There is considerable confusion amongst South Australians as to just exactly what and where the Adelaide Hills are. Some people tend to say 'Oh its the area around Stirling and Bridgewater'. Others, including one cynical taxi driver, describe it as a trendy area which should be turned into a theme park to attract tourists to the state. And others, after thinking about it, describe it as the area to the west of Adelaide which extends from the foothills behind Adelaide and stretches from Williamstown in the north to Strathalbyn in the south and includes the major centres of Hahndorf, Mount Barker, Stirling, Crafers-Bridgewater, Aldgate, Lobethal,Birdwood, Mylor, Summertownand Gumeracha.
Each of those destinations is covered under separate entries. This general coverage is an attempt to cover some of the particular attractions of the smaller villages in the Adelaide Hills.
Once an area of small scale farming, milling and cool summer retreats, the Adelaide Hills are now one of South Australia's most popular tourist destinations.
Correctly known as the Mount Lofty Ranges the area, at various times has supported mixed farming, sheep and cattle, vineyards, flour mills, commercial vegetable gardens and a rich diversity of arts and crafts. But ultimately the small villages which nestle into the hills - Birdwood, Cudlee Creek, Blackwood, Clarendon, Glen Osmond, Gumeracha, Hahndorf, Lobethal, Mount Barker and dozens more - are now commuter zones where people escape from Adelaide's city life.
This escape from city life has a long tradition. At the Belair Recreation Park, for example, there is the beautifully preserved Old Government House where the early governors would eagerly retreat from the hot, dry summer weather of Adelaide.
The streams which flow through the hills were ideal sources of power for the establishment of flour mills. At Birdwood the famous Murray river-boat pioneer and adventurer, Captain William Randell built a mill in 1852, at Bridgewater the old flour mill is now used in the production of sparkling wines, and between Hahndorf and Mount Barker stands another disused mill.
Randell's mill, like so much of the history of the area is now home to a typical "tourist trap" which includes the National Motor Museum.
There is a toy factory at Gumeracha which, with the Australian penchant for "things big", is home to the "biggest rocking horse in the world" - an 18.3 metre high monstrosity which towers over the village.
At Kersbrook there is a trout farm, Springfield has "Carrick Hill", the former home of Sir Edward and Lady Hayward, on display, and Norton Summit boasts another vice-regal summer retreat.
The centrepiece of the whole area is, however, Hahndorf - the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia. The European flavour of the area is given special significance when the large numbers of deciduous trees turn on spectacular autumnal displays.
The novelist Barbara Hanrahan captured this European feel when she wrote of the hills that they "were more like England than any other place in the state. As well as tea-tree and wattle there were ivy bushes and oak-trees, hedges of sweet-brier and monthly roses ...Each mansion was surrounded by plants that would have died on the plains in summer. There were rhododendrons, camelias, even strawberries. In winter it was known for snow to fall."
Things to see
The Piccadilly Valley (take the Piccadilly Road from Crafers to Summertown) is the market gardening centre of the Adelaide Hills and, as such, offers views and experiences which seem to be more connected with the Mediterranean than South Australia. Its location close to the city and its mild climate and excellent soils have ensured that its reputation has been sustained. The road winds through the hills and falls to fertile valleys where vegetables and vines abound.
Penfold Magill Estate
Today Magill is effectively a suburb of Adelaide. It nestles under the mountains to the north of Mount Lofty and has the steep, windy Norton Summit Road which offers access to the Hills.
Magill's fame rests on the Penfolds Magill Estate which, although it has been greatly reduced in recent years, is responsible for Australia's most famous, and most admired, red wine - Grange Hermitage.
The Magill Estate was founded by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold in 1844 and formed the basis of what would eventually become the vast Penfolds wine company. When the company was taken over by Southcorp Holdings Ltd in 1996 much of the vineyard was sold so that today the vineyard is small, there is an excellent restaurant attached, the original Penfolds home is still located in amongst the vines, and there is a good range of wines available at the cellar door.
Magill Estate is located at 78 Penfold Road, Magill. This winery specialises in both red and white table wines and fortified wines derived from cabernet, shiraz, riesling, semillon and chardonnay grapes. It is open seven days a week for tastings and sales. For more details contact (08) 8301 5569.
Located at 120 Old Norton Summit Road at Norton Summit this historic winery (Grove Hill nursery and orchard was established in 1846) was established in 1992 and specialises in both white table wines and sparkling wine derived from pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay grapes. It is open on weekends for tastings and sales. For more details contact (08) 8390 1437.
Barossa Valley Estate
Located on Heaslip Road in Angle Vale this winery was established in 1985 and specialises in both red and white table wines derived from cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot noir, merlot, semillon, riesling and chardonnay grapes. It is open seven days a week for tastings and sales. For more details contact (08) 8284 7000.
Ashton Hills Vineyard
Located on Tregarthen Road in Ashton this tiny winery (the cellar door is in a corrugated shed) was established in 1982 and specialises in both dry red and white table wines and sparkling wines derived from cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet franc, riesling and chardonnay grapes. It is open weekends for tastings and sales. For more details contact (08) 8390 1243.
Accommodation and Eating
The Adelaide Hills are famous for their excellent eating destinations - places like Petaluma at Bridgewater Mill and the Magill Estate Restaurant. For more detailed information you should check the following entries which offer a comprehensive list of accommodation and eating destinations in the district.
For tourism information, see Adelaide Hills website.