Beechworth, Northeast Victoria

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Living in Melbourne, there’s no shortage of interesting places to visit within 2-3 hours’ drive and one recent find was Beechworth, a few kilometres short of the NSW border.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon in glorious sunshine, looking forward to staying a a couple of nights in the township.

Beechworth was initially settled in 1839 as a grazing area for cattle but with the discovery of gold in 1852, thousands rushed to try their luck at the Ovens goldfield. Four million ounces of gold were officially mined that year and in 1853 Beechworth was declared a town.

Beechworth's early administrators had had the vision to realise that the gold would not last forever. A benevolent asylum, a general hospital, a lunatic asylum and a gaol were all established in the 1850s and 60s. These institutions maintained the economic strength of Beechworth after the gold years until the 1990s. In the 1980s, with the decline of the public sector presence, the Beechworth community faced having to develop a new economic base.

The rich 19th century legacy included more than 30 notable buildings and Beechworth was ripe for development as a tourist attraction.

We’d booked into Geoffrey Palmer’s Stone Cottage accommodation and were soon putting our suitcases in the comfortable downstairs bedroom of the The Barn. These rustic cottages, reminiscent of those in the Cotswolds, are set a spacious garden surrounded by trees. It must be lovely in spring when all the bulbs are blooming and the tall trees are in leaf.  Geoff forecast rain could be on its way overnight because the temperature had gone up a bit, so we decided to make the most of the sun and headed a couple of hundred metres to the shopping precinct.

There’s a mix of touristy shops for browsers – antiques, clothing, giftware, food, homeware, jewellery. Then there’s the historic and cultural precinct. This includes a cluster of government buildings - the Courthouse (where Ned Kelly stood trial in 1880 after the siege at Glenrowan), Telegraph Station, Gold Office and Sub-Treasury, Chinese Protector’s Office, Warden’s Office, Police Stables and Stone Lock-up – regarded as the finest group of provincial public buildings in Victoria. There is also the Police Reserve, Town Hall and basement vaults and the Robert O’Hara Burke Museum.

And Beechworth isn’t short on good restaurants though it pays to check which ones are open on a given day. We ate well at the Green Shed and Gigi’s which, like so many country restaurants, were very generous with their servings. Fortunately I decided to have only an entrée at the Green Shed. It was a delicious crab lasagna but entrée size was plenty big enough for me and I couldn’t have looked at a main afterwards though The Spouse cruised through his beef cheek. Gigi’s the next night was similarly generous with their pork and lentil dish.

The predicted rain arrived and continued for the next couple of days but didn’t deter us from breakfasting at the celebrated Beechworth Bakery before heading for the border and Wodonga and then crossing the Murray into NSW and the neighbouring town of Albury where we managed to liberate some more dollars in support of the local economy at a well-stocked kitchen shop. One of the good things about travelling by car is not having to worry about fitting one’s purchases in a suitcase.

Our son James has done a couple of rotations at Wangaratta Base Hospital so we headed over there to have a look round that town before heading back to Beechworth.

Next morning, after we’d settled up with Geoff, we set of for Milawa and a couple of “must sees” from James’s list – the cheese shop and the mustard shop in Milawa. We were soon sampling aged cheddar and blue, goat cheese and brie, washed rind cheese… and buying enough to keep us happy for a month. We lunched there but I was underwhelmed by their pissaladiere and pizza.  The toppings were tasty enough but the base was heavy going.

The mustard shop had a demarcation line – mild mustards to the left, the hot stuff on the right. I am definitely a wuss and confined most of my tasting to the left while The Spouse headed starboard. I noticed most of our purchases came from the hotter side and even I was getting more enthusiastic as my tastebuds warmed up.

We headed on to Brown Brothers vineyard to taste a couple of wines and top up the caffeine levels before heading back home.

Although it was only a brief escape it was an enjoyable leisurely look at a new corner of Australia and it’s a part of Victoria we’d like to visit again in spring or early summer.

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