Foodie Nirvana in the Huon Valley
Heidi Sze's Journey
There’s a feeling you get when you step onto Tasmanian soil, disembarking from The Spirit or onto the tarmac. It’s a feeling of achievable serenity. You’ve arrived in a not so far away land that feels entirely far away. You’ve escaped, you’re here, and you’re going to have an incredible time.
My husband and I spent four nights in the Huon Valley, meandering over hills dotted with cows and sheep, having the merriest, cider-charged time. Driving from Hobart through the undulating valley was a pleasure. Within 30 minutes we were at the Huon Farmers Market admiring handcrafted capes, sampling vegan carrot cupcakes and deciding what homemade pie to purchase.
Just down the road from the market we found The Cat’s Tongue Chocolatiers. How many spots encourage you to grab a stool and marvel at rows of delicately crafted chocolates while slurping down a delicious order of ‘Jewish Penicillin’, chicken soup with matzo balls? We chatted with the treat technician and all-round cheery guy, about his chocolates, their subtleties and balance of sweetness. Open only by appointment during the week, visit their café on weekends for all the smoked salmon with caper mayonnaise buns and hot chocolate you desire. The real decision is which cocoa delight you will purchase to take home? The limoncello truffle, the nougat or the peanut butter log? The correct answer is all of the above, plus the salted caramel.
On we drove to Franklin, a small town on the Huon River known for their boat-building prowess. My eyes darted to Village Antiques of Franklin, located over the road from The Wooden Boat Centre Tasmania. Here I wandered the rooms filled with olden-day gems and pondered the lives of the people who once owned them. Tempted by an antique school desk, though with neither the need nor the means to get it home, I left with two ornate plates and called it a day.
Stopping for fruit at Franklin’s roadside stalls for farm fresh produce is a must. The smell and flavour of a perfectly ripe nectarine is something magical.
On the road to Woodbridge Hill Hideaway I took advantage of the lush display around us and lost myself in the green, debating my favourite shade. The Tasmanian countryside is ever generous in its green decoration. From the soft, yellowing, sun-kissed, whispy grass to the deep, almost dirty greens adorning the tree tops. And of course the vibrancy of the paddocks after rainfall. You can breathe the green into your lungs and, even after one day in this land, feel revitalised. Though you’re going to want to linger in the Huon Valley for more than one day, especially when staying at Woodbridge Hill Hideaway…
These self-contained cabins are soul-nurturing and indulgent. If you can get past the gasp-inducing view of Bruny Island and appreciate the stunning spa bath, kitchen, fireplace and reclining couch, you’ll find yourself so at peace you might never want to leave. Well, maybe just to sneak out for fish and chips from Bugsy’s Takeaway in nearby Margate…
On day two of our visit to the Huon Valley I awoke to the smell of Boks Bacon sizzling on the stove, which promptly went down in my notebook as my preferred wake-up call. We enjoyed breakfast on our balcony at Woodbridge Hill Hideaway, with a cup of Nespresso coffee and a good yarn with a friendly local bird.
The first thing you see when driving into Huon from Hobart is The Apple Shed, a refurbished barn deliciously devoted to the humble fruit, which has for years been the livelihood of the region. In recent times, Tasmanian apple orchardists have started making cider from their surplus fruit. William Smith & Sons is Australia’s largest organic apple orchard. This family-run business has been growing apples in the Huon Valley since 1888 and now, along with their cider, they’ve created The Apple Shed, where visitors can learn the history of apple growing in the Huon Valley. There is, of course, Willie Smith’s Organic Apple Cider on tap to welcome you and your palate to the Huon Valley in the most spectacular fashion. Take your glass, sit in the outdoor area and relax for an afternoon. If you’re lucky you can snag a slice of the most scrumptious homemade apple pie you’re sure to ever find. There are also beautiful local cheese and meat boards to swoon over and cakes to delight. But, let’s get back to the cider…
Willie Smith’s Organic Apple Cider is crafted in the traditional European style. It’s cloudy and only lightly carbonated. I’m not one to throw around tasting notes or use words such as ‘tannins’ with any real understanding of what they mean, but I am able to articulate some thoughts on Willie Smith’s cider. The head cider maker, has done a fantastic job in creating a brew that tastes the way apple cider should, only slightly and nicely sweet. It’s apple truth. My husband is now justifying regular glasses of this ‘adult apple juice’ because it’s organic and surely good for you. Well, it’s hard to argue after taking a sip of Willie Smith’s.
Next on our food-touring list was Grandvewe Farm and Cheesery, where we sampled some of their famous sheep cheese. Do try the blue cheese at Grandvewe, it’s sure to convince any non-blue lover. And the Pinot paste? Divine. We left with two packs, as well as a wedge of manchego-style cheese and a newfound respect for mothers (and I don’t just mean sheep) after viewing the milking demonstration.
Our third day in the Huon Valley began with a hike at Mount Misery Habitat Reserve. We chose a moderate, hour-long walk in the rainforest and found it to be completely restorative. It was grounding too, stepping outside of our bubble and for a short while listening only to the land and the tales of the trees.
Lunch was at Home Hill Winery. World famous for their award winning Pinot Noir, this vineyard, cellar door and restaurant is a sleek slice of heaven. We met the owner for a chat about the space, their fantastic wine and our superb lunch, which started with warm sourdough and local oysters with cuvée sorbet, then melted into confit duck with blackberry jus and truffle butter-kissed steak. Did I mention the goose fat potatoes? Forgive me, they certainly happened. It was all lovely and refined, yet relaxing.
As the designated driver on this Pinot Noir scented day, I drove onward to meet Naomie Clark-Port, the Franklin local working in 2014 renovated the old church hall (where she did Sunday school and recitals as a kid) into a museum celebrating Lady Franklin and a cellar door and café for visitors to enjoy Frank’s Cider. The mix of historical tales, old churches and family-run cider from local apples makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And I’m certain that’s due to a blend of equal parts nostalgia and cider. They use golden delicious apples, left on the tree at their Franklin farm until they are exquisitely ripe; this is what makes Frank’s cider so special. They also brew pear cider and a cherry pear blend, which is quite unique and different from Pagan Cider’s cherry apple blend up the road. Both these modern style brewers are creating a fantastic product. Our loot of Frank’s and Pagan ciders, intended as gifts, are now chilling in our fridge for our own enjoyment. If you’ve tasted their cider you will understand our cider selfishness.
Dinner was at Oyster Cove Inn in Kettering which has everything you could want in a pub, plus a side of local Tasmanian scallops. We had a great chat with the cheerful and helpful owner, and happily followed his recommendations for food, wine and local touring. Their fresh menu is sure to please, as our scallops and salmon did. This is good pub grub, pleasantly elevated in class by both the use of quality, local produce and a skilled, creative chef. The view of Oyster Cove doesn’t hurt, either.
Our second night was spent at The Cove Kettering suites, where we were welcomed by the owners, a genuinely lovely couple who fell in love with this gem. New owners Dennis and Shirley have hosted international students in their home for the past thirty years, and with no real retirement plans thought they could put their experience in hosting to use. It’s no surprise people keep coming back to stay at The Cove Kettering. Along with handmade chocolate truffles, guests receive breakfast made from local produce which they can enjoy overlooking the Kettering Marina.
Our final day in the Huon Valley was a colourful one, starting with wholesome pies at Summer Kitchen Bakery. These friendly folk use organic and wholemeal flours in their sourdough breads and pie crusts, appreciating the value of nutritious food, crafting it with love and then sprinkling it with pumpkin seeds.
Next stop was the Cygnet Folk Festival (January), the annual event drawing talented folk performers from all over the globe. We met with the committee’s president for a chat before getting lost in the happy, relaxed, tie-dye clad crowd. Hours later I emerged with a feather braided into my hair and a cup of soy chai in my hand, while my husband had bought three organic goat milk soaps and hugged a hippy masseuse. We had a swell time. A highlight was sitting in the Town Hall listening to The London Kelzmer Quartet and their Eastern European tunes. It was at this point we realized that we might just be folk festival people after all.
Upon encouragement from Huon Valley locals we visited The Lotus Eaters Café for lunch, and soon appreciated what all the fuss was about. These ladies serve scrumptious, healthy, soul-fulfilling food. We got our vegetable curries and coffees to go, as well as the most divine rugalech pastry swirled with Tasmanian walnuts and sultanas. I am contemplating returning to the Huon Valley solely for the purpose of buying 10 more of their rugalech.
After dancing under the Cygnet sun to Maharaja’s Choice, we were in the mood for some luxurious indulgence. Luckily we were due to check into Villa Howden. I was sold as soon as I laid eyes upon this Tuscan-style castle. The glass of bubbly upon arrival kind of sealed the deal, too. Villa Howden’s lovely staff can advise should you wish to stroll along the beach at nearby Tinderbox, however I would not judge if you chose to hibernate in their stunning rooms or laze on a day bed in the lounge with a magazine and another glass of bubbly (hey, it’s your holiday!).
The restaurant at Villa Howden excels in terms of both food quality and menu creativity, not to mention value for money. The saffron broth with local seafood springs to mind, so does the lavender butter to go with their homemade dinner rolls, the entrée of confit abalone and, oh, the lime and coconut chiboust with banana sorbet, candied macadamia and kiwifruit puree for dessert. Incredible. Eggs for breakfast in their bright dining hall was the perfect way to refuel after a morning swim in Villa Howden’s stylish indoor pool. Though we had plans to continue exploring the Apple Isle, I quite fancied staying for high tea. Scones, anyone? I wonder if they are served with that dreamy lavender butter?…
Heidi Sze’s Journey
Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania. All rights reserved @Tourism Tasmania.