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Wendy Hargreaves: The five best regional road-trip pit stops

By Wendy Hargreaves

I love a road trip. Give me the the open roads and big skies, with the freedom to stop and start whenever and wherever you like. The trick is knowing that perfect place for a pitstop, as close as possible to your chosen route, with fabulous food and coffee with a big dose of friendly service. Even the once barren Hume Highway has pitstop gems, and there are a growing number of road trip stop-offs worth celebrating. Here are five of the best.

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FOWLES WINERY, AVENEL
Fowles Winery
1175 Lambing Gully Rd, Avenel, (03) 5796 2150

Never was a cellar door more perfectly placed, right on the Hume Highway 130km north of Melbourne (just as stomachs start to grumble). The roar of the Hume falls away at the restaurant and cellar door, with views of the Strathbogie Ranges and an inner courtyard oozing Tuscany with trees and tables surrounding a central fountain. The menu also sings with a Tuscan accent, celebrating local producers in dishes like the Goulburn River Valley charcuterie platter ($32) with Sevens Creek Wagyu pastrami, Warialda bresaola, McIvor salami and Seven Hills goat chorizo with a generous serve of bread and pickles. There’s also great coffee (Bendigo’s Undercover Roasters) and a stop-worthy raspberry/white choc muffin. Make time for a wine tasting – there’s a cracking sangiovese. It’s all open every day from 9am-5pm.

RIVER DECK, ALBURY
The River Deck
48 Noreuil Pde, South Albury, (02) 6023 5980

Crossing the Murray River always gives me a little thrill. Takes me back to the family drives of my childhood bouncing around the back of a Ford Falcon station wagon. If only the River Deck was open back then. Perched right on the bank of the Murray River, surrounded by trees and huge expanses of lawn (perfect for children and four-legged friends), the River Deck serves good coffee and shouts out local produce like Whitton Murray Cod, Milawa chicken and duck, Sher Wagyu, Goulburn River trout and Murray Valley pork. There are also plenty of vegan options, but I couldn’t go past a take-away egg ‘n bacon roll in toasted brioche with barbecue sauce, tomato and pickle ($13). It gets busy in the summer months, with swimmers in the river and picnics on the lawn, so book ahead if you want to dine in.

PARKER STREET PROJECT, DUNKELD
98 Parker St, Dunkeld, (03) 5577 2241

Driving to South Australia? This is the perfect place to stop, but it’s not your average roadhouse. Parker Street Project is the public bar and rear terrace of the extremely posh Royal Mail Hotel, home to one of the most celebrated restaurants in Australia. The renovated fine-diner is now in a new building out the back, taking full advantage of a spectacular view of the Grampians, giving chef Robin Wickens the chance to serve a more casual version of his famously seasonal menu, much of it sourced from his vast kitchen garden, with beef and lamb from the hotel’s own farm. It’s designed to share, and it’s all delicious. Just make sure you order duck fat chips on the side.

THE COFFEE PEDALER, GUNDAGAI
136 Sheridan St, Gundagai

Driving along the Hume Highway, contemplating another petrol station fast food disaster at the Dog on the Tuckerbox, we spy a roadside sign promising the Hume’s best coffee at the next exit. I can’t resist a skite like that, so we turn the family jalopy towards the township of Gundagai, rather than the soul-destroying petrol stations surrounding the famous dog on the other side of the highway. And I’m pleased to report the Coffee Pedaler wasn’t exaggerating. The coffee was top notch. And the food was delicious. Just follow your nose to the smell of freshly-roasted coffee beans.

BUCKS COUNTRY CAFE, YARCK
Bucks Yarck
6585 Maroondah Hwy, Yarck, (03) 5773 4233

If you’re heading to the High Country via the Maroondah Highway, you’re in for a treat. Bucks is worth a day trip just for the pies, not to mention the huge selection of home-made cakes, pastries, slices, pasties and sausage rolls. Everything’s fresh and generous, including the delicious home-made ice cream in ready-to-go cups. Don’t leave without trying the chicken satay pie (sounds wrong, but it’s so right, and goes down a treat with Bucks’ excellent hot chips). If you’re in a hurry, follow the lead of Mansfield foodie Alli Walker and call ahead to order your coffee so it’s hot and ready to go.

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