Sue Wallace revels in autumn's return and the High Country festivals that celebrate the falling of the leaves.
Chestnut soup has never tasted so good as when I am sitting in the sun in the tiny village of Wandiligong, among the golden leaves of autumn.
Trees are covered in shades of brilliant red, orange, gold and yellow in this beautiful part of north-east Victoria that is renowned for its dazzling autumn show and the season's festivals.
Set in a valley and surrounded by forests and mountains, historic Wandiligong, which is six kilometres from Bright, was once a thriving goldmining town whose population rose in the mid-1850s to 2000.
Today about 250 people live in the National Trust-classified town where a general store, several churches, a school, a library, cottages and a hall built in 1874 have been preserved.
Residents are preparing for the annual Wandiligong Nut Festival on May 8-9. It features a chestnut farm walk, farmers' market, cooking demonstrations by acclaimed chefs from the area, including Anthony Simone, Frank Martinez and Naomi Ingleton, food-and-wine matching by restaurants and wineries and an art marquee.
The festival organiser, Anthea Markowiak, who moved from Sydney three years ago, describes it as ''a celebration of the valley, renowned for its beauty and quality of local produce, including chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples and berries''. This year there will be a nut expo explaining everything you ever wanted to know about nuts, from cooking to growing them.
Highlights of Wandiligong include the Mountain View Hotel, known as the Wandi Pub; devonshire tea at restored cottage the Miners Find, run by Margaret and Ray Smith; and the Wandiligong Maze (and cafe, known for its Wandi passionfruit sponge).
Margaret Smith, whose chestnut soup was awarded first prize by cooking expert Margaret Fulton at an earlier nut festival, says the autumn colours are the best she's seen in a decade.
''We first came to Wandi 20 years ago, then moved here eight years ago and these colours are really special,'' she says.
Wandiligong is a great place for a bike ride or a walk and you can discover the village's history, via the Wandi Wander, Royal Bridge Walk and the Diggings Walk, which features the Chinese Swing Bridge - a tribute to early residents from the East.
Wandiligong Nut Festival, May 8-9. See www.brightvic.com/wandinutfestival/.
Bright is another autumn highlight. The colours start to build slowly about three kilometres from the town. Gavan Street, Delaney Avenue and Centenary Park are drawcards as the town celebrates the last days of the autumn festival that finishes on Wednesday.
The Miners Find, 517 Morses Creek Rd, Wandiligong. Phone 5750 1106.
Wandi Pub (The Mountain View Hotel), 580 Morses Creek Road, Wandiligong. Phone 5755 1311, see www.wandipub.com.
Wandiligong Maze and Cafe. Phone 5750 1311, see www.wandimaze.com.au.
The Rail Trail from Porepunkah to Bright passes through an avenue of trees in their glory.
Bright Autumn Festival, until May 5. See www.brightautumnfestival.org.au.
Driving into Myrtleford along the Great Alpine Road is a visual delight.
The town celebrates its Italian heritage with the 10-day La Fiera festival starting on May 14, with everything from Ferraris to food and wine and the world's longest pasta lunch on May 23.
There are pockets of autumn colours on the road from Myrtleford to Mount Beauty.
La Fiera Festival, Myrtleford, May 14-23.
Bright is 300 kilometres from Melbourne on the Great Alpine Road, via the Hume Freeway, Wangaratta.