I’ve been to Orange plenty of times. Growing up, passing through town was part of an annual family holiday. But back then, all we did was stop to pick up groceries, and to me, Orange was as good as the ‘futuristic’ public toilet in the Woolworth’s carpark as far as entertainment went.
Just like a fine wine (and Orange has a bottle or two thousand of those), all these years later my adoration of the area has turned from carpark-casual to Hollywood rom-com hot. So imagine my response when I was invited by VisitNSW to take Qantas’ inaugural flight to Orange with a bunch of journos to indulge in three days of the best the region has to offer. Hint: she said yes.
I was at the airport at 9am. Actually, I was at the airport at 8.30am. Such is the way when you’re traveling during a global pandemic. No one on the road, and absolutely no one in the airport. Luckily, the Business Class Lounge was open to me, so I sat back and had something to eat, knowing we were headed straight to a winery when we landed. This was ‘work’ after all.
The flight was fantastic. The thirty-six seat plane was snug, but soared close enough to the ground that you could watch the Blue Mountains go by, and lasted just fifty minutes. Our flight attendant Damien, the first to fly this new route, was a local boy who teared up over the honour of taking Qantas home.
Once we hit the ground (and got papped by the local rag) we were running. First stop: Ross Hill Wines. I’ve been there before and know their drops are delicious, but I’ve always wanted to come back during Food Week when they host long lunches in their packing shed. You know I was squealing then when I saw they’d set up a table just for us, with fairy lights, a three course meal and a seemingly never-ending supply of Ross Hill wines for lunch.
Once a looser pair of pants were more a need than a want, we headed to Byng Street Boutique Hotel, our home for the next two nights. And boy, what a beaut. A cleverly transformed homestead, it’s a combination of heritage and contemporary, smack-bang in the centre of town. While I was treated to a modern suite (I got embarrassingly excited about the heated floors, spacious tub sitting under a skylight, and the turndown service that saw a pot of local tea and treat left on my bed each night), I can’t deny I wasn’t already counting down the days until I came back and stayed in one of their heritage rooms. Google them. With oversized headboards, playful clashing prints and one with a functioning fireplace, they’d almost make you want to spend your whole time in Orange in them. Almost.
Another benefit to the boutique is that it has a back entrance to Ferment – the cellar door for vineyards that don’t have one. Think of it like a wine bar where you can taste Orange’s best offerings without having to designate the dreaded driver duty. Sounds good? It is. They’ve got their own ghost, and the owner remembered chatting to my dad at a local rugby game years before, so I pretty much floated out of there.
As for the rest of vineyards? There’s Swift Sparkling. Yes, it’s a cellar door for sparkling wine, (which apparently Orange has just the altitude for) by the brothers behind Printhie Wines. It’s in an old packing shed with fairy lights that sparkle almost as bright as the sun reflecting off the picturesque dam outside. And yes, also just like the sparkling wine they serve inside, duh.
Then like a duck to water, (or a Parrot to gin?) the latest up-and-comer Parrot Distilling has become the talk of the town with their new venue ‘The Aviary’. Gin flights and good nights guaranteed. Did someone say spicy Oriental Gin?
Then if you want something really cool (of course you do) head to the cellar door for Hoosegg. It’s actually the living room of prolific wine-maker Philip Shaw, and it’s his new label of wow-worthy wines. He’ll tell you tales of his life while pouring a tipple or two (you get to try the whole collection), and if you’re lucky, he’ll take you for a walk through the vines with his 13-year-old Irish Setter, Luccie. He’s a character (check out the new labels), and I’m pretty sure it’s wine pumping through his veins, not blood.
Side note, this was a seriously cool experience.
That night we drove forty minutes to the cute little town of Carcoar, which feels as though it’s been trapped in time. A good time, though. More out-of-a-movie than out-of-fashion. We had dinner at Antica Australis, a unique European locanda-type experience, and a quick shop at the beauty-filled boutique, Tomolly, with products sourced from the surrounding area like candles in old jars and soap from nearby goats. I’d previously purchased a leather fly swat for mum online, and she loves it. (Yes, you read that right). There are so many tiny towns just outside of Orange waiting to be discovered, and while we visited this one under the blanket of darkness, I quickly made a note to go back.
Rise and shine, and it was a quick hike to Federal Falls (just kidding, I was puffed but had people to impress), followed by breakfast at Byng Street Cafe to enjoy eggs collected by the owner’s four year old son, Monty. ‘Byng’ is a bit of a buzz word in Orange.
In between all that there was lunch at the Agrestic Grocer, shopping at Jumbled and The White Place, breakfast at Groundstone (where is the best breakfast in Orange, by the way?), and a lip-smacking fuss-free-but-fine-dining meal at Charred. To be honest, I spent about 40mins conscious in that beautiful hotel room the entire three days, and of that, probably half of it was in the shower. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.
meal trip (it felt like one long meal at times) isn’t finished without dessert, so before boarding we stocked up at Racine Bakery only to discover they’d closed their nearby restaurant (sad), but were opening a wine bar next to the bakery (yay). For dessert dessert, we headed to the spectacular new Spilt Milk Gelato Bar around the corner. This is a must, by the way. Go for breakfast, lunch or whatever time you’re free. Made with local ingredients (they swap gelato for local’s home-grown fruit) and a whole heap of love, it made not being able to travel to Europe this year feel fine.
Well I think that’s it. And yes, that was three days.
Three days I will likely remember for a lifetime. Three days that made 2020 a winner, and sure as hell made me an absolute grinner.
You can read the thing I was paid to write here: https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/travel/article/eat-drink-wine-and-stay-orange