The wealth the early explorers sought in Beechworth still abounds, now in a very different form. These days, the riches are in local produce, an amenable township and a plethora of cycling adventures.
Having visited the historic town many times in the last 10 years, we had never explored the nearby Murray to Mountains Rail Trail or the magnificent gorge. We rode electric mountain bikes from Ride Republic and these enabled us to reach many of the hinterland destinations.
Clayton Neil from ACRE operates the bike hiring business out of the Old Beechworth Gaol. ACRE promotes rural enterprise and has a program to enable young people in regional communities to thrive via social entrepreneurship. ACRE was able to purchase the site in 2016 via a community-led buyback with local and philanthropic investment. The Old Beechworth Gaol is now a centre of excellence for rejuvenating rural
communities and is a hub for social, economic and cultural progress in the region.
Cycling down the rail trail towards Everton we reached the Pennyweight Winery cellar door via the vineyard, passing the owner on his tractor busily tending his vines. The rail trail is a boon for cyclists, allowing large distances to be ridden on an easy gradient away from vehicle traffic. Pennyweight is a fourth- and fifth-generation run, biodynamic dryland vineyard with a beautifully set cellar door. The family creates a fascinating range of white and red wines and Spanish-style fortifieds.
Back in town, we came across some gems at the Quercus Community Bookshop with a fabulous range of secondhand non-fiction titles. And not to be missed is the op shop, with some tucked-away treasures for the keen of eye. The wellstocked Provender offered a wide selection of local cheeses, jams and other antipasto treats to create an afternoon picnic for our venture to The Gorge. We loaded up and rode the few kilometres from the town centre to the historic reserve. Approaching through the red stringybarks and native black cypress pines, the megalithic granite forms are a sight to behold. On a hot late arvo, the rock pools in the cascades of this deep ravine provide a welcome relief as the water washes over and plunges to the valley some six kilometres in the distance.
A day spent in the saddle deserves a massage at The Benev. This new establishment operated by Debby Donkers was built in the 1860s, high on the ridge overlooking Beechworth and hills to the west. The former Ovens Benevolent Asylum has recently been renovated and its well-appointed accommodation has an emphasis on nurturing and rejuvenation. The only trap at this boutique hotel is you might not hop back on the bike and instead spend the day recovering, reading and relaxing.
There are plenty of main street options for a meal, from a beaut pub feed, or hearty pizzas at Bridge Road Brewers to fine dining at the Ox and Hound. The Mediterranean-inspired fare is well complemented by a range of local wines. Other options are the recently opened Amandhi’s, serving refreshing home-cooked style seasonal food – a treat to keep you pedalling.
Other nearby wineries to visit include Castagna, by appointment only. Vigneron Julian will provide an extensive dissertation on what grows best on the granitic soils at 600-metre altitude. Further along is Glenbosch, a 200-hectare vineyard serving a range of wines and a variety of gins to sample. The new owners, Kirt and Nika have grand plans to establish discreet accommodation on this beautiful valley in the North East.
There are many more local sights to explore if you are feeling adventurous. This charming historic town is a great base for a multi-day trip to explore the verdant valleys of Victoria’s North East food and wine region.
Words Tom Bodycomb
Pictures Tamsin O’Neill
This article originally appeared in issue 78 of green magazine.