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Australia’s grape escape

by Rich Keam on 20 February 2014, 09:02AM

Western Australia’s south west is well-known for its waves and wine, but now there is a gourmet food culture to match with truffle tours and a new beachside foodie festival.

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In the past whenever I thought about Australia the first thing that popped into my head was the red earth of the Outback. So it came with great surprise to be travelling through rolling green hills and lush vegetation as we journeyed our way into Australia’s South West. One of the highlights of my travels so far has been discovering this corner of the country, and what better way to start than at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

Margaret River is 3 hours south of Perth and every year holds its very own food and drink extravaganza. It’s a three day culinary celebration with top chefs and wine buffs from all over the globe sharing their foodie tips and secrets, cooking gourmet dinners, hosting master classes and holding intimate Q&As.
The main hub of excitement is the Gourmet Escape Village where local producers, wineries, breweries and restaurants from the region showcase their wares, and invited chefs (like Heston Blumenthal and Rick Stein) dazzle and delight hundreds, nay THOUSANDS, of enthralled food lovers from a huge outdoor amphitheater.

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The town of Margaret River is just a small part of what’s on offer down here. The surrounding area is known as the Margaret River wine region and is famous for its premium vineyards and wineries, pristine beaches and world class surfing breaks. Of the 150 or so boutique independent wineries in the area, we visited one of the up and coming new stars, Fraser Gallop. No wonder they’re creating such a buzz, their winemaker is Clive Otto (former Australian winemaker of the year) and his apprentice is Kate Morgan (young wine maker of the year finalist). You can tour their hi-tech almost futuristic winery as well as sample their wonderful cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, which is the area is famous for.

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Apart from the Gourmet Escape and fantastic food and wine scene here, there’s also the spectacular scenery. I was lucky enough to be staying at Cape Lodge (one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia). The next day I realised that a slow kayak down the Margaret River is one of the most relaxing and calming things you can do, and that the views out into the Indian Ocean from the cliff tops are absolutely mesmerising.

But after over indulging in the Gourmet Escape and being extremely enthusiastic on the winery tours, I needed to do some REAL exercise. The Munda Biddi mountain bike track is a “world class” trail that stretches just over 1,000km from south of Perth all the way down to Albany in Australia’s South West, making it the longest off road mountain bike trail in the universe. After more than a decade, construction was finally completed in April 2013 and we drove the 130 km to Pemberton to tackle a small part of it.

It was a crisp, clear, fresh morning when we set off and the sun was shimmering through the huge Jarrah trees in the forest, perfect for a day of riding. The Munda Biddi trail has plenty of undulating track making it a fairly physical adventure, but I think something that anyone could do with a bit of grit and determination. I’d love to go back one day and spend a month cycling the whole trail and camping in the forest, that’d be a real challenge.

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Further south is the town of Manjimup, home to another culinary treasure - black truffles. Established in 1997 the Wine and Truffle Company, on the outskirts of Manjimup, is the largest producer of the superior black perigord truffle in the southern hemisphere and exports their truffles worldwide. Company manager Gavin told me the reason they’ve been so successful in growing here is because of the cool, temperate climate and soft, rich soil. In Bella and Andy they also have a pair of top truffling pedigree canines. I watched on in awe as Bella sniffed out frozen truffles Gavin had buried under the top soil as part of her extensive truffle training program. The Wine and Truffle Company use Labradors as their dog of truffling choice because they are always hungry. If I came back as an animal in another life, I wouldn’t mind being a truffle hunting Labrador.

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This South West corner of Australia is so diverse and untouched with spectacular scenery. I’m already packing for my next trip. Just remember to bring a healthy appetite!

The next Margaret River Gourmet Escape will take place 21-23 November 2014. Heston Blumenthal, Rene Redzepi and Rick Stein are among those who have previously taken part in this foodie festival. Visit www.gourmetescape.com.au for more information on 2014’s line up and tickets.

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Author bio: Rich Keam won Tourism Australia’s ‘Best Jobs in the World’ competition in June 2013. For the next six months his mission was to uncover Western Australia’s best local flavours and hidden gems. Visit tastewesternaustralia.com for more of Rich’s insider tips, stories and video guides to Western Australia.

For more information about holidays to Western Australia and Margaret River visit www.travelbag.co.uk/holidays/australasia/australia/western-australia

If you want to find out more about Western Australia visit www.westernaustralia.com


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