The MEGA Foodie Bike Rail Trail across the Victorian Alpine Region
So what does butter, wine, cheese, cured meats and loaded carbs have to do with being healthy? Well, nothing really. But what happens when you combine all that goodness with a full day of cycling? You get the Bright to Myrtleford 60 km Bike Rail Trail. It’s been at least a year since I’ve ridden a bike. I mean, riding my little cousin’s bike (fitted with training wheels mind you) up and down their driveway during family parties doesn’t count. Come to think of it, I think I may have broken it. But before you pass judgment, by the time you read this post, I would have bought him a new bike or given him a big fat cheque for his birthday.
It’s all about Bright
Booking a trip to the Alpine region during the last week of winter wasn’t exactly a smart move with snow hunters making the most of the ski slopes, but luckily for us, it was blue skies and sunshine baby which meant less crowds.
Bright, famous for their Spring Festival, is a 3 hour drive west of Melbourne. Each season brings about a different experience. During the Autumn months, the Great Alpine Road presents itself like beautiful artwork – welcoming you by lining the pavement with crismon red and orange tinged leaves from the Elm, Oak and Japanese Maple trees. Nestled at the foothills of Mt Buffalo, many holiday goers opt to stay at Bright rather than all the way in the slopes and with restaurant choices like the 2 Chef hatted Simone’s and the popular French bistro Poplars – why wouldn’t you?! Though, the food is the reason why I stayed there. Surprise, surprise!
Unfortunately, both Simone’s and Poplars were fully booked out and were actually serving their last meals for the month in preparation of the next season.
If you do your research and plan your stay at Bright, there are plenty of things to do within the town as well as the surrounding countryside. Depending on the season, there’s skiing/snowboarding, countless wineries, festivals, berry and nut farms, community markets, hiking, bush walking, cheese rooms, lookout points, museums, eating (!) and of course, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
Back in the day, Bright drew in a wave of international visitors during the Gold Rush and although miners were able to bag up much of the gold, fruit and vegetable growers that fed the miners and the rest of the township also made a a decent fortune.
Above: taken during the peak of Autumn
Above: taken in my most recent visit at the end of Winter
Above and below: Sullivan’s lookout point. Aren’t the views just jaw dropping… freakin amazing…speechless.
The Rail Trail
The Rail Trail that connected the townships of Wangaratta, Bright and Beechworth, which operated for sixty years, brought prosperity to the region and was pivotal to the growth and the sustainability of rural Victoria up until the 1950’s. Fifty years on and with 1.9 million dollars in government funding, the paths along the railways lines which were no longer in use, were converted into a sealed cycling and walking trail bringing in tourism and the preservation of historic monuments such as train carriages along the route.
The bike trail is designed for any level of fitness and age from short rides like Bright to Porepunkah (10 km return) with views of the wondrous Victorian Alps and the Bright to Myrtleford trail (60km return) that we ended up doing via the Great Alpine Road. On the way back, make sure you pay a visit to Boyntons Feathertop Winery which I’ll talk about later in the post. For you advanced bikers or super fit freaks of nature, give either the steep Bright to Mt Beauty (60 kms) or the Bright – Great Alpine Rd (110km circuit) a go. Let me know how you go and whether you’ve lost those love handles!
We made a very early start knowing full well that halfway through we’d either konk out or turn the rail trial into a ‘snail trail.’ Essential items is are sunscreen, water, sunglasses, bicycle repair kit, a fully charged mobile and a small first aid kit if you’re planning on doing the long treks that go deep into bushland and forests. Oh, and going back to the first sentence of the post, my golly by the end of the ride my arse was sore so another tip is to double your underwear or get some proper padding from the bike shop if you can.
Above: historical structures along the route
Above: The start to our 60km journey through the valleys
Above: for you golf enthusiasts, the Bright golf course gives you magnificent views of the surrounding plains
We couldn’t take our own bikes, so we hired them from Cycle Path, located smack bam in the middle of the town center. Look for the red coloured bike shop next to the service station. For $32, you get a well maintained mountain bike flush with gears and a helmet.
So we began with a little Breakfast at Blackbird Cafe & Food Store
Details: 95 Gavan Street Bright VIC 3741 Phone: (03) 5750 1838
Before we headed out to lose some weight, we gained some. The nearest cafe to the bike shop was Blackbird Cafe & Food Store . The place was packed to the rim so the only seats available or tables for that matter were the couches which we didn’t mind because there was a fireplace and a large coffee table pumping up the cosiness factor. I think it worked out for the better as we put our feet up and read the morning paper.
Not wanting to feel bloated before cycling, we opted for a light breakfast. I ordered a chocolate croissant that was fresh, buttery and beautifully flaky and went well with my pot of English breakfast tea. I may be a little pessimistic but from past experience, when someone says the the ‘croissants are fresh’ and they aren’t a bakery/patisserie, it doesn’t usually live up to that claim – so I was extremely relieved it did.
The plain croissant with cheese and ham was baked until crisp and oozing with cheddar.
I seriously didn’t think we’d ACTUALLY do the full ride to Myrtleford, but with The Butter Factory as my motivation, we kept on pedaling chanting the line “Don’t you dare slow down!” Though the sun was in full force, the breeze remained crisp – an ideal climate for cycling.
I can only describe the scenery as majestic. On the left you have views of Mt Buffalo’s snowy peaks and on the right, there are valleys, more high plains, green pastures abundant with cows (check out the cute baby calf’s frolicking in the water) along with several wineries and pit stops filled with remnants of the old train carriages.
This was certainly not your typical surburban to city bike ride – at times it felt like I was on the set of Jurassic Park. That may sound a little far fetched, but I’ve got a mindset of an imaginary child- so I’m told. Speaking of movies, there was a shaded corridor that also reminded me of the movie Where The Wild Things Are that also served as a cool shady rest area.
Above and below: Don’t you think the above could serve as a scene from Where The Wild Things Are?
First pit stop: The Butter Factory
Details: Great Alpine Rd, Myrtleford Phone: 03 5752 2300
After 30 kilometers, we finally reached what looked to be a mirage. I think I was feeling a little delusional by the point. I needed sustenance, I needed butter!
Though the building dates back to the 1930’s, it stayed vacant after shutting its doors in 1966 until chef and owner Naomi Ingleton resurrected the factory also turning it into a restaurant in 2007 where it still retains much of it’s original structure. It all began with Naomi’s love for the North East Victorian region, local seasonal produce and cooking saw her moving from Melbourne where she was head chef at Kin Kao Café to Brown Brothers Wines Epicurean Centre in Milawa (post on that coming soon!) and teaching kids how to cook and grow their own vegetables at The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.
Located along the Great Alpine Road, I went past The Butter Factory last year on the way home and was absolutely gutted I didn’t get to go. The menu is quite extensive but keeping in mind we had several other food stops along the route, we chose to dabble in some light offerings. On the special board, we spotted a pumpkin soup which would no doubt come with bread and their house butter so we thought it was a smart choice to succumb to that seeing as we really wanted to try the butter which was lightly salted with coarse crystals of Mount Zero pink salt had a clean finish.
The pumpkin soup just made my tummy smile. It really did because I was filling it up with something healthy but incredibly moreish. The butter however was everything I had imagined it to be – slightly salty, creamy and perfectly spreadable. How kitschy are the serving dishes?!
The serving size was small but it had balls.
Also suggested by the lovely @thebutterfactor was the Ricotta gnocchi (thanks chef!) that came bubbling amongst deliciously gooey cheese. I loved the crispy edges on a few of the pieces. It looked rich but we were able to clean it up.
Above: I wanted to take these away…but it couldn’t fit in the damn bag! I curse you bag, I curse you.
Boynton’s Feathertop Winery
Details: 6619 Great Alpine Road Porepunkah, Victoria, 3740 Phone: (03) 5756 2356
A cool drink and some cheese was in order. After being amused by a young cow frolicking in the water (sorry, the moment shot was not to be had due to the pesky camera) we approached what seemed to be endless rows of grape vines leading up to a hilltop restaurant with an uber terrace. There was some works being done to to the facade of the building at the time so I can’t wait to see how it all panned out.
Boynton’s Feathertop Winery is a family owned business and was formed in 1989 by Kel Boynton and was recently featured in The Age Good Food Guide 2011. Congratulations guys! Their wines reflect their surroundings – instilling the crispness of the Alpine Valleys, the purity from spring water that nourish their vines and the air and shelter that the mountains provide.
The very friendly and personable ladies at the front gave us an overview of the range and tempted us on some antipasto offerings. The idea is to create your own platter from a variety of locally grown produce. With this in mind, I was keen as white on rice to try their Riesling.It was a banger! Slightly sweet, hints of lychee and lime and went well with their cheddar, brie and unbelievably addictive salami.
Another plus was that they were also serving butter from…drumroll… The Butter Factory. The gods were certainly looking down on me that fine day. We were seated on the terrace to experience the glorious sun and the amazing views. I didn’t want to leave but we had to pedal on…
Bright Berry Farm
Details: 6300 Great Alpine Road, in Eurobin Phone: (03) 5756 2523
Though berries weren’t exactly in season, we were recommended to pay Bright Berry Farm a visit to try out their ice creams and jams. Not one to turn down ice cream, off we went.
Depnding on the season, they grow:
My blueberry ice cream cup was magnifique- laden with chunks of blueberries amongst a creamy base which I found much more satisfying than having the blueberries fully blended in. It was also gratifying following the sticky swirls of blueberry syrup around with my eager spoon.
Did I mention they have jam? Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Youngberry, Boysenberry and Silvanberry.
I did manage to bag me up a pie which I took home and heated up in the oven and served with a tub of double cream. I should’ve bought a dozen and frozen them.
The lovely lady at the front counter went out of her to accommodate our seating needs insisting we sit around the back so we have full views of the Mt Buffalo and the berries of course. A truly captivating experience.
Pet Friendly Accommodation: Allambie Cottages
I was on the hunt for pet friendly accommodation in the area and came across Allambie Cottages which stood out from the rest not only in price but the overall look and feel. It’s a cross between a cottage and a warehouse apartment with it’s high ceilings and space. The facilities are actually quite modern from an iPod docking station to a blue-ray player with a few movies not too mention heating elements in the bathroom. The first night we watched some thriller starring Matt Dillon. I forgot the name and for some reason it isn’t listed under his filmography. It was about an insurance deal gone wrong so he heads up to Thailand to hunt down the crook responsible to only land himself in more trouble with the law.
Each cottage is secure and your dog has an ample fenced off play area as well. The deck outside gave us first class tickets to the marvelous star studded show. You know you’re in the country when the stars beam at you like colossal diamonds.
Looking more closely at the bookshelf, they even ask you to take home any books you didn’t get to finish reading free of charge. How cool is that? Very thoughtful indeed and a fantastic souvenir from the trip.
Creamy the cat luuuurrvved running up and down the stairs and sleeping of course! This was one satisfied cat.
On the drive back home
Beechworth Bakery and Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre in Milawa
On the way back to Melbourne, we stopped over at Beechworth and Milawa for two reasons. The Beechworth Bakery and Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre in Milawa. Here are some pictures to tease you before I write up those posts.
Feeling rather peckish, we made a pitstop at The Beechworth Bakery for some savouries like these impressive sausage rolls and to bag up some bread for some friends.
Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre
Details: 239 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road Milawa VIC 3678 Ph: (03) 5720 5500
Friends know that my favourite wine range in the whole wide world is Brown Brothers. Everything they produce, I guzzle down like it it was my last drink. I love their Moscato and though not I’m a a big fan of reds, their Cienna rocks my planet.
I’ll showcase two highlights at at the Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre. Above: Eye fillet of beef, braised ox-cheek sauce, parsnip, thyme noodles. The beef was cooked perfectly medium rare and was wonderfully tender especially with the sticky and hearty ox-cheek sauce. What an innovative idea!
Above: a creamy, delicate Vanilla pannacotta with sweet strawberries, tapioca pearls and rosewater shortbread. I didn’t want to disrupt the beauty on this plate. I was starring at it for at least five minutes like it were a Picasso.
The trip to Bright was probably one of the most enjoyable weekend getaways I’ve ever done. Not only did I get a heavy dosage of exercise, but I got to eat myself silly and see some mind blowing views the Alpine region at the same time without having to miss Creamy the cat or Cookie the beagle. It was the best of both worlds. I’m looking forward to doing it all again so I could experience Bright during a different season. Who knew that getting fit could be so much fun?!
For more information click here: http://www.murraytomountains.com.au/Pages/Rail_Trail.aspx
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