Few visitors leave this rolling, bucolic, wine-soaked landscape without having at least one Hans Heysen moment. The great German-born Australian watercolourist's spirit is everywhere, written into each red gum monster you pass in the dappled sunlight. While the landscape may not have changed much in recent years, the food and wine offerings certainly have. Gone are the days when all the best local produce (wine, cheese, berries and vegetables) would disappear into the larders of Adelaide restaurants. The rise of farmers' markets and passionate food-fancying locals has changed all that. Consequently, dining in the Hills has stepped up in sophistication but thankfully, is delivered without any accompanying pretension.
The Hills are a maze of wineries and villages with food offerings, and locals tend to favour the pubs, most of which offer good, honest menus. Hahndorf, Australia's oldest German settlement, provides that beer-toting, Bavarian vibe (strange, given the place was actually settled by more restrained German Lutherans) and it remains the region's tourist centre. Better places to eat include the Seasonal Garden Cafe for locally produced organic vegan and vegetarian fare, the White House (with a focus on local produce and events, including a cute pop-up outdoor cinema) and the Haus Hahndorf (a 359-seater offering breakfast, lunch and dinner). Lane Vineyard is just a five-minute drive away with excellent food by chef James Brinklow and stunning views.
For less touristy but interesting local dining, head west. You'll find gems in Verdun including Walk The Talk (great coffee, dine-in or take-home meals by top chef Ali Seedsman, formerly of Adelaide's Magill Estate and Universal Wine Bar and Sydney's the Bathers' Pavilion), and the Stanley Bridge Tavern (delicious food, country hospitality) and the Bridgewater Mill Restaurant, where you can scoff "posh platters", as the locals call them, while gazing at the antique water wheel keeping its world turning.
A smidge further west the Stirling Hotel leads the way, offering a choice between boisterous bistro dining and the more refined grill area, which includes four-, six- and eight-course degustation menus, while more relaxed offerings include Miss Perez kitchen and bar, the Locovore (for that slow food ethos) and the Organic Market and Cafe on Druid Avenue, long at the heart of local organic fresh produce and known for its coffee.
The Seasonal Garden Cafe, 81 Main Street, Hahndorf, 08 8388 7714
The White House, 90 Main Street, Hahndorf, 08 7111 0030, theestablishment1858.com.au
The Haus Hahndorf, 38a Main Street, Hahndorf, 08 8388 7555, haushahndorf.com.au
The Lane Vineyard, 5 Ravenswood Lane, Hahndorf, 08 8388 1250, thelane.com.au
Walk The Talk, 25 Onkaparinga Valley Road, Verdun, 08 8388 7344, aliseedsmancatering.com.au
Stanley Bridge Tavern, 41 Onkaparinga Valley Road, Verdun, 08 8388 7249, stanleybridgetavern.com
The Bridgewater Mill Restaurant, Mount Barker Road, Bridgewater, 08 8339 9200, thebridgewatermill.com.au
The Stirling Hotel, 52 Mount Barker Road, Stirling, South Australia, 08 8339 2345, stirlinghotel.com.au
Miss Perez, 2 Druid Avenue, Stirling, South Australia, 08 7225 0264, missperez.com.au
The Locovore, 49 Mount Barker Rd, Stirling, 08 8339 4416, thelocavore.com.au
The Organic Market and Cafe, 5 Druid Avenue, Stirling, 08 8339 4835, organicmarket.com.au
How long is a piece of string? So many small boutique wineries have opened their cellar doors in recent years you'll struggle to cross them all off your list.
While the region is best known for cool climate and sparkling drops, the crew at Shaw + Smith turned heads with its shiraz at last year's Adelaide Hills Wine Show, picking up best wine (their sauvignon blanc is popular with many, including actor Russell Crowe, it seems). A semi-formal tasting of five wines with cheese costs $15 per person (redeemable with a purchase of six or more bottles).
Other wineries worth a look include Pike & Joyce in the north, with views (on a good day) to Mount Barker, Golding Wines (there are paella and roast chicken Sundays) and Sidewood at Maximilians, with its award-winning sparkling and sauvignon blanc and restaurant to match. Cider lovers might venture north of Onkaparinga Valley to Kersbrook Hill Wines and Cider (Basket Pressed Cider, low on sweetness and bubbles, made to an old English recipe), and beer lovers should head south to the Prancing Pony Brewery and a range of delicious local craft brews.
Shaw + Smith, 136 Jones Road, Balhannah, 08 8398 0500, shawandsmith.com
Sidewood, 15 Onkaparinga Valley Road, Verdun, 08 8388 7777, sidewood.com.au
Kersbrook Hill Wines, 1498 South Para Road, Kersbrook, 08 8389 3301, kersbrookhill.com.au
Prancing Pony Brewery, 42 Mt Barker Road, Totness, 08 8398 3881, prancingponybrewery.com.au
Shopping and eating in the Hills go hand in hand so look out for roadside stalls selling everything from apples, strawberries, juice and even homemade apple pies on weekends. As for picking your own, it's loads of fun and not just for kids: try Beerenberg Farm, which is still turning out decent strawberries. At Woodside Cheese Wrights, you can pick up new inventions and hard-to-find cheeses or drop into Udder Delights in Hahndorf. While you're there, the Poets Ode is worth a browse for locally produced jewellery and cushions and The Hahndorf Academy has excellent exhibition programs set in a beautiful 19th-century building; and Hans Heysen's studio has been turned into a fascinating museum nearby at the late painter's family property, The Cedars. For homewares go to Stirling, where you'll find Three Birds Homewares and Maple Stirling. Or escape with a good read from local institution, Matilda Bookshop.
Beerenberg Farm, Mount Barker Road, Hahndorf, 08 8388 7272, beerenberg.com.au
Woodside Cheese Wrights, 22 Henry Street, Woodside, 08 8389 7877, woodsidecheese.com.au
Udder Delights, 91 Main Street, Hahndorf, 08 8388 1588, udderdelights.com.au
Poets Ode, 100 Main Street, Hahndorf, 0400 420 418
The Hahndorf Academy, 68 Main Street, Hahndorf, 08 8388 7250, hahndorfacademy.org.au
The Cedars, Heysen Road, Hahndorf, 08 8388 7277, hansheysen.com.au
Three Birds Homewares, 1A 37-39 Mt Barker Rd, Stirling, 08 8339 3985
Maple Stirling, 48 Mount Barker Road, Stirling, 08 8370 1777
Matilda Bookshop, 8 Mount Barker Road, Stirling, 08 8339 3931, matildabookshop.com.au
Plenty of wineries offer accommodation, such as Barristers Block's "Vigneron's Cottage", a smartly renovated self-contained house with one of the largest showers you're ever likely to see. It sleeps six (the bedrooms, not the shower) and prices start from $450 midweek to $550 on weekends, per night. Or treat yourself with a stay at Mount Lofty House, a stately home converted with spectacular views over the Piccadilly Valley, with rooms starting at $279. Otherwise, The Stirling Hotel has five rooms, starting from $280 and Bridgewater Mill offers two self-contained bed-and-breakfast "workers' cottages", starting at $249 for the first night.
Barristers Block, 141 Onkaparinga Valley Road,Woodside, South Australia, 08 8389 7706, barristersblock.com.au
Mount Lofty House, 74 Mount Lofty Summit Road, Crafers, 08 8339 6777, mtloftyhouse.com.au
The Stirling Hotel, 52 Mount Barker Road, Stirling, 08 8339 2345, stirlinghotel.com.au
The Bridgewater Mill, Mount Barker Road, Bridgewater, 08 8339 9200, thebridgewatermill.com.au
The Adelaide Hills are 720 kilometres west of Melbourne and about a 30-minute drive from Adelaide.
Peter Barrett stayed as a guest at Barristers Block Wines.