah-dipped sourdough?
The off-road Shiraz Trail links the McLaren Vale wine district with Willunga, offering stunning views of vineyards, majestic gums and livestock grazing in paddocks.
It’s about 9km long, can be journeyed by bike, foot, or horseback and is child friendly.
Time it well on a Saturday morning and end up at the Willunga Farmer’s Market!
WHERE: Begin at the McLaren Vale Visitor Information Centre.
5. Devour a pizza at Pizzateca
If you didn’t Instagram a selfie in front of that pink and green shed did you even visit Pizzateca?
Well, you’d remember your visit anyhow, because their pizzas are quite possibly the best in the land.
Think handmade dough that’s stretched and flipped, scattered with produce and thrown into a fiery wood oven before your eyes.
WHERE: 319 Chalk Hill Road, McLaren Vale.
6. Appreciate art at the Fleurieu Arthouse
Located within Hardys Tintara is this arthouse hosting 10 resident local artists who create their masterpieces from the studio and workshop spaces.
Take a wonder through the finished pieces in the exhibition gallery featuring sculptures, paintings, pottery and other installations.
WHERE: 202 Main Road, McLaren Vale.
7. Hurl a melon at Wirra Wirra.
Nothing will resurrect your inner child than flinging a watermelon from a giant medieval siege machine and watching it fly through the air before it lands with a spectacular splat.
You can do this Wirra Wirra along with other things, such as sampling wines from the cellar door or enjoying a scrumptious seasonal platter from Harry’s Deli.
WHERE: McMurtrie Road, McLaren Vale.
8. Make a move at The Groove Garden
Every Sunday afternoon this alfresco café spreads its infectious vibes, appealing to the young, seniors, kids and everyone in-between.
Live music in the form of blues, folk, rock, country and reggae has most people on their feet while others take in the atmosphere with a wine or a cold beer in hand.
The menu is always changing, but usually involves burgers, Indian cuisine, vegetarian-friendly plates and coffee.
WHERE: 133 Main Road, McLaren Vale.
9. Bag some snags at Ellis Butchers
These guys recently snagged third place at the Australian Meat Industry Council’s National Sausage King Competition in the poultry category.
The longstanding butcher supplies to some of the top restaurants (including D’Arenberg) and pubs across the region.
Ellis Butchers is a fan of dry aged beef, a process that increases flavour, tenderness and texture.
They also produce their own ham and bacon, smoked using beechwood and red gum.
WHERE: Lower level, Central Shopping Centre McLaren Vale.
10. Get lost at Maxwell.
At Maxwell Wines, there’s more to do than indulge in wine and nibble off a cheeseboard.
Owner Mark Maxwell has grown a maze at the bottom of the vineyard and it’s bound to keep kids (and the young at heart) entertained.
Cheeseboards are available from the cellar door, but visitors can bring their own nibbles to enjoy on the winery’s picnic ground while sipping a Maxwell drop.
WHERE: 19 Olivers Road, McLaren Vale.
11. Relax at The Vineyard Retreat
The Vineyard Retreat is the perfect spot to sleep off all the adventures, with a little country luxury of course.
It has four guest houses, each with double French doors opening onto their own private outdoor verandah.
The interiors are elegant with luxurious touches such as a complementary mini bar, soft linen, and an espresso machine.
WHERE: 165 Whitings Road, Blewitt Springs.
12. Pitch a tent at the caravan park
With so much to do in the region, it makes sense to stay for at least the weekend.
The Lakeside Caravan Park is perfect for tent-pitchers, caravan owners, pop-toppers or families.
The grounds feature a playground, grassed area, tennis courts, a spa and swimming pool – all the creature comforts!
WHERE: 48 Field Street, McLaren Vale.
13. Grab a roadside caffeine hit
Cruise down the McLaren Vale end of Victor Harbor Road and you’ll spot a black caravan that’s well worth a stop.
This boutique coffee roaster is fast becoming the go-to for locals and travellers.
WHERE: Short Black Caravan, McLaren Vale end of the Victor Harbor Road. Dal Mare Coffee, 189 Main Road, McLaren Vale.
14. Smash a toastie at Mullygrub
Hearty breakfasts that take you all the way to lunch without hunger pangs.
That’s what a good brekky is all about, but at Mullygrub Café (which also exists in the form of a food truck) things are done a little differently.
Why do waffles when they can be pumpkin waffles with crispy sage and zoodles?
A new addition is the Cuban sandwich with mojo pork, dill pick, Swiss cheese and Cubano sauce.
WHERE: 114-116 Main Road, McLaren Vale.
15. Crack a tinny at Goodieson
Wine is good, but a cold beer on a hot day? Better.
Setting up operations in McLaren Vale, Jeff and Mary Goodieson offer everything from barrel aged stout to golden IPAs, imperial pilsners, pale ales, wheat beers and Indian red ales.
Enjoy a coldie or a paddle of four beers on the terrace overlooking a tree-lined creek, vineyards, and a roo or two.
The “lazy old red dog” will melt your heart before you even sit down.
WHERE: 194 Sand Road, McLaren Vale.
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