We all know about food and wine matching but, for a more balanced holiday, consider pairing Victoria's High Country hikes with its gourmet food experiences. You'll go home as fit as you are full. You can relish fresh seasonal regional produce before, after and – if you take a picnic – even during your walk. Here are some compatible combinations, starting with light and easy, and working up to hearty and hardcore.
Mount Beauty Gorge Walk is only about three kilometres long but can be quite the mini-adventure, when conditions are right and if you're up for it. From the swing bridge over the West Kiewa River it's uphill to the swimming hole and some great views. When the river bed is dry you can rock-hop then eventually wade a few hundred metres upstream into a canyon. See walkhighcountry.com.au
Chef Emma Handley's Templar Lodge is just outside Mount Beauty in Tawonga South. Try one of her light lunches, which might include turmeric cauliflower with beetroot hummus, hemp seeds and ginger and red cabbage sauerkraut. See facebook.com/templarlodgebyemmahandley
Trails, Tales and Tucker is a leisurely four-kilometre walk to some mustering and refuge huts on the Bogong High Plains. It's guided by local historian Ken Bell who is as interested in the area's traditional owners as he is in its former cattle-mustering families. The whole experience takes about three hours. See trailstalesandtucker.com
A picnic lunch provided by Diana Alpine Lodge is included in the tour. Dishes such as Buddha bowls of pickled vegetables and cured meats, jars of fruit salad and lemon curd tart, local wines and chilled rosewater lemonade will be ready and waiting near the ancient snow gums by the time you get to Cope Hut.
There are many trails on Mount Buller but the Summit Nature Walk is the best for seeing sunrise from the mountain's 1805-metre summit. The return journey is about four kilometres from the Village Square to its exit point near Arlberg Hotel. See mtbullercdn.com.au
Mount Buller's dining options are limited outside the ski season. Pat's Italian has a good atmosphere and, in the mornings, ABOM or T's may be open. If all else fails, there's a coffee machine at Skilib lodge and its managers are not afraid to use it (cash only). See patsitalian.com.au and skilib.com.au
Ovens River Trail, just over five kilometres long, is a level loop through town and into Myrtleford's sleepy green backblocks, over bridges and alongside the river. See walkhighcountry.com.au
Head to Cafe Fez, where the line between restaurant and bazaar is deliciously blurred, for theatrically served tea, Middle Eastern-style food and cocktails. See redramia.com.au
Join the locals on the Beechworth Gorge Walk. This relatively easy seven-kilometre circuit takes in the town, waterfalls, historic mining infrastructure and some bushland that apparently once sheltered the Kelly Gang. See walkhighcountry.com.au
Spend the evening at Provenance, slurping wine and swooning over shared tasting plates of house-made silken tofu, celeriac baked in hay and smoked kangaroo. See theprovenance.com.au
From the centre of Bright it's a flat 10 kilometres to Feathertop Winery, in nearby Porepunkah, along a section of the 100-kilometre Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. See ridehighcountry.com.au
Think of Feathertop's Vino Cucina – a one-hour session about pairing wine and food – as an educational starter to your lunch at its restaurant, Stone & Barrel. By the time you're onto the 2016 Nebbiolo paired with chef Simon Buckley's wagyu salami, cornichon, picked radish and onion jam, you'll have an improved understanding of wine, food and your own palate. See feathertopwinery.com.au
Klingsporn Bridle Track is an eight-kilometre route up Mount Buller starting from Mirimbah (30 kilometres east of Mansfield). Alternatively, tackle the six-kilometre West Ridge which is steeper and more exposed but has fantastic views. "Hike priestess" Ness Hinneberg guides walks up Mount Buller. See skadiadventures.com.au
Have lunch at the Produce Store, which is housed in a former auction house. Its blackboard menu is extensive and its sandwiches are generous. Do not miss out on the best chocolate brownie of your life. See theproducestore.com.au
The Big Walk up nearby Mount Buffalo is 11.3 kilometres one way and starts (or finishes) at Eurobin Creek Picnic Area. The hike takes in key spots on the mountain including lookouts and waterfalls, and 360-million-year-old gorges. See parkweb.vic.gov.au
You'll deserve every last morsel of your dinner at Tomahawks. You can share dishes such as salt-and-vinegar squid with preserved lemon mayo or char-grilled broccoli with smoked butter and almonds, or have a Cajun pulled-pork bun all to yourself. See tomahawksbright.com.au
Brabralung Trail is a 13-kilometre compacted gravel track between Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham. Historic JB Hut is nestled among the snow gums and you might spot emus in the surrounding grasslands. Brabralung is the name of the local Gunaikurnai Clan – it means "the people" – and the trail was developed to promote awareness of the area's Aboriginal heritage and significance. See visitdinnerplain.com.au
Start the day at Mountain Kitchen with house-made muesli and yoghurt or one of its great bacon and free-range egg sandwiches with grilled cheese. Head off on your walk with a packed lunch of wraps or rolls, or a box with a selection of locally produced savoury delicacies. See mountainkitchen.com.au
Bungalow Spur Walking Track is for experienced and well-prepared hikers. It's a steep 22-kilometre return trip from Harrietville to the summit of Mount Feathertop which, at 1922 metres, is the second-highest mountain in the Victorian Alps. You can take an alternative route to Mount Feathertop, starting at a higher altitude, along Razorback Ridge from Diamantina Hut. See parkweb.vic.gov.au
Harrietville Bakery's co-owner and pastry chef Nikki Fisch is originally from a steep canton in Switzerland. Fuel up on her sweet-potato pasties and sausage rolls made with a secret ingredient, as well as buttery fruit tarts and Appenzell-style vanilla slice. See visitharrietville.com.au
FIVE MORE WAYS TO EMBRACE THE HIGH COUNTRY
Learn to abseil for an hour or so before lowering yourself down a Mount Buffalo cliff for a picnic lunch on an artificial ledge suspended hundreds of metres above the valley. Costs $395 for two people (maximum group of four). See brightadventurecompany.com.au
FIND YOUR FLOW
Go mountain biking at Bright, Dinner Plain, Falls Creek, Mount Beauty, Mount Buller, Beechworth and Yackandandah. Contrary to indications in the current promotional material, women also shred these trails and the High Country Women's Cycle Festival and MTB de Femme encourage more women to join the sport. See ridehighcountry.com.au
Mustering cattle may be a thing of the past on the High Plains but you can still ride a horse into Alpine National Park from the Baird family's Tawonga property, Spring Spur. See bogonghorsebackadventures.weebly.com
It's well worth getting up at the crack of dawn for a balloon flight over the waking King Valley. It costs $385 per adult and, for an extra $30, includes a pre-flight breakfast with prosecco. See brownbrothers.com.au
Swim the Ovens River in the centre of Bright or at Nimmo Bridge in Myrtleford. Dip into Lake Catani or Ladies Bath Falls on Mount Buffalo. Tronoh Dredge Hole in Harrietville and Rocky Valley Reservoir at Falls Creek are far more inviting than the names suggest. Beechworth's Lake Sambell has designated swimming beaches.
From Melbourne Airport it's a 2.5-hour drive to Wangaratta via the Hume Freeway. QantasLink flies from Melbourne and Sydney to Albury Airport and, from there, it's a 45-minute drive to Beechworth. See qantas.com.au
Walk High Country highlights more than 100 of the region's walking trails. Consider a car shuffle for routes with road access at each end. Be prepared for unexpected weather changes, especially in the mountains, and always carry water, food and a first-aid kit. Familiarise yourself with maps and info specific to each route. Grade 1 tracks are considered suitable for wheelchair users who have a travelling companion to assist them. See walkhighcountry.com.au
Dinner Plain Accommodation has self-contained apartments and houses from $180 a night. See dinnerplainaccommodation.com.au. All QT Falls Creek apartments, from $235 a night, have a balcony hot tub with a view. See qthotelsandresorts.com/falls-creek
There is so much good food across North East Victoria but book ahead if you have your heart set on somewhere in particular. But do give some love to Dumu Balcony Cafe in Bright – a social enterprise training young people from the Northern Territory community of Wadeye. See facebook.com/dumubalconycafe
Elspeth Callender travelled as a guest of Tourism North East.