Mount Bellevue, Myrrhee review: Farmhouse appeal
Kate Nancarrow tucks into local smallgoods, wine and olives during a stay in the country.
So there I was, slicing up a Jack Horner sausage made out of beef minced from Mount Bellevue's Welsh black cattle and a few carefully placed plums, when I glanced out the window and saw a relative of the beast who had died to provide our family of four with Friday-night dinner.
It was one of those moments that could've gone either way ... I could've abandoned the sausage and embraced vegetarianism and the still-living bovine relatives, or I could've admired the beast on the hill beyond and savoured the sausage within. I chose the latter.
Mount Bellevue is a farm holiday with a difference; it's not all pat, pat, swoon and the paddocks aren't filled with miniature animals looking to be hand-fed. No, it's a productive, working farm.
The farm, in the well-established food and wine area of the King Valley – south of Milawa, north of Mansfield and east of Benalla – has a shop on-site that sells vacuum-sealed cuts of its beef, sausages of many flavours, prepared foods such as lasagne or meatballs made from its cattle, as well as Jemima Jones olive oil pressed from olives grown on the slopes of Mount Bellevue.
And for those who can't eat steak without a glass of red, Mount Bellevue has that covered too – growing grapes on the farm for local winery Redbank and selling them at cellar-door prices.
The overall feeling from the farm, which also has goats, chickens, guinea fowl, ducks and horses, is of bountiful variety and a productive use of some spectacularly beautiful land.
On a high point, five kilometres above the tiny settlement of Myrrhee, Mount Bellevue offers a fresh, invigorating, elevated and isolated retreat – and if a chorus of "The hills are alive ..." doesn't come to you while walking its slopes and trails, you're not really trying.
We went just as the four of us but Mount Bellevue has many accommodation options that would make a group visit work well. The owner, Winnie Jones, and family live in the main stone homestead that has two guest suites – The Eyrie and The Froggery – in another stone building adjoining the tennis court and solar-heated pool. The Eyrie is on the upper floor and The Froggery on the ground floor. They have small snack-style kitchen areas and a sleeping/sitting room.
These are ideal for couples but we needed the larger set up of The Cattleman's accommodation, further down the hill. This low-slung, vine-draped two-bedroom, painted brick house sits a few hundred metres from the homestead and can be turned into a three-bedroom, larger-family stay by opening the interconnecting door to a one-bedroom apartment, The Vigneron's, next door.
The Cattleman's is warm and comfortable on a relentlessly wet weekend. The living room has leather couches and chairs, a wood-fired heater and large windows staring out over the mountains. The beds are comfy and the well-equipped kitchen has a dishwasher.
We arrive after a long, wet drive and walk into a spotless house that welcomes us with a large vase of freesias on the bench, a big bowl of chocolates, a tea and coffee basket overflowing with flavours and a bag of muesli biscuits.
Our pre-ordered Welsh and continental breakfasts are already in the fridge: Mount Bellevue's herb and garlic sausages, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and eggs, as well as orange juice and good coffee. The continental breakfast features croissants from Milawa, local jam and four cereals to choose from.
A farm in the middle of Victoria's premier food and wine region is never going to offer two teabags and rubbish bread but the quality and quantity is much appreciated. When Saturday morning dawns, we devour yet more sausages and prepare to explore the King Valley, famous for the wine and food being produced by descendants of the Italian tobacco-growing families who arrived in the 1950s.
These families have long since abandoned the dark side of agriculture and almost every farm now seems to have wine or food or both ... with many using their converted tobacco kilns as sales or dining areas.
We manage a big circuitous drive around Whitfield, via the King Valley to Milawa and then Beechworth, back to Oxley and Moyhu before landing back at Mount Bellevue laden with cheese, wine, chocolate, olives and salami – but still lamenting all the foodie signposts we couldn't explore.
A wet weekend keeps us inside much of the time – sampling, nibbling, sipping, reading and snoozing – but it turns out the best farm holidays don't have to be about hay rides and cow dung. Occasionally, we put down our books and wine, glance out the window and admire the mighty beasts of Mount Bellevue.