For a remote country town on the edge of the desert, 400 kilometres from the nearest capital city, regional Mildura might seem like an unlikely food tourism destination. While many are lured by the many charms of the Murray, it's not all houseboats and paddle steamers; as you'll discover, the riverside mecca has its food and wine bases very nicely covered too.
Thanks to a wealth of local produce (avocados, citrus, stone fruit, olives, almonds and grapes all grow here in abundance) and a lively restaurant scene, there's more than enough good eating to squeeze into a full weekend's exploration. Adding to the appeal, the sunny Sunraysia hub also supports a thriving arts scene and a jam-packed festival calendar. And the best bit?
Much of the town's restaurant action happens on Langtree Avenue, aka "Feast Street", where you'll find a range of drinking and dining options. But no visit to the region would be complete without a booking at Stefano's – the iconic, highly awarded restaurant of local celeb chef and region ambassador, Stefano di Pieri. For honest Italian in serene surrounds try The Province by Matt d'Angelo, or for casual, bistro-style Italian and house-brewed craft beer nick across the street to the handsomely art deco Mildura Brewery (also part of the Stefano family). Across town, ex-Stefano's chef Jim McDougall is now glamming up pub grub with positive results at The Black Stump, but if wholefoods are more your thing, you could grab lunch at Clove Organics, where the kitchen whips up nutritious, seasonal organic salads, soups, cakes (and more) depending on what's good that day. Rustic-chic (and licensed to serve Moet with breakfast) The Wooden Door scores top points for creatively put-together cafe-style brunches and great coffee, while 27 Deakin Cafe and Good Food Store delivers a solid breakfast and lunch offering in a light-filled gallery setting.
Stefano's Cellar, Grand Hotel, Langtree Avenue, (03) 5022 0881, stefano.com.au
The Province by Matt d'Angelo, 29 Langtree Avenue, (03) 5021 5550, theprovince.net.au
Mildura Brewery, 20 Langtree Avenue, (03) 5022 2988, mildurabrewery.com.au
The Black Stump, 110-114 Eighth Street, (03) 5023 0474, theblackstump.com.au
Clove Organics, 121A Eighth St, (03) 5021 2230, cloveorganics.org
The Wooden Door, 126 Eighth Street, (03) 5024 7696 (also at 2137 Fifteenth Street, Irymple)
27 Deakin Cafe and Good Food Store, 27 Deakin Avenue, (03) 5021 3627
The region's better wineries generally require a drive out of town, but to explore the wines of the Sunraysia without leaving the town centre, head to the Sunraysia Cellar Door, which stocks wines and fortifieds from more than 20 local producers. Find something you like? You can always purchase a bottle, crack it open, settle in with a cheese platter and chalk it all up to "research". If you do have wheels then take a jaunt over the river to the picturesque Trentham Estate Winery, which is set on the banks of the Murray at Trentham Cliffs. You'll find a cellar door and restaurant on site as well as self-serve barbecues for DIY picnics in the leafy garden. Sadly, old-fashioned country pubs are somewhat thin on the ground back in town, but Mildura Brewery has a dozen or so craft beers on tap. Its beers (plus some seasonal specials) are brewed and bottled on site.
Sunraysia Cellar Door, 125 Lime Avenue, (03) 5021 0794
Trentham Estate Winery, 6531 Sturt Highway, Trentham Cliffs, (03) 5024 8888, trenthamestate.com.au
Some of the best shopping in the Sunraysia happens just off the bitumen, so if you're on the road keep your eyes peeled for plenty of dinky little roadside stalls. Depending on the season, you can load up on dirt-cheap avocados, pistachios, asparagus or stone fruit. Or head to the twice-monthly Sunraysia Farmers' Market for more than 50 stallholders in one spot. Hungry? Come early and line up with locals at the popular breakfast stall, where you can get a tasty fry-up using ingredients sourced from stallholders' produce. The retail section at 27 Deakin Cafe and Good Food Store stocks the full range of Stefano's eponymous line of take-home produce, which includes everything from jams and pasta sauces to preserved lemons, pickles and chutneys. And Clove Organics also peddles a beautiful range of fresh local organic produce.
Sunraysia Farmers' Market, Mildura Riverfront, Jaycee Park, Hugh King Drive, sunraysiafarmersmarket.com.au
With a range of modern, self-contained apartments, locally-owned Indulge Apartments is one of Mildura's most stylish accommodation options. Basic studios start from around $140 a night, most with balconies. Their portfolio of properties includes a range of two-bedroom apartments and group-friendly luxury riverside houses too.
Various locations, 1300 539 559, indulgeapartments.com.au
Mildura is about 550 kilometres from Melbourne. Several airlines now offer daily flights to Mildura airport.