by Annabel Fenwick-Elliott from The Telegraph, February 5, 2019
Rather unusually, as a travel writer, this is a destination I don't particularly want to tell you about. It's a corner of the world so bizarrely unlauded and so disproportionately beautiful; so quiet and uncluttered; so sun-drenched and breezy; so rich in its offerings - I'd really rather it stayed that way, under-populated with not a selfie stick in sight. It happens to be my father's homestead, and I've spent a lot of time there.
The Fleurieu Peninsula is about an hour's drive from Adelaide. As a city, I'd argue, Adelaide wouldn't be first on the list for most travellers new to Australia, which is perhaps why this arresting stretch of coast remains so undisturbed. Were it an hour from Sydney or Melbourne, it would be inundated.
The dramatically hilly landscape takes in several wine regions, McLaren Vale being the standout, and many a fine restaurant and cellar door; as well as a succession of white sand beaches, one reachable only by a long, dead-end dirt road and thus largely deserted.
Like this beach, many of the Fleurieu's best lures are somewhat scattered and hidden. But should you ever find yourself in driving distance of the area, here are the places you'd be wise to drop in on. Just please don't bring a selfie stick.
One attraction that may well put Fleurieu on the map is the new d'Arenberg Cube, a $15m (£8.2m) structure that opened last year. To approach this brilliantly bonkers edifice is to witness a giant mirrored Rubik’s Cube plonked amid an expanse of vineyards, and to enter it is to delve into something of a Mad Hatter’s experience.
Built over five levels and functioning as a restaurant, wine tasting gallery and an art exhibition space, the Cube was conceived by Chester Osborn, the eccentric fourth-generation owner of the 1912 d’Arenberg wine estate.
Its first floor, otherwise known as the 'alternate reality museum' is a whimsical maze of odd artifacts, digital displays, a virtual fermenter and jars lining the walls containing various wine aromas you can sniff by honking a silent horn.
The restaurant's nine-course degustation menu ($305pp with wine pairing) is about as bombastic a dining experience as you're likely to have - a firework display of mysterious food sculptures served on everything from coal and wood chips, to a pestle and mortar, and in one case a lump of lamb skewered on a bronze compass. That, and a 3D-printed dessert.
More than 180 years old and run by the same family for the last six generations, Hugh Hamilton is locally regarded as one of the very best purveyors of wine, particularly for its bold reds. Visitors to its cellar door, a glass-walled pavilion with spectacular views over the grapes, can enjoy a newly launched wine tasting session that’s anything but stuffy.
Patrons are presented with nine jars, each containing a morsel (a stick of liquorice, a square of chocolate, coffee beans and a sprig of rosemary among them) and a test card, then challenged to identify the top notes in each of the wines sampled. Fun, educational, and worth a go.
Slick and modern, with a slate and glass bar, at Primo you'll find endless shelves of the estate's Italian influenced wines and delightfully potent Primo Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Sit back on its red perspex stools with a stick of ciabatta and, as with all these cellar doors, gaze over undulating hills as far as the eye can see as you sip and dip.
Brand new and highly promising, this tiny winery has its cellar door in a quaint church (built in 1852) that feels like a cosy home - family dog included. A quirk of the surrounding grounds is the historic cemetery that must stay put in the front garden, with rows of grapes built around it. The pick of the bunch in terms of the wine on offer here is probably the Grenache and the Tempranillo.
Hotel California Road
Another new addition to the region and an unlikely hit, the Hotel California Road is a highly original collection of converted shipping containers, decked out with luxury furnishings and floating beds that rank among the most comfortable I've personally ever slept on. Owner Dudley Brown told me it was the third mattress they'd sampled before deciding upon the right one.
These luxury suites sit huddled in a secluded valley on the Inkwell wine estate in Tatachilla, with private decks and gargantuan bath tubs (equipped with elegant wine glass holders) that look out over the surrounding landscape.
Beach Huts Middleton
It's a little discombobulating wandering into this clutch of colourful striped beach huts, built around a tennis court to resemble a small British countryside village, red postbox and all. A stone's throw from Middleton Beach, popular with surfers, each hut takes the name of an Australian beauty spot, though many happen to be of English origin (Torquay, Henley, Scarborough, and so on). It's comfortable and novel - a decent place to lay your head if you're on a medium budget.
Many Fleurieu residents will tell you that this is the best restaurant around, with the greatest gyoza you'll taste anywhere, and they're possibly right. All the food here is either locally sourced, or grown in their impressive back garden - pomegranate, pear, nectarine, artichoke, herbs and honey being just a few of the offerings.
Guests choose their own wine from the cool brick cellar that sits underneath the dining room, and the menu is highly adaptable according to taste. Opt for the generous $80pp (£44) tasting menu, which showcases their best-loved dishes, and leave with the distinct feeling that you'll never be able to eat again.
The Smiling Samoyed
You'd never know this existed unless someone told you, but it's a truly charming establishment and also an award-winning micro brewery. Named after the series of resident dogs to have lived on site, all the same white puffball-furred breed, the food is fairly cheap and cheerful (wood oven pizza, sharing plates and arancini balls among the selection) but it's the warm, laid-back atmosphere that has locals swinging by on a regular basis. Now open seven days a week, you can spot it by looking for the old upturned wooden wagon that sits outside.
Driving the peninsula (a stunning portion of which can be seen below) and winding around the local vineyards yourself is an option, but you'll miss out on a lot of its treasures. Enter Coast&Co, a newly launched touring outfit run by native Simon Burley. I road-tested it both on e-bike and by car with my father, who was introduced to cellar doors he'd never been to despite having lived in the area for years.
Red Poles (redpoles.com.au) deserves an honourable mention, with seriously good food that belies its humble, hodge-podge barn-like setting. So too does Wirra Wirra (wirrawirra.com), an iconic winery best known for its Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot blend. A private tour of its large cellars takes in the establishment's very amusing and colourful history - and good luck leaving without taking at least a bottle home with you.
Burley, an affable and knowledgeable guide, also takes clients on hikes of the nearby Onkaparinga Gorge, where you'll spot koalas and kangaroos a go-go; as well as helicopter tours of the region.
Unusually for a beach, you can drive your car along the sand on this one. Sellicks is a lengthy expanse of shoreline which even on the few days a year that it's busier than normal, doesn't feel that way thanks to its size. Trimmed with Jurassic-looking cliffs and boasting clear, turquoise waters, it's a great place to wander (or drive) during any season.
It's not the modest beach at Port Willunga that's the draw, but rather the 130-year shipwreck which lies beneath the surface offshore. In 1888, bound for the UK, the three-masted vessel lost its battle with a severe storm and sunk, killing all 18 on board. It's popular with divers who know of its existence, but at low tide you can see some of it from dry land.
The Fleurieu peninsula, incidentally, has a rich maritime history and got its name in 1802 from a French explorer who proclaimed it so in honour of his patron, the Navy Minister Charles Pierre Claret, Comte de Fleurieu.
Don't visit Port Willunga without dining at the Star of Greece (starofgreece.com.au), a fusion restaurant with Mediterranean influences that's named after the shipwreck and is pricey but worth it.
Unlike Port Willunga, which is no longer a port, Victor Harbour is in fact a harbour. In the words of my father, it's also "the Fleurieu's answer to Bournemouth - God's waiting room", and it does feel somewhat like a sleepy British seaside town. There are shops, cafes, souvenir stands and a causeway you can cross by way of a horse-drawn tram, but if none of that is your thing, it's also a good whale-watching spot.
I've saved the best until last - and you can't just stumble across this gem. Turn off a main road, onto a dusty path that leads you over bumpy farmland hills, then weaves steeply downwards in tight loops, and you will end up at the route's conclusion: a small bay with powdery sand and gentle waves.
The only people who frequent this beach are the nearby residents, of which there a few - some from the holiday cottages that dot the land behind it, and a handful who live further up the hill. The vast majority of the time though, even during the height of summer, it's completely deserted.
Contact the tourist board: southaustralia.com
Qantas (qantas.com) flies daily to Adelaide from London Heathrow. The fastest option consists of a 17-hour direct flight to Perth, and a 3-hour onward flight to Adelaide, with prices starting at £787 in economy. You can read a full review of this marathon flight here.
The 2009 movie The Boys are Back, starring Clive Owen, is set entirely in the Fleurieu region, with some wonderful footage of the land.