Over year since the first lockdowns began in earnest in Australia, many of us are now looking to travel again (if we haven’t already), if in a slightly different way. Orange is a region that’s become familiar with this new wave of travellers taking leave from the city grind and capitalising on flexible working to eke out longer breaks.
Home to bespoke wineries, passionate local producers and set in the stunning locale of regional NSW—only a few comfortable hours drive from Sydney—Orange is the country town you shouldn’t overlook for the well-trodden coast. Plus, for those who aren’t keen on the drive, Qantas now offers direct flights to Orange with a number of connections from other cities.
As the cooler months creep on, those looking to get out of town should earmark this sweet town. The change of season—of which Orange actually has a whole four—is marked by swathes of vibrant orange and red leaves and a fresh bounty of winter produce that’s masterfully transformed by the numerous hatted restaurants.
The yearly Orange F.O.O.D. Week offers a bounty of events, tastings and tours that will not only tempt your tastebuds but endear you to the incredible heart that everyone in this town approaches their product with. For those travelling outside the week of Australia’s longest-running regional food festival? There’s plenty still to get your tastebuds excited.
Here, marie claire’s curated itinerary for your visit to this stunning region.
Orange, NSW: Where to Stay, Eat, Drink and Explore
Stay at Quest Orange
Centrally located and with every modern convenience a traveller could need, the Quest Orange is an ideal base for a weekender in Orange. That said, if you find yourself wanting to stay longer, the serviced apartment-style hotel would be ideally suited as a home-away-from-home.
Quest Orange is helmed by an impressively young owner, Amy Vandas, who moved to the Orange region in 2019 and her love of the community is evident. The newly built hotel is already winning awards and has become a core part of the area’s close-knit hospitality scene—you’ll never want for restaurant recommendations or ultra-friendly advice about things to do in town.
And if you don’t feel like venturing out one day? The Quest Orange has an incredible rooftop terrace that serves as the perfect vantage point to see Mount Canobolas by sunset. Enjoy the sights before resting your head on the plushest of pillows for an excellent sleep.
Drink and dine at The Union Bank
A popular port of call for both out-of-towners and locals alike is The Union Bank and its dining jewel The Schoolhouse Restaurant. Inside the State Heritage listed building, you’ll find a beautiful dining room and dishes created by Head Chef Dom Aboud, a Rockpool alumni, who is also one of the region’s celebrated ‘Young Gun’ chefs.
You’ll find seasonal share places expertly matched to local wine in the venue’s Arthouse Bar & Courtyard and a changing menu that showcases the best of local produce. Let us be the first to say that if they’re offering the freshly made pappardelle with hand-foraged mushrooms from a local forest, order it.
If you’re still keen for another round after your meal and digestifs (it is a holiday after all), our incredibly friendly waitress and local artist Codey McHatton suggested the Washington & Co whiskey bar. It’s blessedly within walking distance.
Take a paddock to plate tour of Thornbrook Orchard
One thing that might surprise visitors to Orange? It’s not the most bountiful producer of oranges. Luckily for enthusiastic casual fruit-pickers, Thornbrook Orchard offers guided tours led by Paula Charnock, a third-generation orchardist. In a special ‘Apple edition’ tour running during the 2021 F.O.O.D. festival, visitors were taken through the (very involved) journey an apple takes from the tree to the plate, and the year-round tours are no less informative.
Bring a picnic to enjoy Thornbrook Orchard following the tour and a green produce bag or two to take home some of their incredible selection of cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, black muscat grapes, figs and pears. It’s not often you can see the tree that grew the apple from where you stand in front of the produce crate after all.
Take a curated food or wine tour from Country Food Trails
Country Food Trail’s founder Nicole Farrell formerly ran international tours through India, Morocco and France, which really becomes quite obvious when you experience her well-curated and thoughtful tours. With a passion for spotlighting locally grown, made and farmed produce, her deep knowledge of the hidden history of Orange is abundant in Country Food Trails tour offering—which also includes custom tours and luxurious picnics.
Get exclusive access to proprietors and enjoy winery tours that help you navigate the growing number of vineyards in the high-altitude Orange wine region. Two of Nicole’s recommendations are the award-winning Nashdale Lane Wines and Rowlee Wines, who harvest by hand and craft small-batch wines in a fumé blanc style—that we think will be a very in-demand drop this year.
Another tour we’d specifically direct your attention to is The Tasting Trail. Under the NSW government’s Aboriginal Family Resettlement Scheme, Orange was a regional centre that saw a number of Aboriginal people encouraged and assisted to voluntarily relocate to. Many moved for the proposed housing and job opportunities a bigger town could offer—there’s a very well-curated exhibition titled Inherit: old and new histories at the Orange Regional Museum that we highly recommend spending some time exploring.
During the tour facilitated by Nicole, guests are privileged to meet Indigenous elder Gerald Power of the Juru Nation and his assistant Erin Naden, a proud Wiradjuri woman. On the tour, you’ll learn about Indigenous food culture, edible native plants and sample authentic bush tucka. Sharing food has always been one of the most potent ways to engage with different cultures (there is a reason alliances were formed after “breaking bread”). The rich history and knowledge you’ll come away from this tour with will stay long after the enticing smell of fresh damper with chutney fades.
Meet passionate saffron growers from Argyle Australian Saffron
You’ll need to set an early alarm for this one, but trust us, you will not want to miss this once-in-a-year experience. Facilitated by the warm and knowledgeable Nicole Farrell of the aforementioned Country Food Trails, The Saffron Trail tour of the Argyle Australian Saffron farm will appeal to epicureans and ingredient enthusiasts alike.
Angela and Brendon Argle are the owners and driving force behind Argyle Australian Saffron, and their passion for saffron and all the intricacies involved in its growing and processing is infectious. Learn the backstory behind this labour intensive ingredient from the producers who, despite only being in the third year of harvesting, are already nominated for a Delicious produce award. The secret? An incredible amount of enthusiasm, attention to detail and processing their saffron stamens in a unique way which you’ll be able to see for yourself.
The trail includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the farm, a chance to—very gently—pick and dry your own saffron, sample saffron tea, saffron-infused scones and other treats (the lamingtons are not to be skipped!), and saffron to bring home. Be sure to check when the next tours are running with the ever knowledgeable Nicole Farrell.
Make time for breakfast at Groundstone Cafe and The Agrestic Grocer
If at all possible amidst the farmer’s markets, cellar door visits and delicious dinners on offer in Orange, do try and save a little bit of stomach space for breakfast at some of the character-filled cafes in Orange. Two local favourites that you can’t go wrong with are the Groundstone cafe and The Agrestic Grocer, run respectively by Katie Baddock and Beau Baddock.
Katie is an Orange local, having done farmers markets with her father since she was a child—her passion for the best local produce endures. Meanwhile, Beau is another figure so beloved and recognisable he’s been stopped by customers when the family has been on holiday… in Melbourne. A true hospitality power couple, the pair traded city life for Orange and established The Agrestic Grocer eight years ago, a hybrid shopping-dining must-visit.
After enjoying a menu replete with regional ingredients and a locally roasted coffee, don’t skip a wander through the attached gourmet grocer. Housemade preserves, pickles and pates abound as well as a selection of fresh produce, wines and beers from the area make the perfect picnic supplies—if you can hold off nibbling on them on the way there.
Conveniently placed near the Orange The Visitor Information Centre and Orange Regional Museum, the younger Groundstone is only coming up on its fourth birthday but already feels like a local institution. With an abundance of plants inside its airy Scandi-inspired setting, the very generously sized breakfasts are even more enjoyable thanks to the autumn sun streaming through the windows.
The writer was hosted by Orange360.