Bruce Elder finds city-style sophistication in country-size proportions in this diverse Riverina town.
Where else in the world could you sit in a fashionable microbrewery called the Thirsty Crow, order a quality craft beer and enjoy a "Sunday roast" pizza with a topping of seasoned lamb, gravy, roast potato, kumara, peas, mozzarella, rosemary and mint sauce? Australian traditional meets the world.
That pretty much sums up Wagga Wagga: a city that combines rural simplicity and urban modernity with a dash of sophistication.
Carlyle Suites and Apartments is emblematic of this diversification. It's a modern property built to classic proportions. The rooms are a generous size; there's a large, wall-mounted flat-screen television in ours, along with a comfortable bed, spacious bathroom and a large desk suitable for both work and breakfast.
In a city also geared to hosting conferences (Wagga is halfway between Sydney and Melbourne and easily accessible from Canberra), Carlyle Suites is one face of Wagga's modern accommodation, with 21 suites and apartments. Broadband access is free and the building, with its wide verandahs and wrought-iron railings, box yew hedge and timeless elegance, feels and looks more like a traditional Australian pub than a modern motel.
And then we ate There is something reassuring about a knock on the door followed by a bright and breezy staff member carrying a breakfast tray of juice, plunger coffee, freshly cooked eggs and bacon, toast and cereal.
In the past, Wagga has lacked a strong restaurant culture. In the 1990s, the one place listed in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide was the Indian Tavern Tandoori Restaurant; this year, the city's Good Food entry is Thyme Out at the Manor. It's a five-minute walk from Carlyle Suites and is housed in an elegant old building opposite the Victory Memorial Gardens. We order braised rabbit tortellini with Jerusalem artichoke puree, sauteed Swiss brown mushrooms, juniper berry jus and watercress and are reminded that we are in the country - the portions are huge. Likewise, a dish of crispy pork belly on sweet and sour cabbage with red radish, apple, crackling dust and jus is a formidable size.
The deal maker Wagga attractions include the stunningly good National Art Glass Gallery. The gallery's curator, Michael Scarrone, is a passionate collector with a finely honed sensibility. The gallery holds about 400 pieces with only a small number on display; however, they are among the best of the art in Australia.
Stepping out Across the road from Carlyle Suites is the Wiradjuri Walking Track. The track's length is 30 kilometres. The Wollundry Loop is a 12-kilometre section and, if you're feeling really lazy, there's a one-kilometre section from the Visitor Information Centre along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River to Wagga Beach (see waggawaggaaustralia.com.au).
The city has impressive parks, too, including the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens (its miniature railway takes passengers for rides on the first and third Sundays of each month).
Carlyle Suites and Apartments
Address 148 Tarcutta Street, Wagga Wagga.
The verdict A modern variation on the spacious and comfortable country-motel stay.
Price From $149 a night for a classic queen studio suite ($145 a night for a minimum two-night stay); from $220 a night for a two-bedroom apartment. The cost of breakfast is an average $15-$23.
Bookings Phone 6933 6100, see carlylesuites.com.au.
Getting there As you enter Wagga from the Hume Highway, turn right into Tarcutta Street. Carlyle Suites is on the left about one kilometre from the turn-off.
Perfect for Visitors wanting a spacious stay near the heart of the city.
Wheelchair access Yes, but only for downstairs rooms.
While you're there Visit the Museum of the Riverina's Sporting Hall of Fame, which celebrates Wagga's alumni, including Michael Slater, Geoff Lawson and Mark Taylor; check out the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and RAAF Wagga Heritage Centre.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.