A lazy, bucolic mood permeates the Clare Valley's picnic-ready landscape of gentle hills striped with vines, gum-lined creeks and fields of canola that explode with colour in the spring.
Charming hamlets of stone buildings dot the valley floor, connected by a meandering bicycle trail, and country hospitality is a given at boutique cellar door operations where the winemaker is often the person pouring. Though it’s only about 150 kilometres north of Adelaide, the region feels like it’s waiting to be discovered. Here are the best things to do while you're in the Clare Valley.
Start the day with a breakfast of freshly laid eggs or a swim in the pool just metres from the vines at O’Briens of Clare, a light-filled homestead where the only neighbours are grazing kangaroos.
On a large plot surrounded by fruit trees and vegetable patches, Quince Cottage in Watervale is a delightful sandstone home filled with warm timber, comfy chesterfields and a spa bath that looks out over a secret garden.
Locally quarried stone sets the tone for Terroir Auburn’s menu, with produce sourced almost entirely from within the valley. Offerings change weekly – trust chef Dan Moss to lead you through a well-priced contemporary set menu with a subtle French influence.
A deli selling smallgoods and thickly packed sandwiches by day, recently renovated local favourite Seed slings Neapolitan pizzas and cocktails from a rooftop bar after dark, when the ground floor transforms into a relaxed bistro serving comfort food with a creative twist. The European-inspired menus change with the seasons (think pumpkin gnocchi topped with muscatels and ricotta, or little bell pasta with greens and hazelnut butter) and if you can’t choose, go with a group and order the shared Seed Table menu.
Studded red leather stools at a pressed tin bar hint that the beautifully restored Watervale Hotel is not your typical pub. The kitchen is similarly creative, conjuring dishes like mille-feuille filled with bocconcini and heirloom tomatoes from the onsite garden that also fuels a dégustation menu. For full immersion in the Watervale’s permaculture philosophy, book the Chef’s Table experience – you’ll sit amongst the action in the kitchen and be served by the same hands that prepared your meal.
Riesling is the Clare Valley’s undisputed hero varietal but there are significant sub-regional variations like the lean mineral-driven wines from slate-rich Polish Hill and Watervale’s zestier, fruit-forward drops. Taste masterful expressions of both at the Grosset Wines cellar door in Auburn.
Sevenhill was making sacramental wine a century before local riesling was famous but its rich table wines are now available to everyone, as are tours of the onsite church, cellars and crypt.
For a more contemporary interpretation of the region, visit Koerner Wine’s appointment-only cellar door in Leasingham, where minimal-intervention rieslings share space with juicy reds.
There’s a gleefully anarchic feel at Shut the Gate on the outskirts of Clare. The quirky cellar door furnished with op-shop finds celebrates small-batch single-site riesling and shiraz alongside Italian varietals.
Let Clare Valley Luxury Tours chauffeur you between wineries and scenic picnic spots, where the complimentary wine glasses will come in handy.
Pass within metres of vineyards as you follow the valley floor on the pedestrian- and cyclist-only Riesling Trail. An e-bike is the best way to tackle the gentle 33-kilometre path between Clare and Auburn and none have more personality than the souped-up vintage rides with baskets at Scoot the Valley.