Forty-five minutes from Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula, sandwiched between rolling hills and the sparkling waters of the Gulf of St Vincent, the Southern Vales offer the twin pleasures of fine shiraz and cabernet sauvignon with beach dining. Inland, vineyards are sketched with narrow roads lined with wild olive trees. On the coast, rugged cliffs buttress broad beaches where crowds are rare, frequently non-existent.
Spreading across the valley floor from the township of McLaren Vale, the 50 or so cellar doors are interspersed with olive groves and almond orchards. Sample oils and other products at The Olive Grove (on Warners Road), while the Saturday morning Willunga Farmers Market is charming and a fine source of local goodies. On Friday night, try to nab a table at Russell's (13 High Street, Willunga), where locals get together for wood-fired pizza and a whole lot of fun (bookings essential).
During summer, reserve a table at the Lake Coolangatta Cafe at nearby Aldinga Beach – a tiny kiosk with tables set in the sand serving fantastic seafood (have the bouillabaisse).You can also drive 35 minutes south to Port Elliot, a pretty sandstone seaside town, and have a seafood lunch at Flying Fish on Horseshoe Bay. The coast road between Port Elliot and Goolwa, the historic river port on the mouth of the Murray, is worth exploring, and there's a lovely place to stay at Middleton, known as the Beach Huts (www.beachhuts.com.au), where you sleep in charming Victorian-style timber chalets. The restaurant next to the Beach Huts, Blues, should not be missed. Housed in a timber and glass building, it serves imaginative, excellent food at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Lunch at the jaunty Star of Greece, a converted kiosk set on a cliff above the broad sweep of the Port Willunga beach, where freshly caught squid doesn’t have far to travel to the table.
Soak up the Southern Vales over lunch at D'Arry's Verandah, adjoining d'Arenberg winery, where the sweeping vineyard views are as fine as the excellent food. Join local winemakers at their favourite weekend dinner haunt – The Salopian Inn (corner of Willunga and McMurtrie roads), affectionately known as "The Slops", an institution serving delicious, locally grown produce.
Together with the quirky d'Arenberg, you mustn't miss Chapel Hill (with new residential cooking school); Penny’s Hill (with gallery and restaurant); Wirra Wirra in a glorious bush setting; the picturesque Coriole (check out the olive oil, cheese and cottage flower gardens); Hugh Hamilton and Fox Creek.
Ringed by golden hills and dotted with church spires and historic villages, the Barossa is the heartland of Australia's sprawling and rapidly expanding wine industry. In a place where grape growers may be fifth- or sixth-generation, where wine and church go hand in hand, and old timers still chat with a smattering of Barossa Deutsch, this fiercely proud community has nurtured its food and wine traditions to produce possibly Australia's only regional cuisine. With some 70 cellar doors (and the oldest shiraz vineyards in the world), old-fashioned butchers and bakers, rose-smothered farmhouses and thatched barns, the Barossa has a charm hard to top. An hour north of Adelaide and internationally famous for shiraz (not forgetting the excellent Eden Valley rieslings and delicious fortified wines), the Valley also affords good restaurants, galleries and antique shops.
Maggie Beer's Farm Shop (lunches available) or the Saturday morning Barossa Farmers Market at Vintners Sheds (the bacon and egg rolls are sensational). During spring and autumn, the 20,000 roses at Chateau Barossa are as intoxicating as the wine. See how barrels are made at the Keg Factory, watch the sun rise from a hot-air balloon, or hire a vintage Daimler for a chauffeur-driven wine tour.
For lunch, visit barr-Vinum (Washington St, Angaston), a charming 19th-century cottage with tables set in the garden. For dinner, join winemakers around the fire at the popular Vintners Bar & Grill outside Angaston (Nuriootpa Rd).
For chateau-style grandeur: Yalumba, the restored Chateau Tanunda Estate and the elegant Seppeltsfield. For wow factor: the giant Penfolds, very mod Jacobs Creek Visitor Centre and the acclaimed Two Hands Wines. For "true" Barossa: Peter Lehmann Wines, Rockford, Charles Melton, Wolf Blass, Greenock Creek Cellars, Bethany Wines and Veritas/Wolf Binder Wines.
Some two hours north of Adelaide, the Clare Valley is a series of upland valleys claimed by many to be the loveliest wine district in Australia. The nomenclature is Irish and the area shares some of that country’s bucolic charm. Towns have an old-world feel and many of the wineries are family owned and grapes hand-picked. Famous for its riesling, Clare has been producing wine since 1848, when the Jesuit brothers at Sevenhill turned their hand to viticulture. Today, the church-cum-winery is one of Clare’s most popular and the brothers' motto, "Life is too short to drink bad wine", rather too easy to swallow. Follow Clare’s 25km Riesling Trail (cycle or walk), and spend time exploring Auburn, birthplace of beloved Aussie poet C.J. Dennis.
The picturesque village of Mintaro, a collection of honey-stoned cottages that could be in France. Have a drink at the Magpie & Stump pub before heading out of town to visit the grand Martindale Hall, instantly recognisable from the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock (accommodation available).
For lunch, book a table under the old olive tree at Skillogalee, set in a tiny stone cottage with glorious garden and bush views. For dinner, try George's of Clare at Neagles Rock Vineyard (Saturday nights only), or Tateham's Restaurant, occupying Auburn's old general store.
Most of the 35 cellar doors, including Sevenhill, Annie's Lane, Paulett Wines, Kilikanoon and Pikes Polish Hill, are within a 15-minute drive of the Clare township, many situated on bush-lapped gravel roads, some serving lunch.
Only 20 minutes from the Adelaide CBD, the Hills are part-English countryside, part-Tuscan orchard and part-French vineyard. Home to premium cool-climate white wines and very good pinot noir, the Hills is the state's oldest wine-growing district, with the first vines planted in 1839 and a case of hock sent to Queen Victoria in 1845. This is romantic touring country in the European style – think terraced vineyards interspersed with cherry and apple orchards, pretty villages with weekend markets, and grand Victorian summer houses cuffed with beds of roses and rhododendrons.
There's bush, too, and wildlife reserves (Warrawong and Cleland), and dozens of narrow roads winding through forest and farmland. The produce is exceptional (check out Stirling's Organic Market and Cafe), from the famed Beerenberg jams to venison and elk, cheese and yogurt, and Springs Smoked Salmon (with a factory outlet).
The Cedars, former home of artist Sir Hans Heysen, set in glorious big gum country (guided tours daily); Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, particularly in autumn; picking your own strawberries at Beerenberg; eating an old-fashioned burger at the German Arms Hotel in Hahndorf, voted six times the best hotel in SA; or walk part of the 1500km Heysen Trail.
Lunch at Bridgewater Mill, home of Petaluma wines and the acclaimed food of Le Tu Thai. For cheap and cheerful Italian fare, visit Osteria Sanso in far-flung Kanmantoo, or the "all-you-can-eat" buffet at the Old Mill hotel, Hahndorf. In the same historic town, have dinner at Logans, where chef Chris Broadfoot handles the excellent local produce with great flair.
Don't miss the elegant Shaw & Smith or nearby Nepenthe, tiny Ashton Hills (for the region’s best pinot), Chain of Ponds, and Bird in Hand (which also makes some of Australia's finest olive oil).