CLOSE your eyes and picture this: a landscape showcasing over a million apple and pear trees in blossom as they greet clear springtime days; a chorus of birds providing musical accompaniment; bees buzzing about their important business; and green grapevines fruiting abundantly ready for next year's harvest.
You're in Queensland's Granite Belt, in the high country southwest of Brisbane, a place of bucolic bliss, arts and crafts, fine food and wine.
"Sundowner apple blossoms are the first to come out on the Granite Belt and by about the first week of October the whole area will look like a winter wonderland," says David Sutton, farmer and owner at Sutton's Juice Factory, Cidery & Farm Cafe.
The cultural scene is blooming too, with this year's Granite Belt Art & Craft Trail (GBART) culminating in a huge weekend on October 29-31 with the theme "Art is for everyone".
It certainly is, with every conceivable taste and hobby catered for. A browse through the trail's website points the way to diverse, hands-on activities with local craftsmen and women such as oil, acrylic and watercolour painting, pottery and sculpture workshops, Indigenous art, collages, candle making, silver jewellery making and knitting on a 100-year-old machine.
Founded by art therapist Rosy Chapman, the weekend is planned as an "engagement" event - no, you don't have to pop the question, just commit to engage with enthusiastic and passionate crafties.
Music, food and wine are a natural part of life to enjoy at the Granite Belt and during GBART there will be a variety of culinary options and cellar-door tastings focusing on the region's famous cool climate wines.
These include stops at wineries along the unique Strange Birds Trail with some interesting "alternative" varieties such as Saperavi, Fiano, Pinotage, Verdelho, Sagrantino and others.
Foodies are well catered for, too.
If you saw the French movie La Grande Bouffe a few years ago, you'd remember the story about a group of gourmands who gather together one weekend to eat themselves to death.
Well, around the Granite Belt you'll find some excellent degustation dinners and lunch events which will tempt gourmets without such a dramatic result.
Using fresh local produce and a well-cultivated Italian culinary philosophy, you can saddle up for a wonderful six-course Spring degustation dinner at Ballandean Estate (Saturdays only) in their cosy Barrelroom restaurant.
Or if lunch is your thing, At Our Table is a unique experience where you'll be a guest of the Puglisi family, tour the vineyard, taste the wines and enjoy them paired with modern Australian/Italian cuisine (Mondays from September 23).
Another gastronomic treat awaits at Whiskey Gully Wines, where Denise and John Arlidge really turn up the heat with a superb six-course, European-style degustation dinner (Saturdays) plus matching wines and the coup de grace - live entertainment.
If you're persuasive, John may honour you with some musical interludes on his collection of classic and rare guitars.
Not to be outdone, Heritage Estate Wines is continuing its extraordinary Five Senses degustation dinners (Saturdays, monthly), bringing more than a touch of class to the whole region, with formal dress recommended.
Lunchtime specials are not forgotten either, with the popular Medley of Mains mini-degustation at Varias Restaurant, part of the Queensland College of Wine Tourism in Stanthorpe. Matching wines are from their own vineyard, Banca Ridge. Available Tuesdays through Saturdays.
DO THE TRUFFLE SHUFFLE
A unique new experience near Ballandean is The Folly Truffle, where you can go truffle hunting with specially trained dogs in the farm's private forest, now numbering 450 trees but expanding to 1800 by 2024.
This is a three-generation family business already supplying top local and Brisbane restaurants and after a tour you'll be invited to sample some food prepared with truffle butter, with tea or coffee.
Forget the south of France... this is where the highest quality product is now coming from. Just ask the dogs.
A BERRY NICE IDEA
The Stanthorpe Berry Festival in November will be a sweet way to celebrate with kids and partners, strawberries leading the pack.
Festival experiences will include masterclasses with the makers, live food demonstrations, eating competitions, interactions with the region's craft brewers, live music sessions, taste testing and more.
HIT THE SACK
The Granite Belt is well served with accommodation choices from camping to "bush luxe", including some exciting new options:
- Straw House Farm B&B at Dalveen already has two established straw-bale cottages, but with the emerging trend to mini-cabins, a so-called "tiny house" has been added. Built on the bones of a 20-tonne wheat trailer, this is just over 20 square metres of comfort and luxury, at the edge of an old vineyard where the wildlife and farm animals (alpacas, hairy coos, goats and galloways) will stop by for a chat. Bring the grandkids and a copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm for extra talking points. www.strawhousebnb.com
- Earth & Soul Retreat offers the perfect escape for a couple or single. The secluded off-grid, rammed-earth cabin has a fully-equipped kitchen, bathroom and outside stone bath and a firepit. www.earthandsoulretreat.com.au
- Cannon Creek Cabins is a welcome new option for families or small groups, offering camp sites and heated "sleep cabins" (no ensuite), plus a custom-built guest house with gourmet kitchen, well-appointed bathrooms, large communal dining area and free wifi.www.cannoncreekcabins.com.au
For more information, visit www.granitebeltwinecountry.com.au