It takes exactly 22 minutes of a leisurely car drive from the centre of Adelaide city in South Australia to reach the top of the Adelaide Hills, past rolling hills and stunning valleys. Spread over 800 sq km, the breathtakingly beautiful area is home to 40,000 or so lucky people who live in the 57 towns and villages that dot the map of the area.
I call them lucky because, from all the beautiful places to live in Australia, this is where I would have loved to have settled in another life. Its within kissing distance of buzzing Adelaide and yet provides a calm refuge with its natural tapestry of vineyards, cellar doors, orchards, market gardens and parks. The town of Hahndorf is the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia and a very popular tourist destina-tion. Just take a stroll on its long and winding main street replete with beer bars and restos like German Arms Hotel and food joints including Udder Delights cheeses and I promise you will think you are in Bavaria.
The Hills are home to a number of acclaimed wineries. That’s also what makes Adelaide Hills so very special for me. The Adelaide Hills is one of South Australia’s largest wine regions, as well as the oldest. The first vines were planted in the Hills in 1839, three years after South Australia was declared a state. In 1842, the arrival of German pioneers saw more plantings around the new settlement of Hahndorf. Two years later, Queen Victoria was one of the first recipients of the newly produced wines. The number of wineries now number over 50, serviced by over 200 grape growers in the area. After having been a regular visitor here over the years, I have worked out the perfect itinerary for anyone headed to Adelaide Hills. And, of course, it starts with a winery.
HAHNDORF HILL WINERY
Call it good karma for Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson. Both were born continents away, in South Africa. Sydney’s charms failed to entice them when they first arrived in Australia. After hearing it from someone, they arrived in Adelaide Hills to check out the Hahndorf Hill Winery which then was on sale. They bought the property in 2002 and took another gamble. The duo decided to plant a variety of grapes here to produce wines hitherto unknown in Australia, varietals like Gruner Veltliner, Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt from Austria. Before you could say wunderbar, the winery was off and running with a reputation for being a trendy hangout. Today HHW is rated as one of the Top 10 cellar doors in Australia.”It was wanderlust. We were happy to have established our winery in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region when the Aussie bug bit us. We even considered New Zealand, but then we saw this,” Jacobs tells me indicating with his hand the view that had us transfixed over the last hour.
From the glass encased terrace where I am sitting, the landscape below us undulates in shades of light brown, intense green and glowing gold. Flanking the two storied tasting room are neat rows of vines. To the right are the owner’s villa and another building with a heated swimming pool, both in a wood fenced enclosure where two dogs gambol in abandon. Straight ahead, hills roll up and down in a gentle roller coaster. Jacobs and Dobson have a lifestyle that is straight out of the picture book.
It doesn’t end with the wines for the duo. They have introduced Australians to a new experience called ChocoVino, which has become another best-seller. Wine enthusiasts and tourists from across the world flock here for the experience of matching HHW’s wines with the worlds most exclusive chocolates. According to CNN , ChocoVino is one of the top 10 global adventures for chocoholics. Gourmets will tell you that single origin chocolate also has the ability to reflect terroir. And terroir, as wine aficionados know, applies to great wines too. This combination of match-ing terroirs of chocolate and wine is a surefire winner. The charming Christine Mansfield, who is an expert on this unique combination at the winery, will take you through this palate seduction experi-ence for a mere Australian S 20. www.hahndoithillwinery. com.au
Here’s a confession. I am a cheese addict. Take me to a morning market in any European city and like a programmed robot I head for the cheese stall. Here in the Adelaide Hills, with its very European ambience, a petite dynamo called Kris Lloyd runs an artisanal cheese factory called Woodside Cheese Wrights. Its tasting and sales room is managed by two very helpful ladies who deal with hundreds of buyers like me. I taste Pompeii – a cow cheese, yellow in colour with a layer of ash inside. Curious Cow is a variant on Camembert, and a blue vein matured cheese is called Blue Bitch. But what gets my mouth watering are her range of fresh goat’s milk cheese. Fresh chevre — oh, the joy of eating it with fresh bread, tomato and olive oil is also rolled in ash and sold as Vesuvius. The big seller is called Figaro, Kris’s proudest creation made only when goat’s milk is plentiful. I bought the Truffle Chevre, the Allium Piper (chevre with organic garlic and black pepper) and consumed while Coldplay sang Paradise on the stereo. It was pure bliss.
Heaven for chocoholics is situated right next to Wood-side Cheese and named presumably after the famous 19th century Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell, whose stage name of Dame Nellie Melba was responsible for both Melba toast and Peach Melba. Every time I drive up to Adelaide Hills, I visit Melba’s Chocolate Factory, which is a more realistic but equally tantalising version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I never fail to get mesmerised by the display of chocolate making and also by the crowds of tourists who wander around in a transfixed daze. Just the very aroma of chocolate triggers the serotonins. On display for sale are chocolates in every size, shape and added flavours you can imagine.
CLELAND WILDLIFE PARK
Feed kangaroos as they laze, wander wetlands inhabited by wild birds, ducks and reptiles, and get yourself photographed holding a koala. There are over a 100 variety of Australian wild life spread over this 35-hectare park including wombats, dingos and many endangered species like Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby, Bush Stone-curlew and Brush-tailed Bettong many. Many animals are free roaming, creating wonderful opportunities to touch and interact. Around the corner is Mount Lofty Summit , rising to over 700 metres. Its large terrace offers a great view of Adelaide and the ocean beyond.
HANS HEYSEN HOUSE
On my very first visit to Adelaide Hills 12 years ago, my friends took me to this beautifully evocative old home amongst wild gardens, whose memory has re-mained with me since. This is where Sir Hans Heysen, one of Australia’s most famous artists, lived for much of his life. Born in Germany in the latter part of the 19th century, he migrated with his family to Australia and settled in Adelaide when he was seven. He became a household name for his watercolours of monumental Australian gum trees against the background of stunning effects of light. Heysen also produced images of men and animals toiling in the Australian bush, as well as groundbreaking depictions of arid landscapes in the Flinders Ranges. He won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting a record nine times. By 1912 he had earned enough from his art to pur-chase this property, called The Cedars, near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, which remained his home until his death in 1968 at the age of 90.