Spring in the high country. Sounds good, right? As well as the alpine air, stunning views and ski-crazy population, I’ll be damned if a weekend in Bright doesn’t mean delicious food. It’s high country grazing for humans.
Despite a less-than-welcome beginning to our weekend – a highway accident means we arrive two hours late and in the dark – the beds at our accommodation at Chestnut Tree holiday apartments make it worthwhile. Fluffy mattress toppers mean that any spare time we have we feel compelled to crawl back into bed.
Next day we wake to views over the mountains and what I think is a freakish one-off; a camellia so tall it reaches the balcony of our first-floor unit. Turns out these gorgeous specimens, with flowers the size of dinner plates, are so common they appear to be used as landscaping infill all over the town.
Nola Williams, who owns the Chestnut Tree with her husband, John, takes me on a tour of the property. The couple brought Chestnut Tree 30 years ago, when it was little more than a near-vertical sheep paddock.
I suggest to Nola she must be proud of her achievements, because as well as the stunning camellias, magnolias and dogwoods, the garden has more then 3000 tulips, along with roses, daffodils, miles of hedging, a pool and a play area. ‘‘Too busy,’’ she says. I believe her.
If it’s hard to drag ourselves away from charming Nola and John, our next stop proves even more difficult.
Breakfast is at retro-chic cafe Coral Lee, and co-owner Sam Martin is clearly a force of nature. We are all instantly smitten. We eat light-as-air pancakes and I have an Earl Grey tea so good I spend the rest of the meal gazing at it with a great deal of fondness. Martin says she and co-owner Leonie Duggan make everything, except the bread, on the premises and source as much as they can, including my tea, locally. Martin says their reputation for using local produce is gaining quite a following. ‘‘People know to bring us stuff,’’ she says. ‘‘They just drop in with lemons or basil.’’ I check my notes after our visit and notice my daughter has added ‘‘awesome’’ in the margin.
At the insistence of everyone we meet, we visit the local market on the banks of the Ovens River and, maybe it’s all that fresh air, but we go a little crazy. All stalls must stock locally made or grown products and we buy jams, chutney, nuts, candles, soap, a bacon buttie and even a knitted rainbow beanie.
Next stop is the Bright Brewery, just up the hill. The microbrewery is in the process of making itself less micro by building a grand new premises next door. We help out by buying every sort of beer they have.
A sit down is required at Ginger Baker, a cafe further along the river. Ginger Baker looks like it was roughly hewn by lumberjacks, but it was only renovated late last year. And while the setting might put the rust into rustic, the food is pure sophistication.
Manager Tim Schroder said the formula was an instant success. Ginger Baker has a tapas-style menu, which Schroder says was owner Tim Walton’s choice.
‘‘It’s fresh food, beautifully grown in the area and you can’t really go wrong with that,’’ he says.
I concur. The locally grown rocket in my salad has so much flavour it almost tastes like chilli.
Our last stop is the Butter Factory in Myrtleford, run by mother and daughter team Bronwyn and Naomi Ingleton. Naomi started a cafe in the former butter factory in 2007, and Bronwyn joined her after the birth of Naomi’s first child.
Over a dish of Bronwyn’s delicious roasted mushrooms on toasted pumpkin seed bread, Naomi says she decided to diversify after a slump in the tourism market. She says while making butter in a former butter factory seemed the obvious choice, her father sealed the decision. ‘‘He told me to stick to the staples,’’ Naomi says.
It took her two years to learn the craft. ‘‘We didn’t know what we were doing. We literally found the equipment in old barns.’’
We indulge in a butter tasting (no really, it’s work), and I make a silent promise to my tastebuds to find a supplier when I get home.
As I am, once again, tearing myself away, I tell Naomi and Bronwyn I seem to have done nothing but eat the entire weekend. They both nod. ‘‘That’s right,’’ Naomi says. ‘‘And drink,’’ she adds.
That’s sorted then. I’m coming back.
Jan Fisher travelled to Bright courtesy of the North East Victoria Tourism Board.