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Where to visit this Christmas

I think we can all agree that 2020 has thrown us the mother of all curve balls, and as we limp emotionally and mentally exhausted to the end of the year, our minds turn to a trip out to a regional area, a driving holiday up or down the coast, or just a much needed getaway to recharge and be ready to face 2021 with renewed vim and vigour. Or perhaps like me, you are going to take some one or two day trips out to get some air in the lungs, fuel in the tank and some goods in the pantry for your holiday season.

But where to start? There are the usual suspects, those well funded and well publicised spaces we know all about, bigger producers and wine regions, popular tourist spots and more. But maybe it's time this year to discover something a bit new, meet a producer or wine maker, providore or procurer to shift things up a bit?

This is a list of our Victorian favourites - places we like to visit, have a tipple of turps or a taste of some tucker that we think you should add to your list.

Piper Street Food Co in Kyneton in Victoria's Macedon Ranges is a short 100km drive from the centre of Melbourne. You can be in historic Piper Street in just over an hour, fossicking for antiques or marvelling at beautiful gardens. Our reason for stopping in Kyneton is the Piper Street Food Co. They make the best pork pies we have found, rich with flavour and bite, encased in superb pastry and generous with filling. While you are there, grab a pot of duck rilletes to spread on some crusty bread found in the store, or grab a bag of their gluten free salted caramel pecan cookies for the road. Find them at 89 Piper Street in Kyneton

On the Victorian/NSW border at Barham and Koondrook, you'll find Bundarra Berkshires Owned and operated by Lauren and Lachie Mathers, they have moved off the farm and into Barham itself with The Little Pork Deli. They have been breeding rare breed free range Berkshire pigs for a decade and their porcine based product range is just delicious. The deli stocks loads of lovely charcuterie products, perfect for your Christmas table or holiday grazing, including stunning Christmas hams. You'll also find local free range eggs, chutneys, relishes and locally produced goods from across the region, lasagnes, superb snags and so much more. Find them at 118 Punt Road Barham.

If you are heading further up the Murray to Sunraysia, then pop in to Fossey's Ginporium in Eight Street in Mildura. The region has long been an important food bowl, producing incredible grapes and dried fruit, citrus and wine. Fossey's distillery is owned by 'Foss', a first generation Australian. His parents migrated from Ludlow in Shropshire UK, and booze has been in the family for generations, with his Grandmother running a pub. Producing gin, vodka, rum and whiskey, you can't go past their Christmas Pudding Gin, flavoured with the Fossey family plum pudding recipe, produced for generations. Perfect for a pre luncheon yuletide aperitif.

If you are heading out along the Great Ocean Road or Bellarine region, then pop into Colac and head to Jo's Pantry to pick up some locally grown Shiitake Mushrooms. They have been grown in the Otway ranges by the Troughton family since 2012, who are passionate about sustainable farming and regenerative agriculture and horticulture. The premium grade mushrooms are grown in the forest on pine logs - we'd recommend you check out their preserved mushrooms and shiitake master sauce. Both are outstanding and will be a great addition to the pantry. While you are at Jo's pick up some other locally grown or produced goodies for your holiday consumption.

If you are heading to Western Victoria or to the Grampians region, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to wine, sparkling and fortified. Some of Australia's oldest vines used for sparkling can be found in this region. Say hi to our friends Tom and Sarah Guthrie at Grampians Estate where you will find beautiful spicy cool climate Shiraz. If you're a fan of sparkling shiraz, you'll struggle to find one better than Grampians Estate's. Its fabulous drop for the Christmas table, pairing beautifully with some game birds in what are expected to be very warm conditions for Christmas. You'll find them on the Western Highway in Great Western.

Victoria's high country is brimming with wonderful families producing beautiful wines - think Dal Zotto for Prosecco, Arneis and Garganega, Pizzini for Riesling, Verduzzo and Pinot Grigio. Australia's home of Prosecco, the region has a strong Italian heritage. You'll also find nearby Beechworth with plethora of heritage buildings, bric a brac stores and the Beechworth Food Co-op brimming with local produce including honey, oils, cheese and more. While you're up there, book at table at Provenance and stay the night in their fabulous accommodation, with the inimitable Michael Ryan on the pans in the kitchen. It's a beautiful part of the world.

Just an hour or so north of Melbourne you'll find Tooboorac, near the Heathcote wine region and Lake Eppalock. The pub and brewery produces terrific beer, makes a mean pie and has some charming rooms to call home, just for the night. Sidle up to the bar, chat to a local and taste some beers produced in the brewery and indulge in a natter with the team about whats in the area. You can catch the bus from Southern Cross station so nobody has to drive and be back in to Melbourne in time for dinner.

Gippsland has some wonderful producers both in western Gippsland and further out to the far east of the state. Along with Maffra Cheese just outside of Sale (we love their red waxed cheddar), check out Bassine Specialty Cheeses, just outside of Bass on the Bass Highway. See if you can pick up a Tarago River blue along the way as well. Head to Fish Creek and indulge at Gibsons Cafe and Larder and bring home a jar of their lemon curd or travel further on to Lakes Entrance and hop into a load of local seafood. One of Victoria's most underrated regions, there are stunning wine and beef producers like Moondara - grab a few bottles of their Studebaker Pinot Noir - one of the best value pinots to be found!! Neil also produced incredible Wagyu so if you can get your hands on some, buy it. It will be a terrific Christmas treat.

Where ever you go this holiday season, whether for a few hours, a few days or weeks at a time, support those regional and rural communities and producers, cafes and tea rooms, restaurants and wine bars, cellar doors and farm gates who have done it so very tough throughout 2020. We will continue to head out to our regions across Australia and we'd love to bump in to you.

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