With a thrilling bushranger past and an exciting foodie future, the Victorian gold rush town of Beechworth is well worth a visit.
The Victorian town of Beechworth offers the perfect recipe for a successful weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne: alpine air, well-preserved colonial architecture, top-notch eateries, and a bounty of outdoor activities. The photogenic town oozes charm, with its wide streetscapes, gracious buildings and green surroundings working to transport you back in time. And believe me when I say this town has a long history, with the name Beechworth popping up in many of Australia’s biggest historical moments, both famous and infamous.
Originally sporting the slightly ominous-sounding name of Mayday Hills, this picturesque alpine town was renamed Beechworth in 1853. The discovery of gold catapulted Beechworth into the spotlight, with 85t of gold found over 14 years in the 1850s.
A few decades later, Beechworth was again making headlines, this time due to its connections with Ned Kelly and his gang. History buffs can today visit the historic courthouse where Ned was committed to stand trial for murder in August 1880. It was here in the judge’s chambers that the bushranger was tried and found guilty of murder, which was followed by his Supreme Court trial and subsequent hanging in Melbourne in November 1880. And this wasn’t even Ned’s first time in the Beechworth dock: he had appeared in the Beechworth Courthouse for horse stealing when he was just a teenager.
Visitors can also visit the old Beechworth Gaol, in which all four members of the Kelly gang – plus Ned’s own mother – were imprisoned at some time, with Ned occupying cell 101 on the top floor for two years.
These days, Beechworth has stepped away from its punitive past, and has gone about reinventing itself as a gourmet traveller’s destination. This culinary reputation – coupled with the town’s proximity to Melbourne – means Beechworth has long since quit flying under the tourist radar. But rest assured: there are still many hidden gems to be found in this old gold mining town.
A FOODIE’S PARADISE
Show of hands: who’s heard of the Beechworth Bakery? Right, all of you. Just as I suspected. This famous bakery is a country institution, having operated since 1984. Open every day, you’ll see a steady stream of customers coming in and out of its doors carrying bags filled with homemade pies, sausage rolls and pasties, or fresh sandwiches, cakes and other goodies.
However, this bakery is just the tip of the foodie iceberg that has been steadily emerging from Beechworth these last few years. Around the corner on Ford Street, you’ll find The Ox and Hound Bistro, offering gourmet fare, pretty street views and minimalist styling. A couple doors down from here stands Project Forty Nine, a wine store that also dishes up some incredible coffee – the perfect way for a caffeine-addicted Melburnian to start their day!
The Press Room Wine Bar on Camp Street is also well worth your time, with this quaint gem serving up Spanish-inspired tapas, larger plates and desserts, all accompanied by fine wines and craft beers. Or if you’re after dinner with a bit more of a view, head upstairs at Hotel Nicholas, where you can enjoy a wine and a bite to eat on the beautiful old balcony overlooking Beechworth’s main thoroughfare.
Located 10 minutes from Beechworth is the Stanley Pub. This charming old pub in the quiet town of Stanley offers a great spot to refuel with a massive feed and a cold beer, and offers the opportunity to either mix with the locals at the front bar or relax in the huge beer garden out the back.
And of course, then there’s Provenance. Winner of multiple awards and two hats, this is an exceptional restaurant located within the old Bank of Australasia building, constructed in 1856. Head chef Michael Ryan has created intricate dishes boasting Japanese flavours served in a six course degustation, and if you have the pennies to spare, it is definitely worth a gander.
VINES AND HOPS
Great food isn’t all Beechworth has going for it, though. In fact, the region has a stellar reputation for cool-climate wines. There are about 30 vineyards around Beechworth and its surrounding districts, but only four have open cellar doors, and three of those – Pennyweight, Amulent and Indigo – are within 10km of Beechworth. If you’ve got the time – and a designated driver – be sure to visit all three.
Situated in the town centre, you’ll find the craft beer brewery, Bridge Road Brewers. Established in 2005, this brewery is always busy, with the charming courtyard and its hop-covered walls a wonderful spot in which to spend a lazy afternoon. The Bling Bling brew was a winner in our books, while the wood-fired pizzas are perfection.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
One of the other great things to do while in Beechworth is to explore the surrounding alpine region. Beechworth sits about 60km north of Mount Buffalo National Park, a 31,000ha park with more than 90km of walking trails that give access to waterfalls, wildlife and gorgeous views of the park’s many granite cliffs and rocky outcrops. These walking trails range from short strolls like the Horn Track, which takes you to the highest point of Mount Buffalo, and the Gorge Track, which offers incredible views of the Mount Buffalo Gorge.
If you’re game for something a bit longer, there are also a number of multi-hour walks, all taking you to different corners of this extensive park. Just be sure you check in with the park ranger before you do, lest you repeat my mistake of trudging off on a six-hour walk we saw on a less-than-specific map, realising the trail hasn’t been used for a long time, and finding yourself knee deep in thick grass on a 30 degree day.
A trip to Beechworth in summer is definitely worthwhile, with the warm air and cool lake enjoying a beautiful friendship. However, we have it on good authority from Sue Humphris at Lake Sambell Caravan Park that few things can rival a Beechworth autumn in the beauty stakes. Colourful deciduous trees, falling golden leaves, crisp clean air… yep, Beechworth sure knows a thing or two about providing the backdrop to idyllic weekend getaways.
Beechworth is located in the north-east of Victoria, about three hours from Melbourne.
Lake Sambell Caravan Park is situated on the banks of Lake Sambell, a short walk from the town centre.
- Enjoy numerous walking opportunities in the nearby Beechworth Historic Park and the Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park.
- Stop by the beautiful Woolshed Falls.
- Visit the region’s numerous wineries, breweries and fine restaurants.
- Follow the historic Ned Kelly trail through neighbouring towns of Benalla, Avenel and Glenrowan.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #552 June 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!