As the days shorten and the nights become crisp, our short breaks tend to avoid the beach in favour of the inland. And there’s nowhere that does a gourmet short stay better than Mudgee.
It takes less than four hours to drive from Sydney to Mudgee. Once out of the grip of the suburbs it’s a very pleasant drive through the Blue Mountains to Lithgow and up through Capertee to Mudgee, a journey of just under 300km.
The alternative is a 50-minute flight, but you’re almost certain to want a car to get around when you arrive.
While Mudgee (with a population of about 10,000) is the main town in the region, the nearby historic towns of Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone are also worth a visit.
The whole region has a pastoral heritage that has extends back more than a century – and that shows in the heritage streetscapes of the towns that served the farming community. The National Trust has described it as ‘one of the finest groups of townscape in a country area’.
The historic streets of Gulgong are a worthy deviation from your Mudgee experience
Mudgee sits within the Cudgewong Valley and the hilly landscape is a great backdrop to a sparkling food and wine culture. The word “Mudgee” comes from Moothi, a Wiradjuri word that evocatively means “nest in the hills”.
The village was gazetted in 1938 but had a huge growth spurt with the NSW Gold Rush and many of its major historic buildings were in place in the 1860s.
The first grape vines were planted by Adam Roth, a German immigrant, in 1850 but wool was the major source of income. The region’s modern wine history began in the 1960s and there are now over 40 wineries and cellar doors here. Most are located just to the north of the town.
The soil, sandy loam over clay subsoil, is good for wine but it must rely on irrigation. Compared to the Hunter that lies on the other side of the range, Mudgee, at an elevation of 450 metres, has lower rainfall and humidity, warmer weather and more sunshine but buds come later and harvest is about a month later.
One of the joys of being in a country town on a weekend is visiting the local morning markets. On the first Saturday of the month the market is in the grounds of the Anglican church.
It’s in Lawson Park on the second Saturday (there are also some in Rylstone) and they are at the Catholic church on the third Saturday. On the fourth Saturday you’ll have to venture to Gulgong.
The produce at the Mudgee Markets is fresh and straight from the local farmers – you'll taste the difference!
If you’re thinking of heading to Mudgee in springtime then you may wish to plan it to coincide with the month-long Mudgee Wine and Food Festival. In 2017 it runs from Friday 8th September to Monday 2nd of October. Visit here for more information.
Sleeping, sipping and eating
If you have the luxury of being able to visit Mudgee during the week you’ll find accommodation rates are much reduced over the weekend rates.
The new boutique Farmhouse homestead accommodation at Blue Wren Wines has an introductory weekday rate of $170 per night for a one-bedroom suite or $190 for two bedrooms. For a Friday or Saturday night the rates are $280 and $300 respectively.
The rooms are stylish and contemporary and guests are offered a cellar door experience, too – the only place where you can buy Blue Wren wines.
Blue Wren, located next to the airport, has recently seen a change of ownership as chef Kip Harris has taken over from his father and, as well as the new accommodation, has also launched a new-look restaurant. It seats just 20 people and boasts a Chef’s Table for those who’d like to discuss food with the very knowledgeable chef.
The Robert Stein Vineyard offers a perfect combination of fine wine and fantastic food
If you’d prefer to stay in town, the Perry Street Hotel in what was previously the Mechanics Institute (1862) is both spacious and hospitable. Everywhere in town is within easy walking distance. It certainly feels more like an intimate B&B than a hotel. There’s no bar or restaurant, but you have a kitchenette and provisions for breakfast.
The Zin House has a coveted hat from the SMH Good Food Guide 2017. The vision of Kim Currie who opened it in 2014, it takes its name from the Zinfandel grapevines that it overlooks in the Lowe Wines estate.
Much of the food is grown on site on the Tinja farm that is both organic and biodynamic. It’s open for lunch from Friday through Monday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s only one sitting at each and you are encouraged to relax and take your time.
The Pipeclay Pumphouse offers fine dining at the Robert Stein Vineyard under the watchful eye of chef Andy Crestani. It’s all very much paddock to plate and is well matched by the Robert Stein wines. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Thursday to Sunday and breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday.
If you have an interest in motorcycles, take the time to explore the collection gathered by Robert Stein that extends from a 1927 AJS to a 1976 BMW.
While these may be some of the highlights, Mudgee has so much to offer. Consider brunch in the beautiful courtyard garden of Alby + Esthers, check out the wine and knitting wool at The Shop by Botobolar Wines, or pick up a hamper at Mudgee Gourmet.
Between all the food and wine you’ll need some exercise. Despite its rather drab name, Dunns Swamp offers walking tracks in a natural setting and canoeing with rich bird life and great sandstone formations.
Dunns Swamp is a highlight of Wollemi National Park, with beautiful rock formations sitting on the water's edge
There’s a lot to see and do in the area, too. Make sure you stroll down the entire streetscape of Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town that looks like a film set.
Kandos, once the site of the largest cement works in the Southern Hemisphere, is now the home of artists and artisans. Rylstone is the gateway to Wollemi National Park.
All in all, there’s a good chance that a few days in Mudgee will just whet your appetite for a return visit.
Have you been to Mudgee? What are your favourite rural towns?
Photography: Amber Hooper, Destination NSW, NSW National Parks & Wildlife