Next week I’m going to Italy. Not quite to the Italian Peninsula but to the next best thing – the Mornington Peninsula.
Tedesca Osteria is the closest I’ve found to an authentic agriturismo in Australia. In keeping with traditional Italian farmstays, much of the produce at Tedesca is grown on site, the food is amazing and the welcome is warm and generous.
The difference at this Victorian version is that the accommodation is also exceptional. And while there are no farm animals to speak of, the neighbour’s donkeys can be heard braying in the mornings.
Tedesca opened just pre-pandemic in 2020 and, despite lockdowns and border closures, has become one of the most sought-after reservations in Victoria. Possibly Australia.
By some stroke of tremendous luck I’ve scored a booking at this red-hot restaurant and country inn, and I’m ridiculously excited. It’s the closest I’ll come to Europe without actually getting on a plane.
Chef Brigitte Hafner, her architect partner, Patrick Ness, and long-time collaborator James Broadway, the maître d’ and wine guy, transport guests to a faraway place over long lunches (Friday to Monday) and Saturday dinners at their barn-like Red Hill restaurant.
The heart of the open kitchen is a wood-fired oven and grill from which Hafner and co-produce house-made pasta, wood-baked fish, biodynamic garden vegetables, and dry-aged, flame-frilled ribeye. Broadway takes care of wines, offering an exceptional selection from his cellar in a subterranean water tank.
“The idea is that we get everything on the day or the day before and it goes straight onto the plate,” Hafner says of their food philosophy. “The menu just comes about as a response to the garden.”
Next door is a three-bedroom farmhouse and a couples-only converted artist’s studio, with a stand-alone bath set in a greenhouse conservatory. I’ve stayed in both and honestly can’t say which I like better. Maybe the house, because Hafner bakes a cake (a London Pippin apple crumble) and fresh bread for me, and the kitchen is so well stocked with delicious things to eat and drink. “It’s a country house,” Hafner says. “We want it to feel abundant.”
Tedesca Osteria is one of those rare Australian places that captures the European vibe so perfectly. Another is Le Mas, a “petit hôtel” – actually an 1857 farmhouse and vineyard – in the Barossa.
Set in pretty Para River valley, the four-suite property has been modelled on a traditional Provençal farmhouse (“mas”) and even has a French hostess. Plus there’s a petanque court, parterre gardens and grapevines. Everything, except the occasional raucous parrot, screams southern France.
It’s a feeling reinforced by guest mealtimes where breakfasts involve baguettes, croissants and herb omelettes, and three-course dinners (Wednesday to Saturday) run to steak frites, coq au vin and crème caramel. Le Mas’s private cellar collection is at your disposal.
There’s strong Gallic vibes, too, at the Red Feather Inn in Hadspen, just outside Launceston.
The inn is a convict-built Georgian coach-house that owner Lydia Nettlefold has transformed into a Provençal inn of five rooms and suites, decorated in neutrals and pastels with fine bed linen and deep baths.
Red Feather runs regular cooking classes and serves dinners (Thursday to Saturday) of produce from the garden and Nettlefold’s farm. All prepared à la Française, naturally, such as grilled quail with quince vinaigrette and eye fillet with red wine jus and potato dauphinoise.
Out west, Le Manoir is a French-style B&B set in 3ha of gardens at Carramar, about 30 minutes north from the Perth CBD. It offers just two queen rooms – the “bonjour” room and the “petit Paris” room – expansive gardens, a swimming pool and picnic hampers.
Guest experiences include “French immersion weekends” where you can spend your days surrounded by people speaking a beautiful language you don’t understand and classes where you learn to bake French bread or cook three-course meals.
The place I’m most keen to visit is Guestlands at Arcadia, in the Hills District north of Sydney. On the website, it looks like a medieval Italian village, which is exactly what owners Jenny and Peter Guest had in mind when they built it.
Its four queen suites front a cobbled laneway and elaborate lakeside gardens partly modelled on one they saw at Bellagio on Lake Como.
Guestlands opened mid-pandemic in September 2020 and, lockdowns aside, they’ve been inundated with Italo-philes.
Everyone is starving to travel, Pete says. Guestlands lets them have a taste of Italy – complete with vintage red Vespa and a 1964 Fiat Bambino – without sitting on a plane for 20 hours.
Weekends are booked out until May. “It’s just crazy,” Pete says. “We couldn’t have predicted the actual passion and connection that Australia has for Italy. We’re hoping Italy opens soon to take the pressure off.”
Australia has entire townships that do convincing impersonations of European villages. Hepburn Springs in Victoria’s Central Highlands is a Swiss-Italian outpost that hosts an annual spring Festa but channels Ticino vibes year round. Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, recalls a Prussian village with its traditional architecture and German cuisine. Both are at their most beautiful in autumn.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com