Gourmet paradise

Huon Valley in Tasmania’s south has grabbed the interest of gourmets around the country, writes Winsor Dobbin

If you’ve watched the TV show Gourmet Farmer (the latest series is currently screening on SBS) then you are probably in on the secret of the Huon Valley in Tasmania’s south – one of Australia’s fastest emerging wine and food destinations.

Former Sydney chef and restaurant critic Matthew Evans chose the Huon Valley as the base for his successful series of TV shows and books, and word has spread.

Today, the Huon – the valley that put the original apples into the Apple Isle – is home to a booming cider industry, boutique wineries whose artisan bottlings you’ll find on the lists of trendy wine bars, and cute country cafés specialising in local produce.

Whether you are looking for saffron, fresh berries or locally grown mushrooms, you’ve come to the right place. The Huon is only a 30-minute drive south of Hobart, making it an ideal day trip or weekend destination.

There are no traffic lights here, no McDonald’s, and no chain hotels (but several delightful places to stay). You will find wild rivers, orchards, forests and farmers selling produce from honesty stalls at their farm gates.

The hamlet of Cygnet, with a population of just over 1000, is the foodie capital of the Huon, dotted with eateries and surrounded by vineyards, apple orchards and berry farms. It is populated by an intriguing mix of traditional farmers and newcomers with an artistic bent. The hills surrounding Cygnet produce strawberries in abundance, apples for the locally-made Pagan cider, organic vegetables from Alex Taylor at Golden Valley Farm, and saffron from Tas-Saff.

These, along with mushrooms from Cygnet Mushroom Farm and goat cheese from Tongola Goat Farm, make their way onto the menus of Hobart’s trendiest eateries.

The Red Velvet Lounge serves vegetarian dishes, while fresh, usually organic, produce is also the driving force behind the menus at the rustic Lotus Eaters Café, which always has vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu choices. The Old School House Coffee Shop serves burgers, toasties and scones paired with local jams. Star wine labels include boutique producers Chatto and Sailor Seeks Horse.

Visitors with a sweet tooth will want to try Cygneture Chocolates, while many of the small local farmers sell their produce at the Cygnet Market (on the first and third Sundays of the month). Meanwhile, you can pick up everything from hummus to sushi at Cygnet Garden Larder on the main street.  The Cygnet Woodfired Bakehouse sells an array of enticing breads, cakes and pastries.

On the road heading south into Huonville, the largest town in the region, you can’t miss The Apple Shed at Grove, home of Willie Smiths Organic Cider. A range of ciders is available for tasting, and there is appetising local produce and a museum devoted to the region’s apple-growing history. A Tasmanian version of the apple brandy calvados is in production. In town, artisan chocolatier The Cat’s Tongue and cafe The Local (with the best coffee in town) are popular with local foodies.

Just outside town, at Ranelagh, you’ll find Home Hill Wines. Home Hill is a regular award winner and also home to an excellent restaurant overlooking the vines. Nearby is the Summer Kitchen bakery and the Ranelagh General Store, famous for its burgers.

The Huon Highway meanders south of Huonville until it runs out at Southport. Turn left to find Huon Aquaculture at Hideaway Bay, producers of a wide range of salmon and trout goods that are sold globally, and employers of close to 500 locals. Check out the attractive villages of Franklin, Port Huon, Geeveston and Dover. Franklin is home to both Frank’s Cider (where tastings are conducted in a former church), and the Aqua Grill waterfront restaurant, where two Italian chefs have revamped the menu.

At Port Huon, also overlooking the river, the Kermandie Hotel is one of the few reliable places for eating seven days a week. Meanwhile in Geeveston, you’ll find what is arguably the best sushi in Tasmania at Masaaki’s – a hole-in-the-wall spot where chef Masaaki Koyama opens on Fridays and Saturdays only, and is often sold out by 1.30pm. Bookings are essential.

Where to stay

Coast House, a private, adults-only retreat overlooking the water, is one of Tasmania’s best-kept boutique accommodation secrets.

Surrounded by orchards, vineyards and small farms in the beautiful Huon Valley, Coast House is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, tranquil and perfectly equipped for a few days of gourmet solitude.

Quolls, pademelons, bettongs, bandicoots and wedge-tail eagles are among your closest neighbours on a private peninsular that is surrounded by water and nature but still provisioned with all life’s little luxuries – from Netflix and fast wifi to bottles of premium local wines.

Coast House offers two queen size bedrooms, each with their own adjoining bathroom. You’ll also be greeted with luxuries that include a wood fire in the living room, heated floors throughout the whole house, a fully equipped modern kitchen overlooking the water, covered verandah, gourmet hamper and luxury provisions on arrival (smoked salmon, sushi, cheeses, bread and fresh fruits), and gourmet meals in the freezer with local wine included, as well as gourmet breakfast ingredients.

Rates start from $550. For bookings, see www.coasthouse.com. (03) 6295 1876 or 0409 446 290.

Huon Valley View Cabin is run by a local family with all the regional gourmet secrets.

This former artist’s studio is bright and airy, and has been converted into a very cosy and completely self-contained country retreat with sweeping views down to the Huon River and across the water to the delightful hamlet of Franklin.

You’ll find a comfortable double bed and a single suitable for a child, a very functional kitchen, and a brand new bathroom with a shower. There’s also fast free wifi, digital TV, a DVD player, music system, a wood fire for cool winter nights, and a deck for taking in the views.

There is a dining area and comfy chairs in front of the fire, along with cereal, fresh milk and coffee thrown in, as well as some cupboard necessities. The village of Cygnet is just an eight-minute drive away for those who want to stock up on goodies prior to their arrival.

It’s a lovely downhill 30 to 40 minute walk to Fat Pig Farm and several local vineyards, as well as the river – hosts Jane and Philip will pick you up if the climb back uphill seems too arduous.

One warning: you’ll need a car, as the rustic chic cottage is on a dirt road a few clicks off the main highway, which means it is perfectly quiet and home to wildlife including possums and raptors.

Huon Valley View Cabin starts from $80 a night and is available on Airbnb.