We’ve hand-picked some of the most romantic restaurants, the best wineries, the cozy accommodation options and secluded Stanthorpe retreats perfect for a couple’s getaway — in one of Australia’s least known but most exciting wine regions.
Related article: A weekend in country Queensland
Just three hours from Brisbane is Stanthorpe and The Granite Belt
Sitting pretty at 1000 metres above sea level, the Granite Belt is Queensland’s coldest area and premier wine-growing region. The local wine trail features over 45 cellar doors plus a handful of breweries and distilleries — but it’s not just the vino pulling focus. This scenic escape (three hours south-west of Brisbane) is also making its mark on the culinary map with creative paddock-to-plate menus that celebrate farm-fresh produce in style.
Luckily, this is a food and wine destination for all seasons, with crisp mornings and cold nights in autumn/winter and cool mornings and clear, sunny days in spring/summer. Perfect for winding your way through the vines, stoking the fire in a cosy cabin, or dodging the summer heat on a relaxed road trip. A warm country welcome awaits, no matter when you visit, especially from the local vignerons who love nothing more than a long chat over a slow wine-tasting.
Sip & Sup Your Way Through Cellar Doors
We reckon the Granite Belt is ideal for a romantic short break with good food and wine and plenty of boutique accommodation. And it seems we’re not alone. Over the past few years, couples have flocked to sip and sup their way around the cellar doors and growing list of top-notch restaurants that orbit around the regional hub of Stanthorpe. Once smitten, visitors return time and again. Meaning you’ll have to book well in advance if you fancy a weekend stay, especially in winter when the temperature plummets and the chance of snow flurries is high.
Five Don’t Miss Wine & Dine Experiences
Heritage Estate Winery
What better way to kick off a short break than with a leisurely Vine + Dine Journey at Heritage Estate Winery, winner of the AGFG Readers’ Choice Award 2022 and the highest altitude Halliday RED 5-Star winery in Australia. High praise indeed! The journey starts with a glass of sparkling wine in the vineyard, where you learn more about winemaking in the Queensland High Country, before moving back to the gorgeous cellar door/dining area for a chef-prepared, five-dish lunch with matching wines. Or get a few friends together to enjoy a fantastic night of food, wine and music at a 5 Senses black-tie dinner held twice a month – spectacular! With its beautiful antique furniture, including a 17-seat rosewood table (circa mid-1880) which once resided in Brisbane’s Parliament House and an 80+-year-old pianola, dining here is a spectacular introduction to the area.
Whisky Gully Wines
For a romantic country getaway, a dinner degustation with matching wines is always high on our must-do list. In the Granite Belt, we highly recommend Whiskey Gully Wines, a stunning homestead (circa 1880) in Severnlea, five minutes south of Stanthorpe. Their Saturday night six-course dinner is served with their finest wines and lashings of music and witty conversation courtesy of the owner, John Arledge, who regularly takes down one of his guitars (he has a fantastic collection!) and entertains guests with toe-tapping rock and blues.
Winning an AGFG chef’s hat speaks volumes about the meals turned out at Essen, a family-run restaurant in Stanthorpe where garden produce and fresh local ingredients guide the daily menu. Inspired by the Austrian/German word essen, meaning ‘a meal/to eat’, this little gem is so popular you sometimes need to book months in advance! Menus are prepared with a passion only a family of food-lovers can provide, and being BYO means you can bring along your new-found favourite tipple.
Whether it’s lunch or dinner, we recommend starting at the cellar door for a tasting before making your way into award-winning Varias Restaurant, located in the Queensland College of Wine Tourism, a training college for the hospitality industry. The signature Medley of Mains lunch with matching wines for under $50 is a popular option while the à la carte menu offers delicious variety. In colder weather, couples will love dining in front of the roaring open fire while on warmer days the deck is the place to be, overlooking the dam, Banca Ridge Vineyard and the township of Stanthorpe.
Ballandean Estate Wines
You could say the Granite Belt wine region first landed on the map in 1975 when Angelo Puglisi, owner of Ballandean Estate Wines, was recognised with a Gold Medal at the Brisbane Show. The Puglisi family has been wine royalty for four generations, and this heritage looks set to continue. Located just south of Stanthorpe in the rural town of Ballandean, their Barrel Room Restaurant is one of the area’s finest dining establishments and a must for lunch or dinner – but only until 27 June 2022 when the restaurant will close and the barrel room will morph into a rustic and moody lounge bar. Guests will be invited to snack on a fabulous food platter while sipping on a flight of Ballandean Estate’s best wines, surrounded by the oldest working wine barrels in the state -150-year-old vats holding maturing muscat and port. Yet one more reason for me to make a return visit!
Five Don’t Miss Cellar Doors
Strange Bird Wine Trail
Wine diversity characterises the Strange Bird Wine Trail, a quirky moniker that speaks to the area’s penchant for producing exciting wine varieties more commonly found in Europe. Think mourvedre, tempranillo, fiano, vermentino and others. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Strange Bird cellar doors, but here are our highlights for something different.
Bent Road Winery
Make a booking at Ballandean’s Bent Road Winery to taste-test their experimental small-batch family of wines. Winemakers harvest the grapes by hand and utilise a traditional Georgian method, developed over 8,000 years ago, of using egg-shaped clay vessels partly buried in the ground for fermentation. The result is a raw, non-filtered flavour that has earned the winemaker of one resident label, (Andrew Scott of La Petite Mort) three Young Gun of Wine finalist titles. Sample his eye-catching range in the old chapel cellar door — with the resident skeletons!
Hidden Creek Winery
It’s been said that a meal without wine is like a day without sun, both necessary elements we think of when creating a romantic lakeside picnic lunch at Ballandean’s Hidden Creek Winery. Drink inside the gorgeous converted-church cellar door with its ornate leadlights or go alfresco under the leafy trees by the lake with their special picnic hampers. Blankets provided! Their award-winning wines are light and fresh, a perfect match for your gourmet picnic.
Summit Estate Wines
A picnic or barbecue with wine-tasting and music is the best way to kick back and watch the sky turn to liquid gold at a Summit Estate Wines Sunset Session, held every Friday and Saturday. Rustic and spacious, the cellar door has wood-burning stoves and huge windows to deliver the best view of the vines and sunset.
Balancing Heart Winery
Another sunset (or lunch) must is Balancing Heart Winery near Girraween National Park. Spectacular wines crafted by Mike Hayes (named 2017 Australian Winemaker of the Year by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology) go hand in hand with their tasty wood-fired pizzas and the sun setting over the distant ranges.
Symphony Hill Wines
President Barak Obama, Prince William and Princess Kate have all sampled signature drops from Symphony Hill Wines. So don’t let anyone tell you Granite Belt wines aren’t as good as any in Australia! Their Ballandean tasting room is characterised by a glittering chandelier and bright-red lounge for a touch of grape-side glamour, while their winery embraces cutting-edge winemaking. Don’t miss it.
The best way to get around the wineries and stay under the limit is with Granite Highland Maxi Tours’ half-or-full-day tour.
Five Romantic Granite Belt Stays
Nestled on 100 acres of vines and gardens and home to an abundance of local wildlife, Azjure is Australia’s most highly awarded couples’ retreat. Once you check out their website, we know you’ll want to book! The team has thought of absolutely everything you might need, and if you’re travelling with friends, they even have a stunning villa for rent. We’re just going to say it: this place is fantastic!
Located in Cottonvale (just north of Stanthorpe), the cedar-lined c1864 Winery Cottage at Heritage Estate Winery is a gorgeous romantic escape for couples. There’s nothing better than relaxing by the fire with a glass of wine and a cheese platter after a long day of cellar door tastings!
If you love the idea of staying among the vines, you can’t get much closer than Ridgemill Estate’s studio cabins, set in the picturesque 40-acre vineyard. A king-sized bed, cosy fireplace and continental breakfast come complete with our favourite inclusion: a complimentary bottle of wine! Need more room? There’s also a three-bedroom Winery Escape House on offer.
If the thought of a double spa bath in your private cottage and a glass of wine by a roaring fire in the Guest Lounge before dinner gets your heart racing, then we insist you check out the boutique Vineyard Cottages (soon to be renamed). Tapas and paella are available from Wednesday to Sunday afternoon, plus more exciting additions once the new owners have them in place. This Ballandean beauty is one of our favourite choices for a romantic stay in the Granite Belt.
Last, but certainly not least, is Alure Stanthorpe. With two luxury villas and Australia’s most stylish and well-appointed glamping tent (seriously, check it out online), staying here is close to heaven — especially when soaking in your private outdoor spa under a velvet sky dripping with sparkling stars.
Five top things to do
Spend a morning exploring the awesome granite landscapes of Girraween (an Aboriginal word meaning ‘a place of flowers’) National Park. Take in the glorious spring wildflower display or hike the majestic granite outcrops of the Pyramid trail. Just don’t forget a photo with iconic Balancing Rock, precariously poised on a tiny rock edge — brilliant!
‘Sip & Sniff’ with French-trained perfumer Debra Spence as part of a new sensory experience in her perfumery and distillery at Rosetta Homestead. Sip on a cocktail from Conrad Distillery as you discover how French-inspired natural perfume is made. Opt for the longer lesson where you’ll create a personalised signature scent from a choice of 40 intoxicating oils.
Join Granite Belt Bicycle Tours for a fully guided tour and mosey along the country roads to discover the area’s wineries, breweries, and specialist food producers. Like to choose your own adventure? Hire a bike and enjoy a self-guided tour of the fruit orchards and rural landscapes with map in hand.
Beer enthusiasts can enjoy a tasting paddle of six different and distinct craft beers and watch how they create their delicious brews with a tour at Granite Belt Brewery.
Take the Granite Belt home with a visit to Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple Thulimbah. This gourmet treasure-trove features the best Australian/Italian nitrate-free meats and local wines plus all manner of pastas, cheeses, olives, pre-cooked meals, jams, sauces and more. Their pizza and pasta meals are sensational, and the range of homemade pies is outstanding!
Stanthorpe sits high in the Southern Downs ranges, three hours south-west of Brisbane. The scenic drive winds through the lush fields of Fassifern Valley and the steep mountain pass and rainforests of Cunninghams Gap and on to the lovely town of Warwick, famed for its heritage sandstone buildings, before you reach Stanthorpe 45 minutes later.
From Sydney, head up the New England Highway from Newcastle, driving through Tamworth, Armidale and Tenterfield before crossing the border at Wallangarra.
Romantic Side Trip
If you have a couple of extra days up your sleeve, consider a stay at Warwick’s historic Abbey Boutique Hotel (originally built as a convent and school in the late 1800s). Play lords and ladies at this adults-only country manor where individually decorated rooms are brimming with vintage charm. Ask for the upper floor Bavarian Room 7 for a memorable soak in an original pink cast-iron clawfoot bath.
To plan your short break to the Granite Belt, see southernqueenslandcountry.com.au
@southerndownsandgranitebelt @granitebeltwinecountry @sqcountry @southernqueenslandcountry
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