Western District, victoria, australia
My homeland, my stomping ground, my roots! Being born and raised in Hamilton, I will always return to the Western District and until recently it has been short a real foodie experience. All that has changed, starting many years ago with the refurbishment of the Royal Mail Dunkeld Pub and more recently with the establishment of new cafes, eateries and restaurants.
Some might say it is best in summer but the thunder of the Great Ocean Road in winter is a call that is hard to deny. Trussed up in knits and coats it's easy to traverse this small town to the doorstep of Fen and enter into the warm glow beyond.
Fen owners, Hatted Chef Ryan and Kirstyn Sessions have created a hushed welcoming atmosphere and an ambitious tasting menu that reflects the natural beauty and native flavours of the coast and Australia at large. Each dish, introduced lovingly, entices and satiates the senses. We couldn't pick a single favourite, they were all complementary and tied together so well. Fen is a perfect winter foodie adventure!
The Bunyip Hotel Brewery and Distillery offers a seasonal menu that changes sometimes daily; we had melt-in-your-mouth corned beef with potatoes colcannon, tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad, crumbed eel, hand cut chips, mussels in the most delish garlic sauce, sheep's milk cheese and and a divine lemon tart. Owned by a cooperative of local farmers and leased but a collaboration of next gens committed to making good food and drink where they grew up, the Hotel deservedly enjoys the enthusiastic patronage of locals from the Greater Hamilton and Grampians region. Loved every moment!
I have such affection for Tosca's, my first great espresso in my hometown, a silky latte made with All Press beans. On a blustery day in Western Victoria reminiscent of one of Melbourne's worst there's nothing better than a brew from Tosca's. Tosca has expanded to opening a bar in the evening and are enjoying well-deserved success.
A Melburnian knows when to stay the course and when to veer off - our city is a grid, we know we'll eventually get back! In this case when travelling around Australia the best thing you can do is follow your nose when you see one of those interesting brown tourist signs. In this case I veered of down Martin St, Dunkeld to visit the Old Bakery, a gorgeous old building, offering artful, tasty breads, pastries, pies and cakes. I indulged in a hearty country-style sausage roll full of beef mince and veges. The coffee could do with an upgrade though, I think the Beraldo beans let it down.
Right in the centre of town, the Halls Gap Caravan Park offers the best options for tent, caravan and cabin budget accommodation in the area. The Park can only be described as vast, running from the main street up to the base of the mountains and surrounding the local adventure playground and swimming pool. Given the high traffic - of patrons and wildlife - the facilities are impeccable. The Park is right up against the gate way to several easy Grampians walks, including to the famed Venus Baths.
Delicious shopping at Mailors Flat, second-hand heaven much like the Vintage Shed in Tyabb - there is amazing silverware in corners that have not been touched for years. Perfect place to find a treasure, not a bargain. Intrepid vintage hunters will find second-hand treasures in the Mailors Flat Antiques old tram car.
The Argyle Shop is an enterprise of the local Uniting Church, who have taken over one of the empty old pubs in town and given it a new lease on life as an op shop. It is a bustling store full of china, glassware, appliances and furniture. My Aunt, who was showing me the best vintage spots in town, introduced me to Liz, a volunteer who often points out to visitors the best buys and has a sharp eye for quality. David was the go-to man for furniture and helped me wrestle a retro Danish TV cabinet into my little Mazda2. Last time I visited I cleaned them out of their vintage Corningware, gotta be quick with this op shop! The shop benefits Rev Peter Cook and the presbytery's phenomenal community work with the homeless and other social justice causes.
The Western District is one of the best areas for shopping for vintage wares. Some beautiful finds at St Vinnie's, including a sweet little retro salt cellar than I have seen priced at $50+ in Melbourne for $2! This is the op shop where my Grandfather volunteered in his retirement, I love that it is still thriving.