It’s all fairly relative when considering the definition of a fun night out. For us, driving through the countryside while the sun spectacularly set in big swathes of red and orange and pink over the hills and vineyards, heading for Canowindra to catch the evening ‘Balloon Glow’ which marks the launch of the town’s week long hot air balloon challenge festivities, was a pretty magical Saturday night.
Of course, considering that The Italian has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, where the height of good Saturday night times consisted of getting a takeaway sandwich and choosing between Sprite or Fanta (no wine, no women, no song. definitely no pork), standing on a country village football field with a glass of local cellar door wine in hand felt pretty good to him. Watching more than ten giant hot air balloons inflate and then synchronise lighting up to musical gems such as Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ was merely the pièce de résistance.
Canowindra is the ‘Ballooning Capital of Australia’ – and it’s also currently a movie set. It is most definitely charming. A frontier village settled soon after the foundation of Bathurst in 1815, the place started bustling in the 1840s. A wander down the old main Gaskill street (which is a National Trust Conservation Area and listed on the NSW Heritage Register) takes you straight back in time. Check out the River Bank Gallery and the Swinging Bridge cellar door while you’re there (Gourmet Traveller voted this one of the best cellar doors in NSW).
We went for a drive to check it out the weekend previously, on our way to visit Cowra’s Japanese Gardens (yeah baby, we really know how to live fast. As an aside, we’re experiencing great relief at the slower pace of life after chronically over-travelling the world the last decade). Canowindra’s best-kept secret is the Canowindra Trading Post – a two-story treasure trove of antique furniture and contemporary homeware stuff, with a huge garden and outdoor cafe. Right next door is Taste Canowindra, which in true Canowindra-style triples up as a restaurant, cellar door / bottle shop and art gallery.
There are vineyards, lots of them for such a small town (population approx. 2,000). We didn’t get a chance to visit, we’re going to have to go back, but here’s an overview: Gardners Ground, Rosnay Organic, Swinging Bridge, Toms Waterhole Wines, and Wallington Wines. Interestingly, Canowindra seems to be predominantly on-trend organic. To top it all off, you can catch a hot air balloon from the paddock next to Toms Waterhole cellar door and cafe. Hooray.