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Three people standing in a vineyard around a barrel
Photograph: Destination NSW

A complete guide to Orange

With its country charm, design-focussed stores and boutique winemakers, this little town has risen through the ranks to claim its place as a go-to getaway destination

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At the foothills of the dormant volcano Mount Canobolas lie the picture-perfect vineyards and rustic, Federation-era houses of Orange. The surrounding area's varying altitudes and cool climate make Orange the perfect home base for produce like hazelnuts, truffles, cherries, figs and, of course, wine. Drive through cherry blossoms, wattle trees and gold mine adjacent creeks (that still yield a nugget or two) to find some of Australia’s most interesting wine-makers, a bevy of up-and-coming designers and artists, and a thriving, locally-focussed food scene.

Want to extend your wine tour of Australia? Check our guides to Launceston and the Hunter Valley

RECOMMENDED: The best winter getaways in NSW. 

When to visit

Photograph: Supplied/Orange360

Whether you’re visiting during wine harvest or in town for a cuddly winter experience, each season in Orange brings a new set of delightful vistas and fresh adventures. But if you aren’t partial to sub-zero temperatures, or feel you might get a little sweaty romping through the vineyards in summer, shoulder seasons will probably suit you best. In spring, the quaint village cottages grow a halo of cherry blossoms and before winter hits the wide town streets and wending country backroads are lined with fiery autumn leaves.

You could also time your trip to coincide with one of the region’s popular festivals. Orange F.O.O.D Week (Apr 6-15) – the longest running regional food festival –  showcases the region’s produce, from apples to venison and the fine food being served by local chefs. There’s markets, dinners, foraging tours and cooking demonstrations held throughout the week. Then, when the frosts are at their heaviest, the newly conceived Orange Winter Fire Festival (Aug 3-5) warms visitors with specialised feasts, neighbourhood markets and bonfire-lit parties. Come spring, the focus shifts to the vinous with tastings, markets and cellar door experiences for the Orange Wine Festival (Oct 12-21).

Drink

Photograph: Supplied

Though it's blossomed in popularity over the last few years, Orange is an emerging wine region and the community of passionate viticulture fiends is still relatively new. Orange's high, variant altitude and cool-climate makes for a satisfyingly diverse range of wines able to be produced. Local winemakers, having gleaned their knowledge in viticultural nerve centres like Champagne and southern Italy, are constantly innovating to produce better and more flavoursome twists on storied classics. A wine tour here is a fascinating lesson in geology, viticulture and gastronomical playfulness. They’re vigilant about the geographical classification of wines, too – only wines made within a specific proximity to the peak of Mount Canobolas will earn yours the marker of being ‘from Orange’. The region is easy to explore and picturesque to boot: your comparative wine studies come with warm conversation and expansive pastoral views.

Photograph: Supplied

Pick the brains of vigneron Justin Jarrett of See Saw Wines in a fire-warmed old shearing shed, sipping a chilled, tickling prosecco smack bang in the middle of rows of juicy grapes accompanied by bleating llamas. Or head to the Tuscan villa like home of esteemed wine-maker Philip Shaw for an appointment-only tasting of wines from his fresh, youthful new label Hoosegg. It's only been around for two years, but it's been the recipient of glowing industry accolades already – you'll find it hard to leave without at least one cheekily-labelled bottle. Wander through the Koomooloo vineyards surrounding his home afterwards on the heels of Lucca, his regal dog.

Sparkling wine is making its mark in this town, thanks in part to the makers at Printhie Wines – try out the dedicated bubbles tasting, perfect to sip around the lakeside fire pit. Then, check out expansive pastoral views from the sunny cellar door at Swinging Bridge, while testing your taste buds with a juicy pet-nat riesling. When you're ready, meander over to Ross Hill Wines, a certified carbon-neutral vineyard, for a chat with passionate grower James Robson over a glass or two. To seriously indulge your inner wine nerd, spend an afternoon at De Salis Wines where owner operators Charlie and Loretta Svenson will walk you through their range of wines while you kick back on the little timber verandah with the farm dog snoozing at your feet.

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Wine is the obvious beverage du jour in Orange, but if you've been in town longer than a couple of hours, you'll start to see the name Parrot Distilling Co on sleek hand sanitiser aerosols everywhere. Shop online for now, but make sure to check out Parrot's cellar door for complex spirits, neon lights and a distinctly Melbourne vibe when it opens later in 2020. You can conduct a comprehensive tasting of the fruits of Orange’s soil without taunting your hayfever by checking out Ferment, a devoted wine centre in town. Try the lot and fill up a sack before you move onto the next spot in town. For a quiet nightcap, order a whisky by the fireside at Chesterfield’s, an elegant bar above the Hotel Canobolas.

Eat

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Grapes aren’t all the fertile fields of Orange produce, and the eateries here are as passionately paddock-to-plate as they are vineyard-to-glass. The morning after a winery adventure you may feel a little dusty, but the friendly folk at Groundstone Café will take care of you with your choice of wholesome, prettily-plated nosh from eggs benny to a carrot cake-inspired porridge to a breakfast burrito that means business. Centrally located Byng Street Café boasts brekkies loaded with locally-sourced Monty's eggs and bacon, as well as the best coffee in town – or you could swing by café-cum-providore the Agrestic Grocer for a comprehensive eat-through of Orange. Café items burst with local touches like quark (fresh curd cheese) from the on-site cheese factory Second Mouse and fluorescent and delicious housemade carrot marmalade. Fill a basket on your way out with Orange Roasting Co coffee beans, plump beets and rich, sticky peanut butter. 

Photograph: Supplied

Dinner time is vital on a wine-filled tum and Orange after dark doesn’t disappoint. Lolli Redini is a consistently awarded restaurant that's not just for visitors. Everyone we meet recommends it, especially for the famous Gruyère cheese soufflé – a savoury hillock that is magically light and rich at once, and comes paired with a local pinot gris from Ross Hill. Make it a degustation dinner and head to Charred for share plates of smoky, fire-roasted bone marrow and scorched lamb rump delivered to heaving wooden tables direct from ‘Lucifer’, their woodfire oven.

Or, book a spot at Mr Lim, a pan-Asian eatery that nails a delicately gelatinous scallop and prawn dumpling with tangy Australian native succulent sea blite alongside a zingy, crunchy mountain of crowd-pleasing Korean fried chicken. The restaurant dining room often transforms into a raucous karaoke bar once the plates are cleared. Craving something sweet? Spilt Milk whips up luscious, silky gelato that goes back to basics: the nutty aroma of just-roasted pistachios as you walk in is second only to the taste of them. Instead of being piled up out front, the gelato is hidden away in giant, rose-gold vats under the counter to protect it from the elements. 

Stay

Photograph: Supplied/Byng St Boutique Hotel

With its symbiosis of heritage character and quirky, carefully curated décor, the crowning glory of hotels in Orange is surely the Byng Street Boutique Hotel. The finely attuned service and impossibly fluffy robes help, too. With its heavy focus on the local, Byng Street is adorned with furniture, design pieces and art sourced mostly from nearby – just ask for its story and you shall recieve. You'll be able to find centrally located and well-equipped rooms at the Mercure too. 

If you'd rather a homlier experience, settle yourself into the meticulously restored cottage at
19 Kite Street. It boasts three elegant bedrooms, glossy floorboards, and watercolours, paintings and decorative pieces that befit a country manor. It gets seriously chilly during winter, but a wood-fired stove, electric blankets and heated tiles in the master ensuite will keep you snug as a bug in your fancy digs.

Getting there and around

Photograph: Supplied

Traditionally, packing up and road-tripping to Orange was the only practicable way to get there – but as of July 2020, Qantas is running flights that'll get you there in an easy, breezy 50 minutes. If you do want to load the boot, driving takes just under four hours heading northwest of Sydney via the Great Western Highway (A32), or just under five hours on the scenic train journey that snakes through the Blue Mountains. 

Once you're there, take a self-driving wine tour – or hire a bike for a bit of extra mountain air in your lungs. Once group booking restrictions lift, you could collect up to 11 of your closest drinking buddies and entrust the services of Vine Venture Tours to expertly steer you around the best of the region in a private bus. With extensive knowledge and saintly patience, guide Brad Ashton is well equipped to cart you around between cellar doors and is overflowing with anecdotes of Wiradjuri history, gold rush fables and local ecological info.

Further afield

Photograph: Supplied

Nearby village Milthorpe is a preserved ye olde town and feels like Clint Eastwood should be squinting on a corner somewhere. The colonial buildings, many over 150 years old, have been repurposed as venues for eclectic gift shopping and, of course, sampling wine and locally plucked produce. Pop in to the Old Mill Café for an exceptionally buttery-crust beef and shiraz pie, but be sure to save room for their dessert selections, glimmering, sweet sculptures that are regarded with deserved local reverence.

Drive a little further

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