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Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant
Photograph: Supplied

How to spend a weekend away in Mudgee

Wineries, country accommodation, rolling greens and stunning sunsets abound in Mudgee region

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Written by
Alyx Gorman
&
Alannah Maher
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‘Mudgee’ comes from the Wiradjuri word ‘Moothi’ which means, romantically, ‘Nest in the Hills’. Flying in, you can see the truth to this moniker, Mudgee is a valley surrounded by gently curved peaks. It has a climate several degrees warmer than the surrounding high country, which, along with sandy loam soil, makes the area attractive to viticulturalists.

Wine, and the accompanying fresh produce of a fertile wine country, are the most obvious drawcards of the region. But you’ll also find national parks, heritage villages and artists’ towns in these here hills, alongside some truly excellent accommodation options.

The slower pace and down-to-earth country hospitality are also attractive to Sydneysiders looking to escape the grind. The community has been through it – before lockdowns put the tourist trade on hiatus, heavy, lingering smoke from the summer bushfires saw many wineries lose their yield to smoke taint. With the state opening back up, the visitors have flooded back in, drawn in by the promise of good wine, food, and fresh country air. Local businesses are welcoming the influx of visitors, as well as practices in physical distancing and public health – so make sure you plan ahead to avoid dissapointment. You might need to stick to a timed, seated booking for a tasting at some cellar doors, but the pay off is the attention to detail the wineries now have space to provide.

Want more travel inspiration? Here's six places where you can feel like you’re overseas without ever leaving NSW.

A guide to Mudgee

Eating
Photograph: Supplied/Pipeclay Pumphouse

Eating

If you only eat one fancy meal in Mudgee, it’s a tough call between two of the best local fine diners, both of which reside within wineries, naturally. At Robert Stein vineyard, a winery that also comes with its own Motorcycle Museum, the Pipeclay Pumphouse is focussed on paddock to plate dining. Here 50 per cent of the produce is grown and sourced on the property, and the other half is sourced within a 100 kilometre radius. Post-lockdown, the restaurant has moved to a degustation-only model for lunch and dinner, with a six-course set menu that changes every two to three weeks. If you only come for one dish, it has to be the gnocchi with duck and mushroom ragu, derived from chef Andi Crestani’s grandmother’s recipe. Get the most out of your two-hour-ish long gastronomical journey by adding on the matched wine pairing for each dish, with a choice of sticking to Robert Stein’s finest or exploring more options from the Mudgee region.

Meanwhile over at Lowe Vineyard, it’s hatted restaurant, the Zin House, is also in the business of showcasing locally grown, seasonal ingredients over a set menu (five courses, to be exact). Sat atop a hill, the west-facing porch of the terrace gets stunning sunsets – a perfect accompaniment to a Gooree Park wagyu and a smooth, fruity glass of organic zinfandel from the very vines the restaurant overlooks. Set in a former farmhouse, at this restaurant they don’t reset tables, giving you plenty of space to dine at a relaxed pace. 

For something simple, Alby and Esthers right in town does all-day jaffles that can undo the results of even the most vigorous wine tasting session. For an unpretentious feed and good coffee in a rustic former butcher shop, the Butcher Shop Café will have you taken care of. Or, for hand-made dumplings, go to the nearby town of Rylstone and visit 29Nine99 Yum Cha + Tea House where owner Na Lan folds each morsel with obsessive care.

If you’re looking for something to fill your empty esky (aside from wine, of course), you’ll wanna have some ice bricks at the ready for a haul from High Valley Cheese Co. Mudgee’s own artisanal cheesemaker can be found on platters of many local wineries, and you can’t walk away from a cheese tasting at their pop-up stall – which shares an address with the cellar door for Gilbert Family Wines – without buying at least a couple of jars of creamy marinated fetta. 

Drinking
Photograph: Alannah Maher

Drinking

Of course, the wineries are the main drawcard for any self-respecting sipper visiting the Mudgee region – and with more than 35 cellar doors and 44 grape varieties, you’re spoilt for choice. Check out our guide to the best wineries in Mudgee for a lay of the land. Not sure where to get started? We recommend booking in a private tasting experience with Exclusively Mudgee. Steph, who has been in the local wine industry for over a decade, will come to your accommodation with six bottles of wine curated to your palate to taste (and keep) along with a locally-sourced cheese platter and top notch banter. Many of the wines she sources are ones you won’t find at a cellar door, they’re small-batch labours of love from winemakers who are kept busy growing commercial crops for bigger brands. 

If you’re a beer drinker, this cool climate vino paradise won’t leave you without a frothy one to knock back. Mudgee Brewing Co pours craft brews ranging from the dark and chocolatey Mudgee Mud Imperial Stout to the mild and cloudy Mudgee Wheat. If you prefer your lager no-fuss, Burnbrae Wines turned their winemaking expertise to create the crisp, clean 548 Lager available from its cellar door.

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Where to stay
Photograph: Supplied/Glenayr Farm

Where to stay

To get the most out of a country getaway, you can’t go past the tranquility of a farm-stay. If you want all the back-to-nature perks of camping without any of the effort or prerequisite gear, the glamping tents or villas at Glenayr Farm are the perfect place to base yourself. With four off-the-grid bell tents equipped with luxury queen beds, the glamping option gives you plenty of room for privacy, or to congregate around the bonfire to share winery-hopping tales with the other visitors under the stars. About 30 minutes out of Mudgee (with cellar doors dotted between) Glenayr Farm is also a 320 acre working sheep property, and you might find the woolly residents, along with a couple of gentle cows, and wild kangaroos wandering around.

One of the prettiest farm-stays is Peppertree Hill. With accommodation options ranging from 15-person farmsteads to one bedroom cottages, this country retreat on a working cattle farm has elegant, modern decor that is far from country-rustic. An eight-minute drive from the centre of Mudgee, it is still remote enough to get glittering, star-filled nights. Twenty-five minutes north of Mudgee, Sierra Escape is an off-the-grid, camping-style experience that offers the comforts of a five star hotel. If you’d prefer your accommodation settled amongst working vineyards rather than grazing fields, the Old Post Office Cottage, a renovated building originating in the early 1920s, can accommodate up to three couples (or a family) five minutes out of Mudgee. 

Things to do
Photograph: Supplied/Rosby Wines

Things to do

Though Mudgee is the centre of the region, there are plenty of small towns worth exploring, all within a half hour’s drive. The 19th century gold rush town of Gulgong has streets lined with historic buildings, a tiny Pioneers Museum and even the Prince of Wales Opera House, which still hosts the occasional gig to this day.

Live out your fairy fantasies in Ferntree Gully Reserve, which has a number of bushwalking tracks – including some that wind around the rainforest floor, staying cool even on hot days.

Fancy exploring your artistic side? Rosby Wines, which also plays host to annual festival Sculptures in the Garden offers workshops and short courses by visiting artists, including life drawing, landscape painting and portraiture.

If you'd like to learn more about the region's history, you can join an hour-long stroll with Mudgee Heritage Walking Tours most Saturdays, which is run by an enterprising local teenager. 

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Getting around
Photograph: Supplied

Getting around

If you’re planning on touring wineries – and you should be – you really shouldn’t be driving. Fortunately, there are other ways to vineyard hop.

Mudgee Tourist Bus is the simplest solution. They offer chauffeur-services for groups of two or more, half-day tours start at $85 per person. They can help you pick the wineries, or you can design your own itinerary.

Meanwhile, for those that want to get their adrenaline going between sips, Mudgee Trikes will zoom you around on a roarsome Mustang trike starting at $140 an hour for two people. Be warned, this method is not for the motorcycle-shy.

Think you’re the ultimate baller? Then Mudgee Commercial Helicopters is the way to go – they offer two stop winery tours, including an aerial look-see of Mudgee town and surrounds, for $800 for up to four people. Tourist flights are currently on hiatus due to physical distancing but are due to resume soon, you can make an enquiry here.

Getting there
Photograph: Supplied

Getting there

Mudgee is a four hour drive from Sydney, and the journey takes you straight through the Blue Mountains. This makes it perfect for a multi-day road trip. But, if you want to head straight there, small-craft airline Pelican flies direct to Mudgee daily from $149 one way. You even get your own check-in counter at the airport.

It's time for wine

Make it a mid-week break

Mudgee region has some pretty sweet specials and packages if you travel mid-week. You can learn more about them on Mudgee's website.

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