The Retreat at Chapel Hill provides a pleasant environment to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
The Retreat at Chapel Hill provides a pleasant environment to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. PHOTO David Lems

A toast to touring and tasting in McLaren Vale

FOR someone who prefers beer to wine, I found a winery stay a surprisingly refreshing experience.

But sampling some of Australia's finest liquid delights was only part of this memorable South Australian adventure.

Tasting several cheeses and cycling each day satisfied a thirst and appetite for relaxation.

It may sound odd, touring scenic wineries and trying locally made food in between watching Australia's premier road cycling event. But that's the appeal of South Australia's Santos Tour Down Under Detours program.

You don't have to be a cycling enthusiast to enjoy the activities linked to the annual week of bike racing staged each January in and around Adelaide.

The beautiful McLaren Vale township is a short drive from the state's capital.

While the Barossa Valley, north-east of Adelaide, is more widely known for its famous wines, McLaren Vale, to the south, provides a tempting alternative.

The McLaren Vale region is worth visiting during the Tour Down Under cycling races, or for a few days during a South Australian holiday at other times of the year.

The cheese and wine trails satisfy, even for a proud Queenslander like me who has limited knowledge of what to try. It's fun experimenting with different platter combinations and the latest white and red wines.

As a sports buff, it was easy to appreciate the high-quality cycling.

The daily stages were held close to overnight accommodation, allowing you to soak up the action while touring the area.

The Tour Down Under racing attracted tens of thousands of spectators, many non-cycling people who embraced the celebration. They held parties along the roadside, waving flags and cheering on the Aussie and international riders.

Associated events included a beach party - where popular singer Ricki-Lee Coulter entertained guests as the sun set - and a prestigious Legends cycling function at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

Everywhere you ventured, there was plenty to eat, drink and explore. However, the pace you set is up to you. McLaren Vale is remarkably quiet and laidback despite being so close to a major city.

Accommodation like The Retreat at Chapel Hill is intimate and soothing for the soul. The views of vineyards in the nearby valleys can be enjoyed over a glass of wine.

Nearby cellars like Wirra Wirra offer a smorgasbord of flavours to try.

Wirra Wirra is an Aboriginal word for "among the gums". Enjoying wines under the gums makes a pleasant change from the surrounding countryside dominated by vineyards.

Another picturesque cellar nearby is the Coriole, surrounded by beautiful gardens and overlooking spectacular valleys.

I've returned home thirsty to discover more about wine after trying recent releases like The Lost Watch Riesling, Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache Shiraz.

Touring McLaren Vale can be achieved in a few days, making it straight forward returning to Adelaide to watch cycling's final stage, or to explore the charming city's many tourist delights along the Torrens River.

This holiday is ideal for couples or families who want to chill like the wine.

Children and pets are welcome at many wine cellar locations.

* David Lems was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

South Australia's Santos Tour Down Under Detours program

Consider:

A cheese and wine trail tour starting at Blessed Cheese cafe at McLaren Vale.

Check out:

The Wirra Wirra and Coriole wine cellars, or visit nearby Willunga Hill for some spectacular sights.

Accommodation:

The Retreat at Chapel Hill ( http://www.chapelhillwine.com.au) and The Clarion Hotel Soho ( http://www.clarionhotelsoho.com.au).

What to take:

Your tastebuds, a willingness to try something different, a camera, a hat for the day and a jacket for the evenings.

More information:

Contact the South Australian Tourism Commission (phone 08 8463 4500), visit http://www.southaustralia.com, or http://www.tourdownunder.com.au


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