In The Taratory discovers The Fireside Festival (and takes the long way home) | HerCanberra

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In The Taratory discovers The Fireside Festival (and takes the long way home)

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One of our favourite things about August is the Fireside Festival, a month long series of events that embraces winter and all that this season has to offer. The Festival is all about curling up by the crackling fire with some hearty winter cuisine, while enjoying a glass of fine local red with loved ones and friends.

This year, the Fireside calendar is packed to the brim with winter-themed events with everything from degustation dinners, master classes, truffle hunts, live music, horse rides, chocolate appreciation evenings and art exhibitions… We’ve teamed up with four lovers of great local food and wine to take you on a journey around the Fireside Festival in a different BMW vehicle from Rolfe Classic BMW each weekend during August: so far, we’ve seen Le Bon Vivant and Andrew and Emelia’s adventures…and today, it’s Tara Cheyne from In The Taratory’s turn. You’ll be able to follow their posts on social media, and live vicariously through their adventures in blog posts on HerCanberra.

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 When I pick up the BMW X5 from Rolfe Classic on Friday afternoon, I’m nervous. Really nervous. I’ve never driven anything bigger than a (small) sedan before, and I’m intimidated. The plan is that Boyfriend will drive most of the weekend – after all, the car’s really a guy thing, right? – but first I need to drive it out of the dealership.

An hour later, and I’m finding excuses to not get out of the car – ever again. My phone’s hooked up via bluetooth, I’ve voice-activated my fourth phone call, and I’m purposely getting the car lost down streets in suburbs I’ve never been in – simply because I’m enjoying driving it so much. On the way home, I attempt a tight u-turn where I’ve only ever had confidence in my Suzuki Swift in pulling it off – and the BMW X5 does it sweetly. Maybe Boyfriend won’t be driving so much after all!

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The next morning, we set out towards Murrumbateman and I’ve reluctantly let Boyfriend take the wheel – but it means I get to play with the Navigation System Professional (basically a whole heap of features which work on the large control display). Having nailed voice activation already, I use the iDrive Touch Controller to program in our destination.

The one word that describes the BMW X5 best is intelligent. The Controller can be used as a scrolling wheel (like you get with an iPod), or you can use your finger to write letters on it. When I’ve chosen our destination, the navigation pops up on the control display and it’s highly detailed, even indicating the nearest petrol stations.

But the best features of the BMW X5 are its safety features – everything about it is designed to reduce risk and leave you open to enjoying what you’re there for: driving. So that your eyes don’t have to leave the road, the speedometer – and the navigation! – is projected onto the windscreen, as well as warnings: if the car in front of you suddenly brakes and you’re too close or if a pedestrian appears, a warning displays, and the brakes can automatically activate if necessary. When you’re hurtling down a highway, the wheel gives a slight shudder if it feels you’re slightly leaving your lane.

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We cruise with ease to our first destination: Burnelee Excursions on Horseback. Burnelee hosts rides every weekend, with two hour excursions starting from $85 per person. I’ve got basically zero experience with horses, but Lindsay and his daughter Rachel accommodate all levels of experience. Today they’ve chosen Tapper for me to ride, and Lindsay spends a lot of time making sure all the riders are comfortable, safe and in control before we set off.

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Tapper is a true gentleman – calm but responsive – and a pleasure to ride. We begin a steady climb through a thick forest of scribbly gum. Rachel and Lindsay remain relaxed but alert throughout the ride, which helps me relax, and soon we’re as high as the restaurant in Black Mountain Tower, with views of the Brindabellas flitting through the trees.

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We trot the horses for short distances, and then make our descent out of the trees, which reveal the lush, green side of the property. I haven’t seen greenery like this in a long time, and I’m surprised to see it so close to Canberra. (Tapper enjoys a good bit of grass, too!) As our confidence builds, the landscape begins to change and I find myself enjoying the small challenges and feeling more and more in sync with Tapper.

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The weather’s held out, and the sun’s shining as we arrive back to the cars – to complete it all, there’s a crackling outdoor fire to roast marshmallows, and hot chocolates are poured and served with cookies baked by Rachel. It’s the perfect end to a lovely ride, and I’m sorry to say goodbye to Tapper – I really feel like we had a connection!

But then I realise that we’re going back to the BMW X5 – and it’s my turn behind the wheel again. Our derrieres are a little tender from all the horse riding, but the seat warmers do a lot to ease any discomfort. I love that we can tailor the temperature in the car for where we’re each sitting – I’ve got a high core temperature and don’t feel the cold much, and this way there’s no argument if I’ve got my air con set a little cooler.

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Back home, we drop our dog Cooper off at the in-laws, and pack small suitcases into the BMW X5’s enormous boot – we’re off on a staycation at East Hotel in Kingston! We pull up out the front and check-in to our level 5 room, and then take the BMW X5 underneath to park it. The surround view and park distance control help ease the car into the spot: on the control display we’ve got a bird’s eye view of the car’s proximity to what’s around it, and the park distance control beeps if you’re nearing a wall or another car, and shows you exactly where it might be looking a bit tight.

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The one bedroom apartment welcomes us warmly, with a bottle of Ravensworth’s Shiraz Viognier and three blocks of Canberra-made Little Monster chocolate. There’s plenty of storage space, a washing machine and a dryer, coffee-making facilities, free wifi, a large TV in the lounge and one in the bedroom, and – most importantly – a large, deep spa-bath. I love how personalised the apartment is; it’s been thoughtfully curated, and feels more like a home than a hotel room. Outside the room, the hotel also boasts a gym, Kids’ XBox rooms, bicycles to help you tour Canberra, and an extensive library in the lobby (…together with lolly jars where you’re free to help yourself!)

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We’re booked in for dinner at Ox Eatery, located on East Hotel’s ground floor, and take our seats in a cosy booth. Ox Eatery’s all about the meat, with a focus on French or rotisserie style – and my eyes and nose feast on the spinning rotisseries of chicken, lamb and pork belly. In addition to the meats are tasting plates, designed to share – and there are well-priced combinations of your choice of tasting plates and rotisserie meats (removing ordering envy!)

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We start with a generous piece each of spicy, lemony-sweet haloumi, moreish arancini balls and a small bucket of prawns marinated in whiskey and cayenne pepper, but it’s today’s special of ocean trout in parsnip puree with watercress which makes the biggest impression: the flesh flakes away, and melts in the mouth.

You’d think we wouldn’t be able to fit anything else in – and there’s still the promise of wine and chocolate up in the room – but there’s churros on the menu. Churros with Lindt milk chocolate dipping sauce, no less. They’re evenly sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, crunchy on the outside and fluffy and warm on the inside – and best of all they soak up that dipping sauce. Truly sated, we quite literally waddle back to our room!

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Next morning, the forecast rain has arrived in earnest. It’s looking dreary outside and while stretching in the enormous bed, I’m tempted to make good use of the East Hotel’s generous 12 midday check out. But, the day calls – and I’m a little more prepared to face the weather after enjoying a bath with super strong spa jets and lathering myself in the range of Appelles Apothecary products available.

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We’ve established that the BMW X5 is a pleasure to drive when it’s clear and bright, but I’m keen to see how it handles in less than favourable conditions. We’re on our way back to Murrumbateman, but to make things even more interesting we decide to take the long way there, via the windy Mountain Creek Road.

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The BMW X5 grips the wet, windy roads, leans into the corners without that tipping feeling you get in other SUVs, and when we hit a dirt road it doesn’t feel any different from driving normally – whatever we throw at it, it adapts. Leaving the sun roof open (with the glass closed!) lets in heaps of light. The height of the car and the seats means we’ve always got great views, but it’s even more obvious today on this beautiful stretch of road (which seems like it’s actually showing off for us in the rain). It’s also here that we really get a sense of just how powerful the car is – the acceleration is incredibly responsive (and, well, fast!) and we comfortably overtake cars in areas where I’d normally be worried that my car didn’t have enough grunt.

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We arrive at the lovely Shaw Vineyard for a wine tasting, before lunch at Flint in the Vines. Shaw has a few surprises, including an art show in an old shearing shed, with work by local artist Ruth Dodd, a wall inside the main building with exquisitely painted Italian ceramics for sale, and a range of other local artisan products for sale, including chocolates and mustards. The winery itself has a range of highly-rated wines, but the standouts for me are the half-dry Isabella Riesling (named after the original owner of the property), the citrusy Sparkling Semillon, and the refreshing and fun Riscato (a version of moscato).

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I’ve heard people rave about Flint in the Vines, and I’m excited to finally experience what everyone else has been talking about. Flint is embracing the truffle season, and my eye’s immediately drawn to the special of baked truffle camembert, served with apple puree and warmed ciabatta. This is clearly an entree intended for sharing, but when it comes out I realise there’s no way I’ll be sharing it. There are layers of truffle in the gooey, warm cheese and the taste – particularly when matched with the apple puree – is truly heavenly. Boyfriend enjoys quick fried squid, coated in a light chilli batter and served with citrus aioli.

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For main, Boyfriend’s picked the pan roasted salmon, served in a pumpkin red curry. Like the ocean trout last night, the salmon falls apart beautifully and Boyfriend is impressed with just how well the curry matches the salmon without overpowering it. I’ve ordered a 300g char-grilled sirloin, cooked rare, with wild mushroom sauce and a huge amount of light truffled kipfler chips (I barely make a dent in them).

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With the crackling fire, a glass of wine and this menu, it’s the perfect way to spend a dreary wintery day – and judging by the packed restaurant, we’re not the only ones who think so. Back in the BMW X5 – which prides itself on its storage space – I realise that the space designed to hold 1.5 litre water bottles also holds our bottles of purchased wines perfectly!

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Our next stop is Four Winds Vineyard – a newer winery and the product of two families, who started selling their wines just a few years ago.  As well as superb wines (don’t walk out without a bottle of riesling), the cellar door serves pizzas straight from their wood-fire oven. The cellar door is large and bright even on a day like today, overlooks the vineyard (with the riesling planted closest to the door), and there’s attention to detail to everything: the tables, chairs and bench where the wine is served are all made from old wine barrels, and the bottoms of bottles brighten up the windows. Despite the size and openness, it’s not loud and winemaker Bill makes everyone who walks in the door feel at home.

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A bit down the road, Clonakilla needs no introduction: they’ve been making award-winning wines for years, and in 2013 Tim Kirk was named winemaker of the year – no small feat! While small, the cellar door is inviting, and it’s a pleasure to talk about such successful Canberra wines with people so very passionate about making them. The famous Shiraz Viognier (98 points from James Halliday) isn’t on tasting, but the wines that are are still a delight. My pick is the silky muscat, or the slightly spicy O’Riada (pronounced O’Reader) Shiraz.

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 After our experience at East Hotel, I think I’m sold on this whole staycation thing, so I’m keen to learn more about the bed and breakfast in Poachers Way, Country Estate Schonegg (which means ‘pretty corner’). Interestingly, Tim Kirk was Schonegg’s very first guest when they opened about a decade ago! Schonegg’s rooms are named after different types of wine (fitting!). Some rooms are pet-friendly, and others are family-friendly, while the deluxe and premium rooms come with double spas.

What really I like about Schonegg is how private it feels, and the sweeping views each room has over the lush countryside. The tariff includes a glass of local wine and a cheese plate, as well as a continental and a la carte cooked breakfast: owner Evelyn’s breakfast speciality is black forest pancakes (I’m sold).

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As we wave goodbye at Schonegg, it’s with a heavy heart that I realise that our unforgettable weekend is ending. In an effort to make it last that little bit longer, and to savour every last moment in the BMW X5, I insist that we take the long way home. Naturally.

A huge thank you to Rolfe Classic BMW and Poachers Way for what was simply an incredible weekend: the BMW made travelling to these extraordinary destinations hugely enjoyable no matter the weather, and we truly are lucky to have such a diverse range of experiences right on our doorstep.

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