First published on 28 Feb 2012. Updated on 1 Mar 2012.
Of all the great train escapes from Melbourne, Rutherglen has to be one of the quirkiest and most wonderful. The tiny country town can be reached for just under $60 return by train from Southern Cross Station – with a grand, listed hotel waiting at the other end (The Victoria Hotel, heaving with brass beds and fireplaces) for as little as $50. So what are you waiting for? This is red wine, bike-for-hire, rock’n’roll escapism at its best – particularly on Easter Sunday, April 8th.
Bullers Winery (a hearty bike ride from the main street of Rutherglen – 2804 Federation Way) is hosting Bullers Rock in the Vines with Eskimo Joe, Tex Perkins, Stonefield and Zoophyte that weekend. But there’s more. So much more. How about a museum which holds a tiny wooden druid – all that remains from a local Rutherglen druid order from 1905? And then there’s the spookily beautiful Victoria Hotel itself, which once had a mortuary downstairs, where rental bikes are now stored.
In its day, the Victoria Hotel had a huge aviary full of canaries on the iron-lace verandah set up by the gloriously named owner, Shadrack Gollings. Now owned by Sean Morris and his partner Sarah (Sean’s career adventures include time at Claridges in London as a brief encounter with the Rolling Stones) it offers charming double bedrooms with shared bathrooms from as little as $50 off-peak. En suite rooms and private suites are also available.
Rutherglen is a one-street town with two rollicking pubs. The Star Hotel was established during the goldrush here in 1860. Its owner John Wallace named the town, after he had won the right to do so, by shouting everyone a round of drinks. Just over the road is the Poachers’ Paradise Hotel, with suitably stuffed trout on the wall.
The reason you’re really here, though, is the world-famous Shiraz, Durif, Cabernet and Muscat, on offer at all the famous local vineyards. You can reach Rutherglen Estates by walking across town (13 Drummond St. Open daily 10am-6pm). To discover the rest, hire a bicycle from the Rutherglen Wine Experience Visitor Information Centre on Main Street for $25 for a half-day – or book one from the Victoria Hotel, should you stay there.
It’s easy enough to wobble your way 2km to Jones Winery and Vineyard, and Jones Café. You won’t get lost as a vast wine bottle stands high on a hill, to guide you. Internationally known winemaker Mandy Jones and brother Arthur have some delicious Jones reds to try, once you arrive, and a bulldog called Ruby in attendance at the bar. Ruby is one of the stars of the book Wine Dogs Australia II and is listed as having an obsession with feet. Don’t miss her. (Jones Winery and Vineyard / Jones Café is at 61 Jones Rd)
The town suits all tastes. There’s the four-star Tuileries Accommodation with its own olive grove, tennis court and pool (13-35 Drummond St) – or the lakeside Rutherglen Caravan and Tourist Park complete with ducks (72 Murray St).
Go on a Sunday to find out more about the mysterious Rutherglen druids, at the Common School Museum. The old town bell is also in there, once used by locals to clang each other over the head. If it’s hot, and it will be in summer (the Rutherglen wine-friendly climate is comparable to Tuscany, don’t miss a dip in the 1930s-built swimming pool. In this one-street town, everything is a walk away from the fittingly-named Main Street, which is part of the attraction. There you’ll also find an award-winning pie shop (Parker Pies) with emu and crocodile on the menu – and some excellent secondhand bookstores. For lovely presents to take home, or just a travel candle for your room, visit Passionflora.
Rutherglen has festivals and farmers markets all year round. For an overview of all accommodation, vineyards and car hire in the area visit www.rutherglenvic.com.
Writer Jessica Adams is an editor at Holiday Goddess.