Settled by Prussian immigrants in 1839, Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement has always had a separate existence to nearby Adelaide. Though it’s only half an hour away by car, Hahndorf has its own distinct personality. Today it’s a charming village where the culinary traditions of yesteryear are kept alive and new ones are formed as providores work with premium produce from the surrounding Adelaide Hills.
The traditional lands of the Peramangk First People remain cooler than the nearby Adelaide plains year round. That means temperate summers and atmospheric winters when smoke curling from chimneys mingles with mist that shrouds the surrounding valleys. Spend a weekend eating your way through this beautiful region and it’s easy to see why it has long attracted artists from around the world.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Hahndorf.
8am: Enjoy breakfast with a difference
Leave Adelaide via the South Eastern Freeway, and in twenty minutes you’ll find yourself in leafy Aldgate. Stop at light-filled Fred Eatery, a friendly cafe specialising in creative comfort food that’s heavy on Hills produce. Classics like smashed avo and bircher muesli sit alongside more unusual options, including lightly spiced Indian eggs, breakfast gnocchi and barbecue pork belly served with an omelette.
9am: Stroll down Main Street with a strudel in hand
Fifteen minutes further into the Hills, ditch the car and take a stroll along Hahndorf’s pretty Main Street. It’s easy to get a sense of the town’s history as you walk along an avenue beneath trees as old as the cute 19th century cottages behind them. More than 100 shops line the street, keeping traditions like leatherworking, cheesemaking and even candlemaking alive. And if you find yourself getting peckish, there are several bakeries specialising in traditional German treats like strudels and bienenstich.
11am: Blend your own gin
Located on the northern edge of town, Ambleside distillery has won plenty of awards for gins that make liberal use of local botanicals. But if you think you can do better (with a little help from the distillers) join their gin blending masterclass and create your own personalised gin using an array of ingredients.
12pm: Pick the freshest strawberries you’ll ever taste
You’ll find Beerenberg Farm jams and spreads on breakfast tables around Australia, but their best product is only available at the farm itself. Wander through the strawberry patch on the other side of town, filling your basket with the plumpest berries, then get them weighed and tuck in, until bright red juice runs down your chin. But be warned: you won’t want to go back to supermarket fare after the fresh, flavoursome fruit you find here.
1pm: Pack a picnic
Wander back down Main Street and add a few key alfresco-feast ingredients to your basket full of strawberries. Stop by the Harris Smokehouse for delectable smoked fish, and pick up some rich, creamy cheeses and goat’s curd at Udder Delights. Order a fluffy pretzel from the German Cake Shop Bakery and some cured meats from The German Pantry to fill it with. Then top it all off with a block of crystallised violet and cacao nibs in dark chocolate from Chocolate @ No. 5. Spread a rug out in the Pioneer Gardens and graze to your heart’s content.
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2pm: Discover Australia’s first great landscape painter
The unique light and epic sunsets of the leafy Adelaide Hills have long attracted artists from around the world and none was more influential than Sir Hans Heysen. Famous for his images of the fertile Mount Lofty Ranges and the arid Flinders Ranges further north, his paintings depicted the landscape as he saw it rather than striving to make it look ‘European’. And he found the Adelaide Hills so enchanting that he spent most of his career living and painting at The Cedars – a rambling estate just outside Hahndorf.
Take a wander through the house, where Federation era furnishings hark back to an era when Heysen entertained eminent guests including Dame Nellie Melba, Anna Pavlova and Sir Edmund Hillary. Then visit Heysen’s purpose-built studio and that of his daughter Nora (the first female artist to win the Archibald Prize), before exploring the property on a self-guided walk that takes in the artist’s favourite spots. You might even recognise some of the views from his paintings.
6pm: Tuck into a hearty German feast
Hahndorf’s oldest licensed venue has been trading since the village was founded in 1839. You’ll find a few nods to current trends at the German Arms Hotel, but the traditional section of the menu gets the most love from patrons, and for good reason. Enjoy the warm country hospitality with a traditional wurst platter, smoked kassler chop or slow-cooked pork knuckle and sauerkraut, and wash it down with a stein of one of the imported German beers on tap.
8am: Say buenos dias at Comida
Hahndorf may be more famous for its Teutonic heritage, but Spanish-influenced Comida restaurant is also a great spot to start the day. Grab a seat on the spacious deck out back or wander around the veggie garden while you decide between a sweet or savoury breakfast. Choices include French toast-like torrijas with rhubarb, caramel and hazelnuts, and eggs with hearty kingfish and potato fritters.
9.30am: Take a scenic drive up the Onkaparinga Valley
Leave the freeway behind for the serpentine roads of the Onkaparinga Scenic Drive. Roll the windows down and draw in the clean Hills air as you wind past roadside stalls full of local fruit, rustic stone churches and pockets of remnant bushland that harbour large populations of koalas, kangaroos and even emus.
Pass through the charming villages of Verdun, Oakbank and Woodside before turning off to Lobethal – famous for its extravagant Christmas lights displays. Then loop back via the cool climate vineyards of Lenswood and easy-going Uraidla. The winding roads will require all of your concentration, so leave plenty of time to stop and take in the views of the rolling vineyards, blooming orchards and verdant valleys you encounter along the way.
12pm: Eat pizza in a 130-year-old church
Many a pizza lover has found enlightenment at Lost in a Forest, a converted church in the middle of Uraidla. With original features including the stained-glass windows, the pizzeria has a wood-fired oven that turns out delicious treats like the bahn mi pizza with 20-hour slow-cooked pork, and the ‘shroom’ piled high with different types of mushrooms (some from the nearby pine forests). The drinks list has an excellent selection of lo-fi drops from the surrounding region, many of which are hard to find elsewhere.
1.30pm: Get to know your pet nat from your pinot
If you had your interest piqued at Lost in a Forest, drive five minutes to the small village of Summertown. There the Summertown Aristologist’s new cellar door is the best place to get acquainted with ultra-cool natural wines from the Basket Range region. Nearby Ashton Hills kickstarted the pinot renaissance in the eighties and still leads the way with elegantly perfumed cool climate expressions, dispensed from a cosy cellar door that you’ll never want to leave.
On your way back towards Hahndorf, stop off at The Lane. This cellar door offers stunning views over the adjacent vineyards, and the range of experiences on offer includes structured tastings and tours with a winemaker, as well as a chance to try five different styles of shiraz or chardonnay from around the Adelaide Hills.
7pm: Enjoy dinner with a view of the Flinders Ranges
Not only is Haus Hahndorf’s largest restaurant, it’s the only place where you can look at an original Hans Heysen while you dine. The Camp at Wonoka Creek is the artist’s largest watercolour and has been proudly on display since its purchase in 2017. The extensive menu stretches to several pages and the wine list is even longer; fortunately dishes like 12-hour slow-cooked ribs, lamb shank pie and vegan curry each have a suggested drink pairing.
Need a place to stay?
Hahndorf is home to several stunning accommodations options hosted by the Haus Group. The Manna by Haus, Ascend Hotel Collection, situated on the heritage-listed township’s Main Street in the heart of Hahndorf, offers uniquely charming accommodation with a variety of rooms to suit every traveller. The Studios by Haus, Ascend Hotel Collection offers the ultimate in luxury in the centre of town. The Lodge by Haus is a cozy Hahndorf hotel base from which to explore the areas rich hospitality.
About the writer
After spending years as a music journalist and beer taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins sold everything he owned and spent three years travelling the world. He now writes about his experiences on the road, both abroad and at home in Adelaide. Alexis has written for Australian Traveller, Qantas, Virgin, Lonely Planet, Wild, and many other publications. He’s currently undertaking a comprehensive search for McLaren Vale’s best value bottle of wine.
Cover image courtesy Udder Delights