ABOUT THE WRITER: Eleanor Margareta is a resident escape artist who doesn’t ask for much, just a life of leisure.
Replenish the soul with a trip to the evocative McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia’s most picturesque gem. The landscape oscillates between dramatic cliff faces, dry rolling hills, and the romance of vineyard florals with an ocean backdrop. It is a stark contrast, but one that inspires nostalgic fancy of Mediterranean escapism at its most rustic. The McLaren Vale on South Australia’s Fleurieu peninsula is a mere 30 minutes from the centre of Adelaide, but a world away from the city hustle.
Of the 65 wineries located in the McLaren Vale region, only a handful operate on an industrial commercial level; the rest are boutique establishments with specialty vignerons at the helm. A personal favourite, family-owned and run Coriole Vineyards specialises in Italian varietals, and hosts a number of events throughout spring to celebrate nature’s most proliferative season. Enjoy the views out to the coast while enjoying a substantial share platter of local produce by chef Tom Reid, and a bottle of subtle Chenin Blanc or delicate Sangiovese – both of which go down more easily than water.
If the preference is packing a picnic basket and finding a spot of sunshine, weekly farmers markets at nearby Willunga supply the best of local produce, and are also accessible by horse trail along the historic rail tracks. Lloyd Brothers nicely sets the scene with olives, wine, cheese, biscuits, and nuts for a delectable hamper. Make sure to have a plan or the rug may not go further than their scenic lavender rimmed lake.
Become familiar with the names from your local. The d’Arenberg Estate is an impressive expanse of dense vines and regional history. The award-winning d’Arry’s Verandah serves a gourmet degustation in the original homestead, maintained by fourth generation d’Arenberg family members. A short drive away, wander the eponymous Church Block of Wirra Wirra’s most popular varietal, and explore the sculptural installations around the estate. The Wood Henge installation uses immense block wood to evoke the enormity of the UK’s most notable druid construction, while a rowboat floats above the Shiraz vines on Scrubby Rise, just like the wine bottle’s characteristic label.
Art abounds in this region, both historically and culturally. Benefitting from the bequests of free settlers – where every other state grew from penal colonies – a culture of artistic endeavour thrives throughout South Australia. Many highly regarded artists and galleries operate in the McLaren Vale and surrounds, and are worth a visit by short drive. Many of the McLaren Vale’s wineries feature works by local artists, such as Fox Creek Wines, Gemtree Wines, and Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards. Margie Sheppard Studio and Ayliffe and Ash Art in Kangarilla showcase the working studios of local artists. Both are boutique outfits and artists work in a number of media – etching, oils, sculpture and charcoal.
Once filled to the brim with wine and culture, savour the landscape of the Fleurieu peninsula. Undulating hills roll on and on, dotted by sheep and greenery. Leeward, the Inman Valley is lush and populated by ghost gums and iconic Australian fauna. It is not uncommon to spy a kangaroo in these parts. On the coastal side the grass is dry and the sky is endless. Sky blue takes on new meaning as it contrasts the vast pastures. An afternoon walk along Aldinga beach, and perhaps the sunset over Myponga on the other side of the bay will evoke the inner expressionist. The environment seems so raw at this vantage point that clarity in heart and mind must follow. Escape to the thoughts and words of the romantic poets that lend themselves to the scene once whispered by William Wordsworth “I wandered, lonely as a cloud…”
The McLaren Vale and its surrounds are Mediterranean and Australian all at once and at its best in the springtime. This region can do for the soul what the season does for nature: breathe life back into an idle heart. The McLaren Vale is about enjoying the finer things – boutique wine, food, and art – while appreciating the effortless, yet sometimes harsh beauty of an Australian coastal landscape.
Photographer: Eleanor Dups