The Hume offers a quicker way from Melbourne to Sydney, but what if you're not in a hurry? The Bear checks out Chiltern as the perfect little road-trip detour... Words & Photos: The Bear.
The combined efforts of the Victorian and NSW highways departments have produced a safe and fast connection between Australia’s two biggest cities. Although it’s an efficent way to travel, it’s a little dull. We take a look at one of the towns it now bypasses, Chiltern…
My preferred alternative is out along the Maroondah Highway to Healesville, on to Alexandra, Mansfield and then Oxley by way of the King Valley. A bit of a backtrack to Beechworth, then down to Chiltern and on to Howlong, Walbundrie and Culcairn to join the Olympic Highway to Cowra and the Midwestern/Great Western Highways to Sydney. Not much freeway, just corners and back roads.
There are lots of pleasant places to stop along this route, something which you can’t really say about the smooth ribbon of Highway 31 these days. I’ll get around to covering the entire ride one day, but that will take a lot more room than I have for this story. Instead, let me tell you about a worthwhile stopover on the Victorian side of the Murray River, at Chiltern. If you get away late from Melbourne, this is not a bad place to stop and spend the night.
Now Chiltern is not just any small Victorian country town. No. Chiltern has the Southern Hemisphere’s largest grape vine. Seriously. The record-setting grapevine grows in the courtyard of a licensed cafe/bar called The Vine in what used to be the Grapevine Hotel and before that the Star Hotel, on the corner of Main and Conness Streets. It was planted in 1867 and is still growing strong. The Vine, by the way, offers more than 25 craft beers and an extensive wine list promoting small local wineries, as well as a range of ciders. Their coffee is roasted nearby in Beechworth. Sounds good, although I prefer the Mulberry Tree Tearooms with its outside sitting area filled with greenery. Martin Park is shady and good for a picnic, too – there’s an IGA for supplies in the middle of town.
Now Chiltern is not just any small Victorian country town. No. Chiltern has the Southern Hemisphere’s largest grape vine. Seriously.
The Mulberry Tree also has rooms, as does the Bird and (Push)Bike Cafe and Bar which is a country-style licensed cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is attached to The Lydoun Motel (yeah, cool name), where you can stay after enjoying The Vine’s offerings or the Bird and Bike’s relaxed friendly atmosphere and wine without having to drive anywhere. Lake Anderson Caravan Park is another option for somewhere to stay. It’s only a few hundred metres from the middle of town and has cabins as well as powered and unpowered sites.
Back from the wine to the vine. I’m not at all sure how the worldwide status of grapevines is determined. Despite extensive research, I have been unable to find anything like an International Association of Grapevine Mensuration to accredit individual plants. What I have found is that there is one in Hampton Court in England that’s more than twice the size of this one.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter movie cameras in Chiltern’s main street, conveniently called Main Street, or more likely in Conness Street. The Victorian streetscape is really sweet, if a bit twee, and there are several historic buildings worth a look.
They also make a good backdrop if you want to take selfies with your bike. A little Motor Museum behind the servo has lots of junk as well as some vintage bikes and cars, and the Chiltern Athenaeum is a typical local history museum but is quite well set up and houses an interesting charcoal burner used during WW2. There’s also some material about Henry Handel Richardson. If you’re keen on celebrities, you might note that “Black Jack” McEwen, leader of the Country Party when they still had leaders who lasted longer than a week and who were not Barnaby Joyce, was born here.
It’s not surprising that the town is popular with tourists, although it should not be too crowded during the week.
Given Chiltern’s picturesque streets, historic buildings and easy access to Mt Pilot–Chiltern National Park it’s not surprising that the town is popular with tourists, although it should not be too crowded during the week. Chiltern, I’m told, is also seeing a revival in its art and retail spaces with Secret Squirrel for the usual tourist stuff and Bogettis Antiques for, well, antiques or what passes for antiques in Australian country towns. The Chiltern Bakery offers, as you probably suspected, baked goods and is referred to as “quaint” in the tourist information, which is often a warning sign but doesn’t seem to have hurt the quality. If all the quaintness becomes too much, head for the Ironbark Tavern for drinks.
- Visitor Information Centre: 30 Main Street, Chiltern Vic 3683. Phone: 03 5726 1611, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lake Anderson Caravan Park: 1 Alliance Street Chiltern Vic 3683. Phone: 03 5726 1298, email: email@example.com. Website: http://www.lakeandersoncaravanpark.com.
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