Rural blessings

Tim Richards finds the best of country life in a town with award-winning pastries.

I'm sitting outside a bakery on Woodend's main drag, eating an award-winning sausage roll, to be followed by an award-winning vanilla slice, while soaking up the award-worthy autumn sunshine.

Gazing along High Street and its numerous shops, fairly free of chain stores, I can sense why this has become such a popular destination for tree-changers.

It's all about balance: the big-city attractions of Melbourne are only an hour away by either road or rail, while all around are the blessings of nature.

The town isn't too large or suburbanised but there's just enough variety in food, wine and coffee to keep city-reared taste buds satisfied.

With fewer historic and wellness attractions than towns such as Castlemaine, Maldon or Daylesford, Woodend has sometimes been overlooked. But talking to the locals on a bright, slow-moving day early in the week, when there's plenty of time to chat and no problem finding a parking space, I sense that's just how they like it.

History

Woodend was a popular pit stop during the gold-rush era, when people flowed from Melbourne to the goldfields further north.

The Black Forest south of town was notorious for its bushrangers so the settlement at ''wood's end'' was a welcome sight.

Farming and the timber industry kept locals busy after the gold ran out and several buildings remain from the late 19th century, including the Old Bank (1871) and Mechanics Institute (1893). The clock tower, which is in the centre of the town's shopping strip, was erected in 1928 as a war memorial.

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Hanging Rock

''Waiting a million years, just for us,'' says one of the girls in Peter Weir's movie Picnic at Hanging Rock but in fact this distinctive landmark hung around for some 6 million years before getting its big-screen break. It's as popular a spot for picnics now as it was on Valentine's Day 1900. Trails lead up the rock and there's a discovery centre and accomplished cafe at its base (South Rock Road, phone 1800 244 711, see hangingrock.info). The adjacent racecourse of the Hanging Rock Racing Club is also a fun day out on one of the club's infrequent meets (phone 5422 1866, see www.hangingrockracingclub.com.au).

Wineries

Arrange a tour of local wineries with Wine Tours Victoria (phone 1300 946 386, see winetours.com.au). Here are four close by:

Hanging Rock Winery. This winery was founded in 1983 to take advantage of the area's cool temperatures for the manufacture of sparkling wine. It is best known for its Macedon sparkling beverages, including a rosé´ brut and a Late Disgorged, which is much nicer than it sounds (88 Jim Road, Newham, phone 5427 0542, see www.hangingrock.com.au).

Paramoor. The cellar door is housed in an impressive barn, where visitors can sip wine around a fire in an old blacksmith's forge. The winery hosts regular Sunday afternoon concerts (439 Three Chain Road, Carlsruhe, phone 5427 1057, see paramoor.com.au).

Mount Macedon Winery. This is the closest winery to Woodend, with a beautiful view from its cellar door over the Black Forest. It serves grazing plates and bubbly and occasionally hosts dog-friendly days (433 Bawden Road, phone 5427 2735, see www.mountmacedon winery.com.au).

Chanters Ridge. This winery's output is all pinot noir, with variants such as sparkling pinot in both red and white. It's currently developing a pinot rose (440 Chanters Lane, Tylden, phone 0427 511 341, see www.chantersridge.com.au).

Other attractions

The Five Mile Creek Walk takes visitors 3.4 kilometres from Jeffreys Street to Romsey Road, tracking the course of the creek and passing sites of historic and scenic interest.

Some distinctive shopping choices among Woodend's emporiums are Kerri's Bundle of Bears (multitudinous teddy bears, 87 High Street, phone 5427 4944); New Leaves (books, 35C Anslow Street, phone 5427 3772); and Pink String (great coffee, 68 High Street, phone 5427 3597).

If you fancy a round of golf, head to the Woodend Golf Club (Davy Street, phone 5427 2261).

Where to eat

Bourkies Bakehouse. This country bakery has won awards for its vanilla slices, sausage rolls and several other products. The vanilla slices are excellent (115 High Street, phone 5427 2486).

Maloa House. A combined cafe, homewares store and high-class grocer. If you're running short of Persian fairy floss or raspberry coulis, this is the place to head. Grab a coffee, frittata or, perhaps, a decorative tile (95 High Street, phone 5427 1608).

Holgate Brewhouse. Within the historic Keatings Hotel, this microbrewery serves ''made here'' beers. Many of the restaurant's dishes involve beer, including the chocolate porter pudding with rum cream (79 High Street, phone 5427 2510).

Schatzi's. The name means sweetheart in Austria and there's a cute and likeable air to this cafe-restaurant serving popular standards, with some distinct surprises, such as the creme brulee du jour. Creme de menthe creme brulee, anyone? (104 High Street, phone 5427 4447).

Zarby's. Big modern interior and quirky prints on the walls; serving a largely Italian menu (pasta, veal saltimbocca, risotto), with dishes such as Moroccan lamb for variety (84 High Street, phone 5427 4414).

Where to stay

Reynolds Cottage. This century-old cottage is perfect for families or groups of friends who don't want to share Cornflakes with strangers at breakfast. The house has bed space for five occupants, along with a wood fire, large bathroom and spacious garden (139 High Street, phone 5427 4286, see reynoldscottage.com.au).

Keatings Hotel. Housing the Holgate Brewhouse and centrally located in the village, this red-brick pub offers refurbished rooms with high ceilings; the mountain-view rooms are particularly capacious (79 High Street, phone 5427 2510, see holgatebrewhouse.com).

Bella Loft. A rarity in Woodend, this apartment is in the middle of the shopping strip. Ideal for urban escapees who don't want to go too rural (105 High Street, Woodend, phone 0417 795 026, email bella@netcon.net.au).

Campaspe House. The rambling gardens of Campaspe House were designed by Edna Walling. The main house has wood-panelled walls, a billiard room and a comfortable lounge and the dining room also opens as a restaurant to the general public (Goldies Lane, phone 5427 2273, see campaspehouse.com.au).

Events

The Age Harvest Picnic at Hanging Rock, February 27. See harvestpicnic.com.au.

Woodend Winter Arts Festival, June 10-13. See woodendwinterartsfestival.org.au.

Woodend Teddy Bear Show, October 30. See woodendteddybearshow.com.

Lions Club Market, third Sunday each month.

Getting there

Woodend is easily accessible by train, with its shopping strip a short walk from the station. V/Line operates regular services between Southern Cross and Bendigo stations, stopping at Woodend (one hour from Southern Cross).

By road, Woodend is an hour's drive from Melbourne along the Calder Highway.

More information

Woodend Visitor Information Centre (High Street, phone 5427 2033) or see visitmacedonranges.com and visitvictoria.com.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.

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