It's the crisp winter chill in Southern Queensland Country's Granite Belt, just two hours southwest of Brisbane, that's earned it the nickname Brass Monkey Season (as in cold enough to freeze the you-know-what off a brass monkey).
When the mercury plummets, there's be no better time to get rugged up and experience the region's rich pioneering past, stunning scenery, local art and exceptional food and wine.
Glengallan Homestead, just north of Warwick, stands as one of the few remaining examples of 19th century Queensland country houses. Perched in my cosy arm chair in the mansion's restored drawing room, overlooking the surrounding countryside which was once all part of the Glengallan landholding, I try to imagine life as an early settler – when people “did it tough”.
Leaving the warmth of Glengallan we jump in the car and follow a Sculpture Trail, featuring works by local and international artists using sandstone and granite sourced from the region. We stop for a hearty home-cooked meal and cold drinks on the sunny front deck of the Yangan Hotel, just one of the region's charming country pubs.
Swapping our hatchback for a four-wheel drive, and sealed roads for rugged terrain, we get off the beaten track for a guided tour of the highlands surrounding nearby Killarney.
“You're about to see the most beautiful part of the Southern Downs,” says Louise Brosnan, fifth-generation Killarney resident and operator of Cambanoora Co 4WD Tours. During our mostly hump- and bump-free journey through the stunning Condamine Gorge and its 14 river crossings, Louise's commentary provides insights into the days of bullock teams, timber milling and local characters past and present.
We're overnighting in nearby Warwick, and as the sun sinks lower in the sky I can't help but be awestruck by the magnificence of our accommodation. Abbey of the Roses is a 125-year-old ex-convent turned boutique guesthouse with a sense of style and character all its own; from the metal pressed ceilings, antique furniture and stained glass to the warm mellow gold sandstone walls and blazing log fireplaces. We rest our weary heads in one of the original Nun Cells, but if you're feeling holier-than-thou, book yourself into the Mother Superior room.
The following morning a blanket of frost gives a winter appearance to the Abbey's grounds, but the cloudless blue sky and warm sun soon erase any thoughts of the cool start to the day.
With scarves and jackets on board, we head south to the Granite Belt following a winding road past giant granite boulders to a food-lovers paradise, The Bramble Patch, located in the hills above Glen Aplin. Our taste buds are treated to spicy and sweet sensations thanks to their huge range of relishes, pastes and jams. Guests can also choose from a delicious selection of desserts including waffles, poffertjes, sundaes and freshly made ice creams, to be enjoyed indoors next to the log fire during winter or outside in the manicured gardens during the warmer months.
Of course, being in Queensland's premier wine region, a tipple at one (or two) of the 50-plus wineries surrounding us is a given. The sight of a bright red chandelier is a surprise as we enter the cellar door at Symphony Hill Wines. After flipping a coin to decide who would be driving back to Warwick, wine tasting commenced. Our car boot is full of 'consumable souvenirs' as we set off to the next cellar door.
We're greeted by the effervescent Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi and her equally bubbly sister Robyn at Ballandean Estate Wines, a fourth generation family-run winery. We enjoy more wine tastings alongside samples of their very tasty Greedy Me Gourmet products. Inspired by the region's abundant fresh produce, the range includes Chilli-Onion Jam, Nectarine and Fig Chutney and Maple Apple Jam, all handmade by winery owner Mary Puglisi. As we go to leave another box of 'souvenirs' are transported to the car.
Feeling peckish, we head north to Stanthorpe and seated by a crackling fire study the extensive menu at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism's Varias Restaurant. Signature dish, 'Medley of Mains' featuring tempura crocodile, lamb shoulder and beetroot pot roast, wild mushrooms with brioche and dark chocolate panacotta, matched with their own Banca Ridge wines, proves a great choice.
On our journey back to Warwick we drop by Sutton's Farm, where you can pick your own apples when they're in season. We taste a few apple juices and ciders, but it's the smell of owner Ros Sutton's famous apple pie that gets our taste buds salivating. Much to our dismay, lunch included dessert, so our bellies are quite defeated.
I declare we will be back, but next time we'll take a full-day winery tour with pick up and return to a cosy B&B, and we'll definitely save room for a slice of Sutton's apple pie.
Name: Catherine Dunn
Word Count: 807
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