Mudgee is a great weekend getaway destination from Sydney, with plenty of places to eat and drink and the chance to see a surprising glimpse of the past.
On the main drag in Mudgee, about four hours north-west of Sydney, some original cobblestones are visible under the edge of the bitumen. While Market Street may still be wide enough to turn a bullock dray – it’s easy to imagine horse-drawn carts pulled up outside rural-supply stores – these days you’re more likely to see a Range Rover parked next to a dusty ute. Here, where the past is pleasantly preserved, a gourmet food and wine scene, boutique stays and a bucolic landscape that runs from green to gold attract weekenders, road trippers and tree changers alike.
Airbnbs range from rustic to deluxe but for a boutique hotel experience, check into Perry Street Hotel. Within the sturdy walls and lofty ceilings of an 1862 Mechanics’ Institute lie 13 stylish rooms and suites and the town centre is only a short walk away.
The Robert Stein Winery & Vineyard, established more than 40 years ago with two hectares of shiraz, is the place to find Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant, a fine-diner where chef Andy Crestani conjures seasonal menus with masterful technique, taking full advantage of stellar homegrown and regional produce. You might be treated to Crestani’s home-cured free-range charcuterie or his nonna’s renowned gnocchi.
Over at the Lowe Family Wine Co., head chef Nathaniel Destefano oversees a kitchen bench laden with ingredients grown just steps away, turning out simple but satisfying fare at The Zin House. Book in for a long lunch or dinner and set aside several hours to allow time for strolling around the gardens, admiring the sunset or stargazing by the brazier after a dinner that might include garden-fresh carrots and beetroot with whipped fetta and black garlic or Gooree Park Wagyu with spinach purée and red wine jus.
For a casual feed in town, order a range of the share plates at Eltons, a wine bar inside a converted 1896 pharmacy. Try one of the six craft beers on tap with bites such as crumbed whiting tacos or charred corn salad.
A few doors down on one of Mudgee’s prettiest and buzziest strips join the queue waiting for a table in the circa-1873 courtyard at Alby & Esthers. The coffee and jaffles are well worth the wait.
Many of the Mudgee region’s 1922 hectares under vine are at higher altitudes (450 to 1180 metres above sea level) and the resulting cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling are acclaimed. Come into town from the south-west and you’ll pass Logan Wines at Apple Tree Flat. Drop in for the vino and linger for the view from the Stephen Buzacottdesigned glass-walled tasting room, which is cantilevered so it hovers over the vineyard.
Work your way through a tasting paddle at Mudgee Brewing Company, a microbrewery housed in a former wool store in town. Around the corner, Roth’s Wine Bar & Cellar presents as a genteel establishment but past the elegant front bar and bottle shop you’ll find cosy dining nooks and a music shed that hosts performances in more social times. It feels like you’ve discovered a secret the locals have known about for decades. And it’s true – Roth’s has held its licence since 1923.
Like many regional towns, Mudgee’s civic parks are graciously laid out and provide a welcome space to walk after an overly indulgent meal. Wander by the river in Lawson Park, particularly beautiful in the autumn, or check for roses in bloom in Robertson Park.
About a 40 minute-drive outside town, The Drip is a sandstone cliff covered in trickling water that’s a drawcard for bushwalkers in the heat of summer. Take the 2.8-kilometre-return Drip Walking Track (check nationalparks.nsw.gov.au for updates) to spot a mural painted by Brett Whiteley in 1970. Two kilometres away at Hands On Rock, see stencils by Wiradjuri artists who left their mark long before Whiteley wielded a brush.
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Image credit: Amber Hooper, James Horan