Belles' angels go off the rails

Sue Wallace and friends cycle the vineyard trails on a laughter-filled girls' weekend.

Hot-pink T-shirts dominate our dress code and there's not a skerrick of Lycra in sight.

We are here for a girls' weekend - of cycling, gourmet food, shopping, lots of laughs and a few bubbles along the way.

Just as we are ready to head off we notice a friend's footwear - heels she bought 15 years ago in Edinburgh that have done the full circle and are now back in vogue. She assures us she doesn't need runners and insists she can pedal with the best of us - heels and all.

We head off from the former gold town of Rutherglen after an arrival cocktail, coffee and cake at the Victoria Hotel, known affectionately by locals as "the Vic".

The historic hotel is our home for two nights on this weekend away. Built 140 years ago, the heritage-listed hotel, with its lacework, lofty ceilings, 49 fireplaces and grand verandah, has great character and charm. Owners Sarah Pilgrim and Sean Morris took over the hotel five years ago and are restoring it to its former grandeur.

Pilgrim says the Belles, Bikes and Bubbles package has attracted hens' parties and other groups of women of all ages who just want to get away for a few days.

"Some are serious cyclists, and there are challenging routes that cater for them, and others are here to relax and have a bit of fun," she says.

Helmets on and water bottles handy, we head out along the sealed rail trail on our way to Cofield Wines for a sparkling wine tasting and lunch at the Pickled Sisters.

As we pedal along we pass bucolic scenes with cows and sheep grazing, ducks waddling across the bike track to take a dip in a dam and crops dancing in the breeze.

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Manicured vineyards remind us we are in serious wine country.

As we chat away, our laughter is punctured by bells ringing as serious cyclists greet us, then are gone in a flash.

We turn off the rail trail at Wahgunyah after about nine kilometres and ride uphill to the winery, where Damien Cofield welcomes us.

Under umbrellas in the garden, we enjoy an exclusive tasting of bubbles - white, pink and red - while Cofield updates us on his latest releases.

Next door at the Pickled Sisters Cafe, our package includes a choice of two courses and a glass of wine.

It's a toss-up between pumpkin gnocchi or twice-baked zucchini souffle - the souffle wins - followed by a finale of indulgent poppyseed ricotta cake with lemon curd.

As tempting as it is to sit on the deck in the sunshine, we have to head back to Rutherglen for an important appointment - a massage.

Our bikes are loaded in the back of a van and we vow to return to the rail trail tomorrow.

Back at the Vic, we have a 30-minute massage, with a choice of shiatsu or remedial.

Later we enjoy sunset bubbles on the balcony and watch as the sky turns a blood red. Pilgrim joins us and tells us about the hotel, which once had its own morgue and two staircases to the cellar that provided a quick getaway.

"The publican had an illegal gambling racket downstairs and when the police came in, patrons could escape out the second staircase leading to an exit via the carriageway," Sarah says.

Ned Kelly was also rumoured to have stabled his horses at the back of the hotel when he was on the run.

For dinner at the hotel bistro, we have a choice of four main courses and four desserts before retiring upstairs to the drawing room to watch Pretty Woman.

Next day we decide on some serious cycling and even consider the Gooramadda-Chiltern loop, east of Rutherglen, which takes in the historic township of Chiltern, Morris Winery and Gooramadda Olives.

But we decide 52 kilometres might be too challenging and settle for a shorter route.

On our return to Rutherglen, we head to the town's Passion Flora gift shop to spend the gift vouchers that are part of the cycling package.

We have no trouble doing that. The shop, opened by Fiona Lawrence in 2003, is packed with beautiful gifts and homewares.

Further along the street we can't resist the Rutherglen Lolly Shop, run by Fiona Myers.

On our last night we dine in the hotel's formal Mrs Brown restaurant, with soft candlelight, timber floors and fine linen.

We toast our cycling efforts with a great Rutherglen red and hand out well-deserved prizes, which include Lycra bike pants and cycling gloves.

The top prize goes to our "star" who completed the bike ride not only in her Edinburgh heels but without a blister in sight.

FAST FACTS

The Victoria Hotel, 90 Main Street, Rutherglen. Phone 6032 8610 or see victoriahotelrutherglen.com.au.

The hotel has traditional, hotel-style accommodation with charming renovated bedrooms.

The Belles, Bikes and Bubbles package costs from $275 and includes an arrival cocktail, two nights shared room, continental breakfasts, cycling maps and directions, flight of three bubbles at Cofield Wines, lunch at Pickled Sisters Cafe, massage, sunset bubbles on the balcony on the second night, two-course evening meal in the bistro, selection of "chick flicks", $30 Passion Flora voucher, organic cotton T-Shirt and a $10 donation to Pink Fund for breast cancer research.

Bike hire from $30 a day. Other cycling packages are available.

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