24 Hours in McLaren Vale
Less than 40 kms from Adelaide is the relaxed town of McLaren Vale. This popular wine region has around 74 cellar doors and is known for its Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernets. We stayed at the quiet and comfortable McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park for the weekend and surprisingly for the time of year and with little rain to speak of so far, the sites had very lush, green grass. Our long double site backed on to an oval and the park is dotted with large gums trees, home to pigeons that roosted near us at night and kookaburras to wake us up next morning.
The park is looked after immaculately and has a pool and spa, volleyball net and tennis courts, playground, camp kitchen and spotless amenities. In fact the dump point area got a 2 thumbs up from the other half as being the best he’d ever seen, complete with hand washing basin and soap on tap. The park is situated an easy stroll to the main street of McLaren Vale or on the way you can take a detour and take a walk on the Shiraz Trail. This trail of around 16 kms return, goes from McLaren Vale to Willunga and follows a section of the former Willunga Railway line. It is mostly flat, great for bike riding or walking, and takes you past a few cellar doors on the way. In fact you don’t have to go far, less than 1 km, to get to Oxenberry Farm Wines where they have not only a cellar door but coffee, cakes, platters and light meals.
But save yourself for a dining experience that is laid back, gourmet and satisfying! Only open on a Friday or Saturday night is Russell’s Pizza in Willunga, but be warned you have to book a long time in advance to get in. There is indoor and outdoor dining and a mix of both with the shed, lined with wine corks and featuring a toasty slow combustion fire and good music playing in the background all night. This is a really comfortable spot and has a mish mash of dining tables and chairs many of them 50’s classic chrome and upholstered numbers. Something for retro lovers to drool over!
Our party of four opted for the 3 course menu which included starters of Dukkah, olive oil and a very tasty dense bread which came with a platter of vegies to pick at including beans, baby carrots, Willunga almonds, champignons, roasted capsicum, olives and more. This was followed with oven baked meatballs. The next course was a procession of half and half combinations of different thin, crispy, wood oven pizza varieties including white anchovy and sweet onion, margherita, Turkish lamb and Turkish chicken, veggie supreme, something wonderful with prawn and yes ham and pineapple. All of this accompanied by locally made red or white wines and beers. You can also if you wish BYO to Russell’s and the corkage price was included in our 3 course degustation. We struggled but couldn’t say no to the final course of desserts, opting for different choices to keep the taste testing theme going! So dessert consisted of chocolate cake, strawberry tart and Panna cotta, all delish. What a great night!
Next morning we skipped breakfast knowing that we were going to the Willunga Farmers Market and saved our taste buds for what would be on offer there. This market is incredible with more than 80 stalls, it’s a feast for the senses. You definitely need a plan, head down one side of the market and try as you go from local primary producers and farms from throughout the Fleurieu Peninsula. The market is on every Saturday from 8am to 12.30pm and goes ahead, rain, hail or shine.
Our favourite buys were locally made garlic infused olive oil, dukkah, and olivemite, a tasty little olive spread. Try (and buy) The Goods Fleurieu Fine Foods sauces and dips and get some honey biscuits from The Biscuit Basket. Yum. There were plenty of fruit and veggie producers, juice makers, flowers and plant sellers too. Then to keep your energy up have a bacon and egg breakfast burger and a coffee or choose from a number of food and drink vendors and places to park yourself and people watch for a while. This is an amazing market that takes more than one visit to appreciate.
Moving on through town we dropped in and out of numerous shops, all worth a look but my favourites were ‘Whatever at Willunga’ a fantastic and friendly, family owned little treasure trove of vintage and retro everything! Want a pure silk Chanel dress, got it, a complete ‘70s living room setting, yep, and all priced more reasonable than I’ve seen anywhere else. A definite must see in town.
The next ‘glad we dropped in’ place was the Willunga Glass Studio. The shop has a beautiful collection of leadlight windows, glass vases, plates and other stunning artworks and on our visit we were lucky enough to watch the artists, Glenn Howlett, in action.
We were invited in to watch Glenn in his workshop as he demonstrated and explained to us the complete process of glass blowing from taking a piece of molten glass to adding texture and colour to the piece and all the processes in between before seeing the red hot finished product. His craft was so mesmerising and his explanations so interesting that it was a pleasure to watch him at work. Even at our safe distance you could feel the heat from the furnace and we were just in awe of the craftsmanship on display.
Back at the caravan park and it’s time for a dip in the pool, followed by happy hour, made up of goodies from the market and a nice red from a nearby winery. Ahh Autumn in McLaren Vale!