A Food and Wine Lover's Guide to the Limestone Coast
The SA region features plenty of drinking and feasting, alongside impossibly clear waters and dazzling blue lakes.
July 31, 2018
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Home to the famed Penola, Coonawarra and Robe wine regions — as well as an array of natural wonders — the Limestone Coast lies four hours' drive southeast of Adelaide. More than 40 cellar doors peddle some of Australia's best cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot, while laidback eateries serve up fresh dishes, packed with local produce and fresh seafood, straight out of the Southern Ocean.
Together with southaustralia.com, we've created this comprehensive guide to the coastal wine region — featuring plenty of drinking and feasting, alongside diving in impossibly clear waters, strolling around a dazzling blue lake and diving into a sinkhole.
If you have the time, immerse yourself in the Clare Valley and the Fleurieu Peninsula, too. Or explore Adelaide — there are plenty of underground bars and fairy light-lit rooftops to uncover.
Begin your adventures in Coonawarra, a pint-sized region known all over the world for its cracking cabernet sauvignon. At Drink Ottelia + Eat Fodder, you'll taste your way through several drops, while feasting on sourdough pizza and creative dishes, such as wood-roasted whole prawn with nasturtium leaf butter and salt and pepper squid with black pepper sauce and spring onion.
Next up is Penola, a 1500-person town dotted with heritage-listed buildings, found 15 minutes' drive south. Among these dwellings, there's a white weatherboard church by the name of Pipers of Penola, where husband-and-wife duo Simon and Erika Bowen dish up decadent combinations. Start with duck liver pâté, grilled brioche, cornichons, mustard fruit and apple remoulade; end with Valrhona guanaja 70 percent dark chocolate terrine, spiced Jamaican rum genoise, dark chocolate glaze and orange sabayon. Match your picks with a few local drops along the way.
When you're ready for salty air and crashing surf, you'll find the coast 45 minutes' drive west. Your first stop should be the Irish green hills of Mayura Station, a Wagyu beef farm that has been raising cattle since the 1850s. In the Tasting Room, a true paddock-to-plate experience is on offer. While you sit at a sleek stainless bench, chef Mark Wright will slice premium cuts in front of your eyes, before preparing them in a variety of fashions – from paper-thin carpaccio to charcoal-grilled pieces to perfectly melty steak. The adventure comes accompanied by museum release Coonawarra wines, which you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Stay coastal to visit Robe, a 1200-person town that lies an hour's drive north. In the 1850s, this was South Australia's second busiest port — a wander among the old buildings feels like a journey into seafaring history. For a light, breezy brunch, grab a table at No. 4, and feast on local rock lobster with scrambled eggs, pickled seaweed salad and house-made lavosh or some other locally inspired creation.
Don't leave Robe without swinging by Robe Town Brewery, home to the only woodfired brewing kettle in Australia. Its in-depth flights cover anything and everything from the Midnight Smooch, made with liquorice root, to The Magic Mulberry, infused with hand-picked wild mulberries. After that, it's a half-hour drive to remote Cape Jaffa Wines, to immerse yourself in vineyards, backdropped by the Great Australian Bight. Couple Anna and Derek Hooper moved here after falling in love with the area's wildness and deciding to dedicate themselves to making wines that reflect the elements. Their experiments have resulted in some unusual drops, such as the Samphire Skin Contact White, made using traditional Eastern European techniques, and the experimental Mesmer Eyes Red and White Blend.
One of the Limestone Coast's best-known spots is Blue Lake, Mount Gambier — around 50 minutes' drive south of Coonawarra. Occupying a massive crater formed by a volcanic eruption anywhere between 4300 and 28,000 years ago, the lake turns a magnificent cobalt blue every summer. The 3.7-kilometre walking trail lets you explore up-close. Before setting off, drop into Mount Gambier's Saturday morning Farmers' Market, to pick up supplies.
Another natural phenomenon nearby is the Kilsby Sinkhole. Divers have been travelling here from all over the planet since the 1950s to plunge into its crystal-clear waters, which you can experience on a tour with an approved operator. Then, if you happen to be travelling in May or June, wait until after dark to drive 16 kilometres northwest to Glencoe, to wander along Ghost Mushroom Lane, a walk dotted with mushrooms that glow in the dark. Note, these are not part of your foodie experience: the very chemical that gives them their luminescence can be poisonous.
If you're looking for adventures around Robe, check out The Obelisk, Cape Dombey. Built in 1852, this landmark helped sailors to safety, firstly, by assisting with navigation and, secondly, by providing a place to store lifesaving gear. When a ship got into trouble, this gear would be shot out by rocket and grabbed by thankful travellers.
To sleep surrounded by red gums and bird song within a Coonawarra winery, book a bell tent at Bellwether Glamping. The cellar door is just a stumble away and, during vintage, you can get involved in wine making. If glamping is too fancy-pants for you, you're welcome to bring your own tent. Another option for snoozing among the vines is The Menzies Retreat, a warm, cosy, timber-filled bed and breakfast at Yalumba's Coonawarra home. Alternatively, stay in town at A Coonawarra Experience. This two-bedroom cottage with queen-sized beds, heated floors and a Nespresso machine, is in Penola, so restaurants, cafes and bars are close by.
To stay closer to the sea, reserve The Bush Inn, Robe, an 1852 inn that once welcomed sailors and merchants. Now, it offers ultra-comfy rooms to travellers of the food-and-wine tasting kind. Expect polished timber floors, exposed stonework, open fireplaces and baths – surrounded by bushland. There's room for up to nine guests across four bedrooms. Or, to sleep near Mount Gambier's wonders, check into The Barn, where the Premier King Suites are luxurious, open-plan numbers with Sealy Dynasty plush king beds, massive Caesar stone bathrooms and private patios.
Top image: Cape Jaffa Wines, Adam Bruzzone
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