After the deluge

The floodwaters have receded and the region is open for spring business, writes Sue Wallace.

Wangaratta and north-east Victoria are bouncing back after the worst floods in 17 years, with residents encouraging tourists to support the towns and iconic festivals for which the region is known.

The executive officer of North-East Victoria Tourism, Susannah Doyle, says the floods are, thankfully, of a relatively short duration and spring visitors are more welcome than ever.

''Luckily almost all key access roads are open, including the roads to the alpine resorts, which are still experiencing not only the best spring snow in more than a decade but the best snow in years,'' she says.

''The region is definitely open for business and everyone is looking forward to the signature spring events going ahead as planned, including next month's Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and the King Valley's La Dolce Vita.''

Food and wine

The Milawa Gourmet Region is renowned for its wineries, fine restaurants and farm gates including Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre and the Milawa Cheese Factory. At Oxley, try some new releases at Ciavarella Oxley Estate Wines, John Gehrig Wines and Sam Miranda Wines.

Wangaratta is also putting itself on the foodie map - former King Valley chef Adam Pizzini has opened Rinaldo's Casa Cucina, (8-10 Tone Road, phone 5721 8800, see rinaldos.com.au), with Italian-Australian cuisine and cooking classes in his rustic dining hall.

Next door, North-East Fresh Farmers Pantry has produce and products from farmers' markets or farm gate trails within 160 kilometres of Wangaratta, including fruit, nuts, cheese, trout, meat, olives and jams. For gourmet home-cooked meals, head to King Valley Fine Foods (107 Murphy Street).

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Cycling there

 Wangaratta has become popular for cyclists, with its Murray to Mountains Rail Trail and the Great Alpine Road. The 94-kilometre Rail Trail starts in Wangaratta and finishes in Bright, via Beechworth and Myrtleford. The new 11-kilometre bike path from Wangaratta to Oxley and Milawa is nearly complete and passes lavender farms, giant river red gums and picturesque picnic spots.

Bike hire is available at the Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre (phone 1800 801 065, see www.murraytomountains.com.au).

Arts

 The new Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre is attracting touring and local shows, including the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra on October 13 and the Melbourne Ballet Company on November 20. See www.wangarattapac.com.au.

Art lovers should drop into the Wangaratta Exhibitions Gallery in the heritage-listed St Paul's Presbyterian Church (56-60 Ovens Street). Entry is free.

Heritage walk

Storyboards highlight Wangaratta's most historic buildings, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral and former prime minister John McEwen's childhood home.

More than 30 historic sites feature in a self- guided heritage walk brochure available at the Wangaratta Visitors Centre, phone 1800 801 065.

Staying there

The Bungalow (17 Cusack Street, the bungalow.com.au). Self-contained accommodation for couples, set in the gardens of a Victorian country house, overlooking a swimming pool.

Quality Hotel (29-37 Ryley Street, see www.wangarattagateway.com.au). Luxury 4½-star suites with pool, spa, sauna and gym. Atrium restaurant open daily.

Via Bella Vista (22 Riverview Crescent, phone 0417 399 423). A two-bedroom luxury suite with kitchenette.

Shopping there

Popsicle (49B Reid Street) stocks homewares and designer clothes.

Idyl Book Cafe (64 Faithful Street) offers great coffee and a range of second-hand books.

Lost Sock Office (42 Reid Street) stocks old-fashioned handmade toys, homewares and gifts.

Birdlife

The recent rain has triggered increased bird and plant life. The wildlife manager for the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Ian Temby, says after such a long dry period many species are taking advantage of the recent rains. Some of the rare birds that may be out and about include turquoise parrots, regent honeyeaters and painted honeyeaters. It is also expected to be a bumper spring for wildflowers.

Upcoming events

October 2: The King Valley Shed Wine Show at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre ($15 entry, see www.kvv.com.au).

October 2-3: Glenrowan Winemakers' Weekend includes gourmet dinner at Baileys of Glenrowan. Tickets are $130 for the whole weekend for food, wine and music, Sunday's breakfast and winemaker events. Phone 5766 2282.

October 8: Milawa Gourmet Region 100km Dinner at the Oxley Hall, Oxley. Five courses prepared by seven chefs. Tickets $75, phone 5727 3461.

October 29-November 1: The 21st annual Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Phone 1800 801 065, see www.wangarattajazz.com.

November 20-21: Brown Brothers Wine and Food Festival, Milawa. Wine tastings, food stalls and farmers' market. See www.brownbrothers.com.au.

November 20-21: La Dolce Vita, the King Valley's spring festival. See www.visitwangaratta.com.au.

For more information phone Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre 1800 801 065, see www.visitwangaratta.com.au.

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