Jump in your car smack-bang in the middle of Adelaide and, in 40 minutes, you'll be among the rolling hills and idyllic vineyards of McLaren Vale. Very few wine regions on the planet are so easily accessible from a big city. Without leaving the area's four square kilometres, you can visit more than 70 cellar doors, eat your way through the Mediterranean, cycle along a Shiraz Trail and venture inside an architecturally impressive Rubik's Cube. And just beyond lies the rugged cliffs and dreamy coves of the Fleurieu Peninsula coastline.
Together with southaustralia.com, we've created this comprehensive guide to the breathtaking coastline — so you can spend more time sipping on great wine and less time lost down dirt roads.
If you have the time, immerse yourself in the Clare Valley and the Limestone Coast, too. Or explore Adelaide — there are plenty of underground bars and fairy light-lit rooftops to uncover.
Red Poles, Adam Bruzzone
Thanks to its combination of fertile soils, proximity to the sea and Mediterranean climate, McLaren Vale is a chef's – and foodie's – paradise. There's a cornucopia of restaurants and bars to choose from. Start with a caffeine hit and bagel at Dal Mare Roastery and Brew Bar, where you can also hire a bicycle, or Mullygrub, which does excellent coffee and hearty brekkies, such as the hot-smoked salmon bowl.
For lunch with vineyard views, head to The Kitchen Door at Penny's Hill. Executive chef Tom Boden serves up hatted fare, like lamb shank pithivier (puff pastry pie) with lamb lollipop, jerusalem artichoke and jus. Four courses are just $60, or $90 with matching wines. Another pretty spot is Gather at Coriole, whose menu takes inspiration from foraged ingredients — think nasturtium with goat's curd and cumquat or wild nettle puree with house-made sausage. Then there's the Salopian Inn, run by passionate chef Karena Armstrong, who draws on produce from her flourishing organic kitchen garden, and Red Poles, a quirky eatery dotted with artworks and cute courtyards. Alternatively, a mini-trip to Italy is on the menu at Pizzateca; if you're travelling with four buddies or more, go for the top-notch value multi-course feast at $55 per head.
However, the most unusual setting for a meal in McLaren Vale has to be Maxwell Wines' underground limestone cave. Dug out single-handedly a century ago for the purpose of growing mushrooms, this extraordinary space is now a 50-seat restaurant. Head chef Fabian Lehmann, who cut his teeth in Europe's Michelin-starred institutions, offers simple yet luxurious dishes, such as Paroo kangaroo with eggplant and kohlrabi or Nomad chicken with lime cave mushrooms and velouté.
If you're exploring further afield (which is definitely recommended), be sure to visit McLaren Flat for lunch or dinner at The Currant Shed, where you can tuck into the likes of locally caught flathead with peri peri, cauliflower and walnut. Or, to be whisked away to the Greek Islands for an evening, drive to Port Willunga, to feast on super-fresh seafood and local produce at The Star of Greece.
Alpha Box and Dice, Adam Bruzzone
The majority of McLaren Vale's wineries are small-batch, boutique operations, so, no matter where you go tasting, you're likely to come across out-of-the-box drops. However, if you're extra adventurous, make Inkwell Wines your first stop. Its wines are all single vineyard, additive-free and made with minimal interference, ensuring their expressiveness. Other spots keen on experimentation are Alpha Box and Dice, where head winemaker Sam Berketa is currently working on an A-Z of wines, and Mollydooker, whose intense drops have their origins in 114 acres of vineyards along Seaview Ridge. Meanwhile, Gemtree is devoted to organic production.
For anyone partial to la dolce vita, Mitolo Wines comes out of a rich Italian heritage, with the family having arrived in Australia from Abruzzo in the 1950s. From there, head to SC Pannell to sample an array of Mediterranean varietals from Spanish tempranillo to Portuguese touriga nacional, and on to Hither and Yon — its range includes aglianico, a variety from southern Italy, and Spanish mataro.
If beer's more on your mind, there's Goodieson for left-of-field brews — from barrel-aged cherry saison to coffee stout — as well as Shifty Lizard in Willunga. While you're seaside, you might as well sample a single malt whisky or two at Fleurieu Distillery.
With so much food and wine to work your way through, you'll probably want to get active at some point. Do just that on the Shiraz Trail, an 18-kilometre off-road cycle path that winds its way from Willunga to McLaren Vale, passing numerous wineries, restaurants and cafes. Another option is a visit to Goolwa, a sweeping beach a half-hour drive southwest of McLaren Vale, for a cockling session. Cockling, for the uninitiated, involves shuffling in the sand to uncover pipis, which you can take home and turn into a tasty soup or pasta. Note that cockling is only permitted between November and May, and any pipis smaller than 3.5-centimetres wide must be left to their own devices. To add a bunch of local produce to your pipi soup, head to Willunga Farmers' Market, which has been a gathering spot for farmers, growers and producers since 2002.
Back in McLaren Vale, there's the famous d'Arenberg Cube. This incredible, five-storey architectural masterpiece, inspired by the Rubik's Cube, holds all sorts of wonders, including a wine sensory room, a virtual fermenter, an alternative realities museum and an array of installations. The restaurant also has a 3D dessert printer, the first of its kind in Australia, which featured in the most recent season of MasterChef Australia.
The Jetty Port Willunga
To sink into total luxury after eating and drinking all day and all night, check into The Jetty Port Willunga. You'll have an entire apartment to yourself, perched on absolute beachfront, with epic views over Gulf St Vincent's azure waters. Plus, you can count on a private deck, a deep hot tub and a king-size bed. Meanwhile, at The Farm Willunga, you'll be sleeping over in an apartment on an organic, biodynamic olive grove and vineyard. Expect to arrive to a bottle of complimentary wine and your own balcony overlooking rural vistas, backdropped by the ocean. Breakfast takes the form of a gourmet hamper, crowded with local goodies.
On the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula lies Port Elliot, home to Jimmy Smith's Dairy, a dairy-turned-bed and breakfast. With the help of Studio AKA's Amy Grundy, local couple Noel and Robyn Akmens transformed the original building into a series of stunning rooms. Original features, such as bluestone and airy ceilings, interweave with contemporary touches, including handcrafted furniture, built by Noel himself. Also on the southern side are the Beach Huts Middleton, a series of super-cute dwellings, painted in cheery, bright stripes. All come with a welcoming bottle of bubbly and, depending on which you choose, dashes of comfort — from spa baths to barbecue areas.
To discover more of Adelaide and South Australia, head to SATC.