The Hilltops Region is famous for charming country towns, epic landscapes, some great wine country, and most of all cherries. When we explore ‘west of west’ we like to take you on a road trip that explores the best of a region but also avoids the typical tourist paths to again show you the less known and unique finds along the way. Traveling to the Hilltops Region we explored Gunning, Jugiong, Young, and then Harden. The Hilltops Region is about a 3 – 3.5 hours drive from Western Sydney and is situated on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri and Ngunnawal People.
Starting your day, head down the Hume Highway and simply breathe. Big wide-open landscapes and space. Whenever we travel the mantra is to get off the main roads as much as possible and meet the locals. Our first stop is Gunning. An utterly charming country town bursting with character and great little finds. Park your car and walk the main street. There are some lovely old vintage shops, classic federation buildings, cafes, and stores. Be sure to check out the old Garage, which doesn’t seem to have changed in years, and for accommodation, you can’t go past the Merino Café B&B which is also a great spot for coffee.
Gunning has some great street art that shows some of its personality and it's worth wandering up and down the main street to spot them as you do a bit of retail therapy. Will & Russ was a lovely store that included some local designers and artisans, and the owner was great to chat to, in fact, the whole town was super friendly in that classic country hospitality way that makes you feel right at home.
Refueled, refreshed, and reinvigorated head next to Jugiong. This will divert you by about 30mins off the direct way to Young but it's absolutely worth it. Jugiong is home to what has to be one of the best country pub renovations you will see. A tiny town, just off the highway, and it's thronging with people from far and wide. Day-trippers from Canberra, people from far and wide, and yes people from Sydney that come just for lunch. It's that good.
The Sir George Hotel in Jugiong, the Long Track Pantry & their Cellar door, and Art Galley make up this little but very big hub. The Hotel brings together the best of local food and some great Australian wines with a contemporary country atmosphere. Great for brunch, a long lunch, or dinner, this town is a must-see. Again there’s accommodation, your own little black barn right next to the restored stone Hotel dating back to 1852.
Our next destination is Young, the commercial hub of the area and a lovely big sprawling and grand country town. The Road from Jugiong to Young winds through some rural landscapes and is highly recommended. Young is famous for its Cherries, which most people know it for but it’s also a central spot to access the Hilltop Wine Region which makes some great wines that are well worth exploring.
Head into the main street of Young and explore the town. The big wide streets hold some charming finds and great old buildings. There’s a local walking trail you can do which takes you to all the cool old buildings so you can explore the history and character of the town as you meander. Grab a coffee or some lunch from Hussy Speciality Roaster, based near the Railway Station (and the BIG Cherry – you can’t really miss it). If you’re driving in an electric vehicle the NRMA EV charging station is right behind them in the council car park.
Just off the main street is the Lambing Flat Museum, home to the Young Historical Society and the Green Ivy Café. The local museum, like many we discover, has an astonishing number of artifacts and pieces of memorabilia from the last few centuries. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and potter inside another beautiful old building.
Good food and good wine often go hand in hand and the Hilltops Wine Region is no exception, head on up to Grove Estate, not far out of town. They have a great range of wines, and the sparkling is a stunner plus and a great Nebbiolo Shiraz. While you’re making a little wine tour, head towards Ballinaclash Orchard and Vineyard which make a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon and offers some great food too. These are just two of the many wineries in the area and you can easily make a day or two of just exploring them in and around Young.
Next stop is Harden – Murrunburrah, one of the earliest settlements in South-Western NSW. Famous for the annual Harden races, which draw thousands of people every year. It’s also now home to a really significant sculpture that will become a new centre of attraction in town. ‘Bill the Bastard’ is an enormous bronze sculpture of Australia's greatest War Horse. It's captivating and if you drop in you might just meet the maker, Carl Valerius, who is as much a character as his artwork. Drop-in for a chat if you get the chance.
Harden is such a quaint and charming country town and is again full of character and charm. The town boasts great pubs, tea houses, cafes, and eateries along with an abundance of public art. Explore the dual townships and spend some time here on your way as you head home.