A guided bike tour in northeast Victoria offers a front-row seat to historic towns, scenic wineries, and superb Australian produce.
By Natasha Dragun
Itâ€™s 10 a.m. and I have a glass of Gamay in hand. Iâ€™d like to say itâ€™s my first drink of the day, but weâ€™ve been at Pennyweight for 15 minutes now, enjoying tastings of the vineyardâ€™s biodynamic wines. The cherry-hued Gamay is going down surprisingly well for this time of the morning.
Still, I have to pace myselfâ€”Pennyweight is our first stop of the day and our first destination on the Rail Trail Cycling Tour, a two-night guided experience through some of Australiaâ€™s most historic towns in northeast Victoria. Beginning in the gold-mining town of Beechworth and ending 73 kilometers later in Bright, the tour traverses a section of the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, an abandoned railway line that saw gold and timber shuttled between Wahgunyah and Bright from the late 1800s. The last train to Bright ran in 1987, and today the line has been transformed into a sealed and scenic cycling track.
Having spent the previous evening plotting our course over chili-braised pork cheeks at Beechworthâ€™s Green Shed Bistro, weâ€”six riders plus our guide, Damian Ceriniâ€”awaken Saturday morning to blue skies and the promise of a 40ÂşC day. In addition to being downhill, the morningâ€™s trail is blessedly shaded.
We zip out of Beechworth, through fields of stringybark and box-leaf wattle, until Pennyweight Winery appears on the radar. Many visitors to the area overlook petite places like this, but Damian has been cycling here for the best part of a decade and knows the owners well enough to arrange a private visit for the group.
Itâ€™s a contrast to our next destination, the big Brown Brothers estate in Milawa, where we sample cellar doorâ€“only releases as a prelude to lunch at the Milawa Cheese Factory: platters of brie and ashed chĂ¨vre served on a vine-shaded patio. Thankfully, itâ€™s downhill once again into Myrtleford, our base for the night and the gateway town to Victoriaâ€™s ski regions.
Our first stop on day two is Bright Berry Farms, which sells organic jams and fruit wines from a small shed. From there, the trail follows the Great Alpine Road until it reaches Boyntonâ€™s Feathertop Winery, where an outdoor dining area offers views of snow-capped Mount Buffalo. Once again we roll onto the trail, riding past oaks, elms, and poplars as we approach Bright. Finally, Damian leads us over the Ovens River before steering us toward the old Bright railway station and the end of the line. And wouldnâ€™t you know it, thereâ€™s a food- and-wine festival in town.
Rail Trail weekend cycling tours operate October through May and cost about US$430 per person, including accommodation, tastings, and meals. Bikes can be hired in Beechworth, 250 kilometers northeast of Melbourne, if you donâ€™t have your own. Visit railtrailtours.com.au for more information.
This article originally appeared in theÂ February/March 2013Â issue of DestinAsian (â€śA Full Cycleâ€ť)