A RESTAURANT in a church, a house in a train: it's the quirky tales, characters and ideas that make a weekend break to the Granite Belt truly magical.
Once a traditional farming community, the area surrounding Stanthorpe in southern Queensland is now a cultural blend dominated by Italian with a sprinkling of German, French and even Greek spices, some South African seasoning and new hints of Asian backpackers.
As you travel across the Great Dividing Range, the air cools, the pace slows; a mere three-hour drive and you're in a completely different Queensland.
Food and wine dominate any Granite Belt itinerary, but the theme is versatility.
Strange Bird is the name of the Granite Belt alternative wine trail and though its co-founder Jim Barnes insists it's the wines that are strange (not the winemakers), I'm sure Adrian Tobin would forgive me for saying he's a bit out of the ordinary.
Adrian has spent years building a stone wall, fondly known as Adrian's Wall, which surrounds his modern winery and cellar door.
In his former life, Adrian was a pharmacist but when he tired of serving up medicine, he ditched the pre-packaged Prozac and pursued a world in art. The art of winemaking, that is.
His creativity led him to buy a Ballandean winery, where his wines are named after his grandchildren.
His Tempranillo is a treasure and he may have yet converted an ABC (anything but chardonnay) ignoramus with his “new-style” chardonnay.
David Sutton was a sheep, cattle and grain farmer south of Goondiwindi before he began life as a trawlerman in North Queensland.
He later reinvented himself in Stanthorpe as an orchardist with apples and stone fruits and now, together with his wife Ros, he runs Sutton's Juice Factory, Cidery and Shed Cafe in Thulimbah.
Twenty-two apples go into a Sutton's apple pie and the mountainous dessert looks like it's from one of Enid Blyton's “Smashing Teas”, not to mention the award- winning ciders, juices and an exclusive apple butter.
It's a similar story at Glen Aplin's Bramble Patch where you can try the coveted ice burger, waffles or berry sorbet.
The farm uses all its home-grown berries to produce a shop-full of sparkly jars, bottles and goodies. It's impossible not to indulge.
Across the hill, for Darcy and Samuel Orr, it must feel like growing up in a fairytale.
Their parents Peter and Karen traded the Hunter Valley to buy the majestic Felsberg Winery and Bell Tower Cafe.
The complex boasts a spectacular view and is well worth a visit. Felsberg wines are picking up the pace on the Granite Belt with a fine Gewurztraminer topping the bill. The winery has also launched its very own beer.
Chef Tony Southgate cooks up a storm in the Bell Tower Cafe.
The international culinary guru, formerly of Robert Channon's cafe, has his finger in a number of pies.
In his spare time he helps in the kitchen at a Stanthorpe aged care facility.
He's also working on a saffron crop and is hoping to round up his first batch of truffles this year.
The hidden gem at Felsberg, however, was an astounding latte cheesecake that was like a gutsy tiramisu with bite and a beautiful pistachio and white chocolate tart.
Prepare yourself for an excellent feed, delicious wine, fresh air and probably the best sleep you've had.
GOOD TO KNOW
Trainhouse: Harrington Glen Rattler, Glen Aplin, www.harringtonglenwines.com.au or call (07) 4683 4388
Church-come-restaurant: Vineyard Cottages & Cafe, Ballandean, http://www.vineyardcottages.com.au or call (07) 4684 1270
Tobin Wines, Ballandean: www.tobinwines.com.au or call (07) 4684 1235
Sutton's Juice Factory, Cidery & Shed Cafe, Thulimbah: suttonsfarm.com.au or call (07) 4685 2464
Bramble Patch, Glen Aplin: www.bramblepatch.com.au or call (07) 4683 4205
Felsberg Winery and Bell Tower Cafe: www.felsberg.com.au or call (07) 4683 4332
Granite Belt Wine & Tourism: 1800 SOCOOL www.granitebeltwinecountry.com.au.
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