We are simply spoiled for choice in Brisbane when it comes to heading off for a mini-break or weekend away. Sure, as the halfway point between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts it's de rigueur to jettison yourself towards the beach during the warmer months, but what about when it's too cold for all that? Winter demands bracing walks, warm antiques stores, and hearty meals — and when the sun goes down, an open fire, a squashy armchair, and maybe a glass of red. Is that too much to ask? Not in Ipswich it's not.
Close enough so that you don't spend half of your day driving just to get there but far enough so that you feel like you've stepped away from it all, Ipswich is the perfect spot for a romantic escape or a fun-filled country weekend with mates. Plus, this southeast Queensland gem is packed with so many activities you might just find yourself planning to return while you're still here. Why not drive out Friday after work (set off early to avoid traffic, trust us) and stay two nights? That way you can wake up early and launch straight in to a day of activities on Saturday — or sleep in and enjoy the luxury of nothingness.
When it comes to where to stay in Ipswich you have a couple of choices in town – but the truly awesome options come from heading just a little further afield. Rest your activity-weary bones at the Gypsy Cottage in Rosewood and enjoy a beautiful, shabby-chic little cottage nestled in a patch of stunning countryside. Snuggle up by the fire at night, or maybe take your swag along to do some stargazing after sunset.
Spicers Hidden Vale
If spoiling yourself is on the cards then head directly to Spicers Hidden Vale in Grandchester. Equally suited to couples and groups of friends, their generous accommodation has country luxury down pat. Your accommodation comes equipped with thoughtful details, and may very well have a fireplace or a spa — or both — meaning it may be hard to want to leave your room. When you do venture outside, be sure to check out the tiered kitchen gardens. As dusk settles you might play a game of pool in the games shed, take a dip in the spa or toast some marshmallows around the campfire. With activities aplenty, you'll want to do it all. That said, you'll be just as happy pulling up a chair on your veranda and watching the sun dip below the hills.
Coffee, fresh veg and local crafts? Yes, yes and yes. Mosey down to the Ipswich Farmers & Artisan Market for your caffeine fix, and then stick around a while browsing and snagging some fresher-than-fresh local produce. The brainchild of Shane Rice, this central spot is a great way to kick off your weekend. For organic fare, trundle out to Ivory's Rock and pick up some organic produce from the growers at the Peak Organics markets.
After all that market time you might want a quiet stroll. Never fear, Queens Parkis in town. Not only is this the perfect spot for a picnic lunch, it's also home to a Nature Centre which is packed with a haul of native Aussie animals, including wombats, wallabies and bilbies. Yes, they're adorable. Yes, you will squee. Also in the park is Nerima Gardens, a Japanese retreat devised in close consultation with Ipswich's eponymous Japanese sister city. Soak up all the serenity as you meander around these picture-perfect grounds.
Ready to explore again? Head for the bustling couple of blocks known as the Top of Town. Take your time exploring the quirky stores dotted around and be sure to visit The Vintage Advantage for that perfect '50s frock, or browse Gemütlich for a keepsake or two. Antiques fans must go for a poke around the Ipswich Antiques Centre for quirky and impressive art, collectables, furniture and jewellery.
If you're in the market for something truly memorable then take the plunge and see Ipswich from the air. Pterodactyl Helicopters offer a range of tours to wineries, pubs, as well as scenic flights and joy rides to check out the scenery and surrounds. And because you're probably thinking this'll cost crazy Hollywood money, they can work with you and your budget to craft the right trip for you. Captain Mike is your main man, pilot, tour guide extraordinaire, and also possibly the most affable chap around. Take off with him to visit sights like Woodlands of Marburg — a stately plantation manor house built in 1890 but only opened to the public in 2002 — or maybe hop over to the Ironbark Ridge Winery for a tasting. The Chardonnay is a great drop and many of their wines are local award winners.
While you're exploring the stores in the Top of Town area you may get peckish. Good. That means you have a great reason to pop down to see owners Candy and Elle at Rafter and Rose café. Originally from Byron, these enterprising ladies opened up in January of last year and have gone from strength to strength with their welcoming service, amazing coffee and decadent sweets. But whatever you do, be sure to order a side of their bacon jam — it's every bit as amazing as it sounds. Sit back in the leafy courtyard, maybe grab a bit of fresh produce from the crates outside, or just soak up the atmosphere with a coffee.
For a healthy bite you can't go past Beans & Greens, a most excellent little spot offering raw treats and vegan and vegetarian options. Grab a spot out the front and do some people watching. After something just a little bit kitsch and cute? Head to Deann's Coffee House for a rustic treat in a '50s setting (complete with Formica tables and vinyl chairs, no less). And for more coffee and cake, wander to Urban Pantry and explore their range of cakes. It would be rude not to.
For a top-notch Hellenic lunch, set out for Arcadia — it's a little further out of town, but so worth the drive. Share a mezethes platter and fight it out for the last calamari, dolmades, or plump Greek sausage.
But if you're after something just a little bit special (ok, a lot special) the hatted Homage Restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale is the order of the day. Choose from the à la carte menu, or let Head Chef Ash Martin take you on a journey of the palate with his tasting menu. For the Homage kitchen, the focus is on paddock-to-plate dining and there's a real emphasis on sustainability. With such incredible local growers and farmers to choose from nearby though, it makes a lot of sense. Feast on yabbies fished from a nearby farm, greens plucked from the kitchen garden, sweet corn from Mulgowie, local signature Grandchester beef…you get the idea. Each plate aches with careful attention to detail, and each course is presented by one of the chefs who are more than happy to fill you in on the origins of the produce. This is a truly special spot, and a dinner here would be a decadent and wonderful way to mark a birthday or anniversary.
If you fancy a tipple then the guys at Four Hearts Brewing with the Pumpyard Bar & Brewery have you covered. Located in a stunning red brick, heritage listed, 100-year-old building, the focus here is on full flavour, high quality, and chemical-free brews. With German wheat beer, pilsner, pale ale and stout just some of the varieties on offer — along with a s'mores sweet stout — it's probably best that you scoot down there pronto to take a brewery tour, before settling in for an afternoon of gruelling beer sampling. Fuel up with a bite to eat too — the menu covers all bases. Nibble on a pulled pork pizza or nosh on some frickles (deep fried pickles) with spicy aioli, or maybe step it up with a steak and chimichurri. Oh, and in case that's not enough to lure you in, you can also enjoy a spot of live music here of a Sunday afternoon.
If all that talk about German wheat beers has got you excited then you might need to sit down when you hear about Heisenberg Haus. This über-German beer hall has you covered for all things lecker (i.e. delicious). Pull up a seat at one of the communal tables, order a beer and a pretzel, and later on maybe grab a serving of the käsespätzle, which, if you haven't had it before, is a big ol' gooey serving of wheat dumpling noodles, fried onion and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. This dish is a long-cherished Austrian/Swiss/German chalet staple — and while it's not Arctic weather, the chill of a Queensland winter is reason enough to indulge, don't you think?
Spicers Hidden Vale
ALRIGHT, LET'S DO THIS
Ipswich is a 35-minute drive from Brisbane along the M5. If you're coming from interstate, your best bet is to fly into Brisbane Airport — the drive is only an extra 10 minutes from there.