There is a lot to commend Launceston as a weekend getaway, travel editor Winsor Dobbin discovers.
Launceston, the second-largest city in Tasmania, is often overshadowed by its big brother Hobart.
But now with the MONA FOMA summer festival set to switch from the south to the north of the state, and the arrival of a stellar new hotel, things are looking up for Launceston.
Launceston is the gateway to the Tamar Valley Wine Route, the longest-established wine touring route in the state, and home to several natural attractions, including Cataract Gorge.
The major appeal of the Tamar Valley Wine Route is the fact that many of the wineries are family-owned, so you will usually be served at cellar door by someone intimately involved with the wines.
Tasmania’s second city also has several top-notch restaurants that make it worthy of a night or two, with fine diner Stillwater, overlooking the Tamar River, the long-time standout. Lovers of beef will enjoy the range of Tasmanian beef cuts at the Black Cow Bistro, under the same management as Stillwater, while Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant is also worth a look, along with boutique beer destinations Saint John and Tandy’s Alehouse.
Held every Saturday morning, the Harvest Market is regarded as the best farmer’s market in the state.
The arrival of a new five-star hotel and top-notch eatery with the opening of the Peppers Silo Hotel and the Grain of the Silos restaurant overlooking the water in Invermay has further invigorated the city.
Opened in early June, the Grain of the Silos Restaurant, which boasts celebrity chef Massimo Mele as consultant, delivers on a promise of paddock-to-plate eating.
The menu comprises foods from local farmers delivering world-class produce, including Tasmanian beef and lamb, along with fresh seafood.
Head chef Peter Twitchett lists all his producers on the back of the restaurant menu and says he particularly enjoys Robbins Island beef as well as wasabi, black truffles, hazelnuts and the humble Tasmanian potatoes.
Mele and Twitchett have crafted a modern Australian menu featuring appetisers like pulled pork croquettes, local oysters in mignonette dressing and raw salmon, wasabi leaf, spring onion and ginger.
Starters include a sensational warm quail salad with fennel, currants, pine nuts and almonds, and a chicken liver pâté with rhubarb compote and crusty bread, while standout mains were a 200-gram Cape Grim eye fillet served with three different sauces and perfectly-cooked chips; and fresh flathead fillets served with ash and artichoke mash.
Desserts include a caramelised apple tarte tatin with walnut ice cream and a selection of cheeses from Tasmanian producers Pyengana, Grandvewe and Coal River Farm.
The wine list put together by local wine educator Curley Haslam-Coates features names like Winter Brook, Sinapius and Moores Hill, along with some intriguing interstate and imported options.
It’s also well worth staying overnight (or over a weekend) in the hotel, particularly if you can snare a room overlooking the Tamar River.
Originally erected in 1960, the Kings Wharf grain silos were left unused for decades until two years ago.
The redeveloped site is now a 10-level hotel featuring 108 guest rooms, including 52 inside the barrels of the former silos, undercover car parking, conference facilities and an integrated lobby and reception space.
Amenities on-site include a gym, day spa, child-minding facilities, hairdressing salon, function centre and private dining rooms.
The staff are friendly and helpful, and Peppers Silo has also worked closely with Guide Dogs Tasmania to employ a canine ambassador called Archie, a black Labrador who resides at the hotel and helps the concierge with daily tasks such as greeting guests and delivering the morning newspapers.
Archie did not make the grade as a seeing-eye dog, but he is a fine hotel ambassador.
Owner and developer Errol Stewart said Launceston needed new tourism projects and has a shortage of hotel rooms in summer, so the Silo has been well timed.
# The writer was a guest of Peppers Silo