Two days in Orange

LEAH MCLENNAN
Last updated 13:22 09/06/2014
Orange, NSW

IN ORANGE: Cumulus Wine Estates is surrounded by rolling hills of volcanic soil.

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One: the city of Orange is far away in outback NSW. Two: it's named after the citrus fruit. Three: there's not much around the city apart from farms.

True of false? Time for a two-day fact finding mission.

"The GPS is showing it's only 255km away," says my travelling companion.

Before we've even left Sydney to drive across the Blue Mountains to Orange we've proved the first "fact" wrong: the city is hardly "way out west" - we'll make it there well before our 2pm check-in time.

"The weather's awful," says my friend, as we drive into Orange and peer out the rain-splattered car windows at the pretty eucalypts lining the main street.

"The temperature must be in the single digits."

I grin - it's just what I wanted.

Temperatures of about 22 degrees would greet most people visiting the city at the start of autumn.

But we've been fortunate to arrive during a cold snap - I'll be able to curl up beside the fire in the lounge of my country hideaway at Lakeview Luxury Cabins.

"This rain is just wonderful," says host Pam King as she shows us to our upmarket, one-king-bed house at Lakeview, 10 minutes from the heart of Orange.

"The soil is so thirsty," she says. I can sympathise with the soil. I too feel like a cold drink: a freshly squeezed orange juice.

"Didn't you read the tourist brochure?" my friend asks. Of course not.

It turns out Orange was named in the mid 1800s after the Prince of Orange who later became the King of Holland.

Assumption number two is busted.

And what about "fact" number three? A friend told me before I departed for Orange that she thought there would be nothing surrounding the city apart from farms.

Of course, there's much more than that - Orange produces some of the finest cool climate wine in Australia and is home to around 30 cellar doors.

The city also punches above its weight when it comes to restaurants.

Orange's dining establishments are so popular - Lolli Redini and Racine Restaurant at La Colline especially - that if you want to snare a table you'll need to make a reservation at the same time you book your hotel.

Our first outing is for dinner at Rocking Horse Lounge, located in a gorgeous old wooden-floor corner store.

The food does not disappoint: gin cured salmon is served with a smile; grain-fed eye fillet almost melts in the mouth; and the dessert platter featuring honeycomb cheesecake is a joy.

Over dinner we vow to hit the ground running at first light to tick off as many vineyards as possible.

On Saturday the birds are up at their usual time and we arise not long after they ramp up their song. By 10am we're ready to drink.

Our first stop is the most well known winery in the area - Philip Shaw cellar door. Shaw is one of Australia's most experienced wine makers - he was once chief winemaker for Rosemount and Southcorp Wines and now handcrafts his own wine.

The cellar door is a friendly place full of the noises of chinking glasses, chatter and the family dog. Bottles are loaded in the boot and next we're rolling towards the cellar door of Charles Sturt University.

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This new cellar door serves some affordable premium table, sparkling and fortified wines. Enough of stocking up the cellar, we suddenly have an insatiable urge to eat so we visit, um, a wine bar, for a cheese platter.

Ferment is Orange's new kid on the block and features 150 wines chosen by "wine consultant" Peter Bourne, one of Australia's leading wine educators.

To try a wine you can pop a pre-paid card into a wall-mounted Enomatic machine and receive a mouthful, half glass or full glass.

Of course you can also order a drink the old fashioned way, by walking up to the bar to talk to the friendly staff.

Ferment also hires out Dutch grandma bikes and they can pack you a picnic hamper. But we'll never tick off all the wineries on two wheels, so we hop back into the car and drive to Ross Hill cellar door.

Originally an apple-packing shed, the winery sits within the heart of Orange's apple orchards, along the picturesque Wallace Lane.

This family-run business is known for making some award-winning drops and I purchase the delectable straw-coloured 2013 Chardonnay, a delicious drink that has a tropical fruit aroma.

Other wine highlights of our whirlwind tour include De Salis Wines, Orange Mountain Wines, Patina Wines, Cargo Road Wines, Printhie Wines and Swinging Bridge.

It astonishes us that after visiting these cellar doors that we are still under the legal drinking limit at dinnertime - well, the designated driver is anyway.

Faced with too many options for dinner I'm almost relieved when I call Lolli Redini and they're fully booked.

So we go with our original plan, the Union Bank Wine Bar, which we've heard has scrumptious shared plates.

Set in a beautiful heritage building in the heart of town, it has a balanced wine list and the tapas, we discover, are delicious.

"We've still got 20 wineries to cover," says my friend. No late night tipples for us then. In haste, we climb back into the car and head to our rural retreat.

In the morning, we line our stomachs for another day of wine tasting by swinging past The Agrestic Grocer, a slice of food heaven on the Mitchell Highway.

Eating our organic poached eggs and sauteed kale on sourdough we relax in the rustic barn atmosphere and watch the producers delivering everything from bacon to hand-made soaps.

There is local Badlands beer on tap, wine is available at reasonable prices, and the store stocks everything from fresh figs to organic milk.

The boxes of just-picked apples are almost irresistible, but with over a dozen wineries to go and the boot almost full, we decided to save what little room we have for local award-winning wines.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Orange is located in the central west of NSW.

Orange is very accessible by public transport or private vehicle. From Sydney and Canberra Orange is a comfortable 3.5 hour drive through picturesque scenery.

Countrylink and Australia Wide Coaches both have daily services connecting Sydney and Orange.

Regional Express (REX) flies to Orange from Sydney several times a day.

STAYING THERE: We stayed at Lakeview Luxury Cabins (lakeviewcabins.com.au), which consist of two modern cabins with kitchens, excellent king beds, deep baths and generous breakfast hampers. It would be perfect for a romantic getaway (no children due to unfenced land). Rooms from A$282 (NZ$309.76).

MORE: tasteorange.com.au

visitorange.com.au

orangefoodweek.com.au

visitnsw.com 

The writer was a guest of Taste Orange.

- AAP

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