Ask McLaren Vale local Sean Baxter what he loves most about the South Australian region, and he says he doesn’t even know where to start. Though, Baxter does say that for visitors, the best part about of McLaren Vale is its accessibility, surprising considering its status as a premier Australian wine region.
Just 45 minutes from the Adelaide CBD, nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf St Vincent beaches, McLaren makes for an ideal day trip or weeklong getaway. Best known for its dry reds, the region has over 70 cellar doors, ranging from traditional and some of the oldest in Australia, to the exciting and experimental, driven by the next generation of winemakers.
And the area has no shortage of good food either. Because of its Mediterranean climate, the region has an incredible variety of fresh produce grown in the area, including olives, citrus, fresh herbs and almonds.
“It’s been really exciting to see how the region has developed over the last few years,” says Baxter, brand director of Never Never Distilling Co. who have a distillery door at Chalk Hill Collective in McLaren Vale.
“More and more businesses are investing in McLaren Vale and are continuing to drive it forward as an amazing destination for local, interstate and international tourists. Where there were always incredible wineries and cellar doors, now they’re joined by distilleries like ourselves offering a premium cocktail bar option, as well as craft beer taphouses and modern restaurants.”
Ahead, in his own words, are Baxter’s best places to sip, snack, shop and stay in the McLaren Vale region.
The Best Places to Eat and Drink in McLaren Vale
Comprising Never Never Distilling Co, Chalk Hill Wines and Cucina Di Strada, Chalk Hill has become one of the hottest destinations in South Australia. The architecturally designed corrugated structure is home to Never Never’s Distillery Door, delivering gin flights, distillery tours and cocktail experiences.
Chalk Hill Wines offer fabulous wine tastings with chocolate and cheese pairings to boot. Cucina Di Strada offers an incredible selection of Italian treats, including their already famous ‘Pinsa,’ a Roman pizza variation that’s light and fluffy and smothered in generous toppings. It has some of the best views of the Mt Lofty ranges hand down and its sprawling lawns.
The Salopian Inn is a Mclaren Vale institution, knocking out banging food without
pretension. The cuisine is varied, mirroring owner-chef Karena Armstrong’s own eclectic
food inspiration with dumplings, steam buns and noodle dishes comfortably sitting
alongside pies, tagines and confit duck. The garden onsite grows a fair whack of the produce used with the rest sourced locally within the region.
Star of Greece is not a Greek restaurant, it’s named after a ship of the same name that
wrecked along the coast line in 1888. With one of the most spectacular ocean views in the
area and fresh, locally caught seafood, Star of Greece is a mecca for those who celebrate
amazing dining experiences. They also have a kiosk located just outside of their restaurant
doors, so if you miss out on a table, you can always grab some salt and pepper calamari and take in the views.
From the same operators as Cucina Di Strada, Pizzateca is one of the most popular
venues in the Vale. Its authentic Napoli pizza style is widely celebrated as the best in
South Australia, and no wine tour is complete without first mopping up the remnants of a
few local bottles of red with some pizza and red sauce. It’s usually packed on weekends,
especially in the warmer months, so if you’re trying for a walk-in, try later in the afternoon after 2pm.
The Best Places to Stay in McLaren Vale
Tent on a hill is more than just a ‘glamping’ experience. It offers guests the opportunity to
truly experience the beauty of the McLaren Vale landscape, take in a few meteor showers
before waking up to watch the kangaroos graze one paddock over. No bedrolls are
required, each tent comes with a queen bed, luxurious linens, plush towels and private
toilet and shower facilities. It’s perfect in winter with the fire pit roaring paired with a local shiraz.
Comprising several luxurious guest houses and cadoles, The Vineyard McLaren Vale is an
incredible slice of luxury in regional South Australia. Each room enjoys views over the
vineyard through floor-to-ceiling windows, pristine linens and a complimentary mini bar. Cadole Avalon is the newest offering, which is an elegant ‘pod’ that almost floats above the vineyard canopy. A real log fire and king bed give guests the perfect space for a romantic retreat.
The Best Things to Do in McLaren Vale
Port Willunga Beach Caves
Grab some takeaway from the Star of Greece Kiosk and head down to Willunga Beach to
check out the fishermen’s caves. They were hewn into the soft limestone rock by fishermen, who used them to store their boats and gear. The fishermen are long since gone, however, the caves remain and offer the perfect place for a beachside picnic or impromptu shelter. The caves sit adjacent to the remains of the Port Willunga pier, another famous South Australian landmark.
The Coast to Vines Rail Trail is a scenic ride through some of McLaren Vale’s most beautiful wine country. It’s a pretty easy ride that’s perfect for families and beginners, with the small section between McLaren Vale and Willunga known as the Shiraz Trail. You can also join up with a variety of bike and wine tours in the area such as Escapegoat who ride dedicated trails depending on your experience or wine interest.
The Best Place to Shop in McLaren Vale
The Willunga Farmers Markets is another McLaren Vale institution. It was the very first
farmers’ market established in South Australia and definitely has the volume and quality to make it one of the best. Expect to run into a variety of local chefs shopping for their
seasonal menus along with local producers of fruit, vegetables, cheese and olive oil. If you’re a foodie and love to cook, these markets are a snapshot of the incredible produce McLaren Vale has to offer.