IT is no surprise that Italian migrants made the King Valley their home in the 1940s and 50s, declaring that this little patch of paradise reminded them of their beloved homeland.
The hills of the King Valley certainly resemble those of northern Italy and that early Italian influence lives on today in the valley’s culture.
Stretching five kilometres south from Wangaratta into the Alpine National Park, the King Valley includes the towns of Oxley, Milawa, Moyhu, Whitfield, Cheshunt and Myrrhee.
The popular tourist area has a rich history, having been home to bushranger Harry Power, lots of hard-working Chinese, who established market gardens during the gold rush days, and Italians, who planted tobacco.
These days, however, the tobacco fields have been replaced by rows of manicured vineyards and award-winning wineries.
It is perfect for winery hopping and boasts some of the highest altitude vineyards in the country, producing prosecco, riesling, shiraz, nebbiolo, sangiovese, barbera, verduzzo, brachetto and arneis, as well as rarer Italian varietals.
It’s a fun day trip from Albury-Wodonga with plenty of cellar doors, restaurants, cafes and farm gates to stop at, as well as scenic picnic areas.
From Albury-Wodonga head along the Hume Highway and take the Milawa-King Valley exit after about 80 kilometres.
Milawa, named in 1874 after being known only as The Square for many years, has lots of gourmet offerings and is a perfect place for a stop.
Brown Brothers has put it on the international stage since opening its doors in 1889, while the Milawa Cheese Company and Milawa Mustards have also made their mark.
There is lots of great produce available, so gather goodies for a picnic later in the day.
The small town of Oxley, a few kilometres from Milawa, is where the King River, named after Governor King by William Hovell in 1824 during the Hume and Hovell overland excursion, flows from the mountains to a junction with the Ovens River in Wangaratta.
Turn left onto the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road and drive through Moyhu, Edi and Whitfield high in the King Valley.
The scenery is amazing and along the may you may notice that the Chinese left their mark — Fossangs Road was named after an early Chinese family.
Chinese settler Bill Chong and his wife, Bessie, ran the Whitfield Cafe in the 1940s and ’50s and locals say they often sold 40-dozen homemade pies on a Saturday afternoon when the footy was on.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Daily top five activity recommendations
There are also some great swimming and fishing holes with water smoothed pebble beaches, ideal for a quick dip.
Kayaking and canoeing are popular summer activities around here.
Among the natural features you don’t want to miss is Paradise Falls, which in season has a spectacular drop of 31 metres to the creek bed below.
You can get to the falls via Cheshunt — just follow the signs turning right into the Wabonga Plateau State Park section of the Alpine National Park.
There are also some excellent views, including Powers Lookout on the Mansfield-Whitfield Road which was once the haunt of the “gentleman” bushranger Harry Power, who taught Ned Kelly all he knew.
Lake William Hovell, 18 kilometres from Cheshunt, is a great recreational area offering walks, fishing and picnic and barbecue areas.
The lake is located on the King River, with access from Cheshunt via the Upper King River Road.
The area is home to some of the most spectacular rugged alpine scenery with panoramic views.
Further along the Upper Rose River Road you will come to beautiful spots including Bennies Campsite, Mount Cobbler, Lake Cobbler and Dandongadale Falls, but the road is suitable only for 4WDs from Bennies onwards.
Another way to experience the Upper Rose River and the bridle trails through the mountains is on horseback. Take a trail ride or learn how to muster cattle with the Forge Family.
On the return trip, leave some time to drop into the historic Whitfield Mountain View Hotel with a licence dating back to the 1890s for a tasty pub meal and visit some of the many cellar doors to taste the latest King Valley offerings.
Fancy some bubbles? Follow the King Valley Prosecco Road trail, stopping at winegrowers who are producing excellent prosecco.
TAKE A SIDE TRIP TO WANGARATTA
HEAD to Wangaratta and enjoy a break in one of the city’s scenic parks and gardens within the town centre.
Take a walk along the Ovens River and through Apex Park or spend time in the central English-style King George V Gardens.
The sunken gardens of Merriwa Park, which are surrounded by waterways and feature a lagoon, fernery and bush walking paths, are a great place for a picnic.
For a swim, visit Sydney Beach, which is accessible from the eastern end of Ovens Street and only a short stroll from the CBD.
ON YOUR BIKE
The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail starts in Wangaratta and is more than 100 kilometres.
It follows the old railway track through spectacular and diverse scenery from Wangaratta to Bright with a loop to Beechworth and separate section from Rutherglen to Wahgunyah.
Cyclists can do the entire trail or choose sections. There are lots of food and wine experiences along the way.
High Country Bike Adventures (www.highcountrybikeadventures.com.au; (03) 5727 3784) and Riding High Cycling Tours (www.ridinghigh.com.au; (03) 5725 1343) can drop off/collect hire bikes by arrangement.
And the good news is that tired cyclists can be collected along the trail — again by arrangement.
Get the details at www.murraytomountains.com.au.
OTHER SUMMER DAYTRIPPERS YARNS: