For many, a kid-free weekend away looks like a sandy beach, smells like salt air and feels like a shot of Vitamin D. But rather than head east to the coastline, why not make like one of the Pet Shops Boys and ‘Go West’ to inhale the beauty of Toowoomba and the Southern Queensland Country?
OK, I’m going to admit it straight off the bat. It’s been the best part of a decade since I’ve packed a cut lunch and headed to the wild west for the weekend. For the most part, for my family, weekend escapes involve some kind of beach, sunscreen and lots of magazines. So when opportunity knocked last month to take a kid-free ‘Breathe Break’ adventure in the country with hubby, I jumped at the chance.
In theory, Toowoomba feels so far away from the east coast. But, just 90 minutes along the most relaxing and scenic thoroughfare (and a few minutes up a really steep bit at the end, passing sluggish trucks and VW Kombis) and you’re knocking on Toowoomba’s front door. In fact, that was the first box of the weekend ticked: The Warrego Highway ain’t no congested Bruce Highway or M1. It’s easy, stress free and picturesque. Tick.
Accommodation options in Toowoomba and surrounding areas are varied. You can find yourself in a stylish CBD hotel overlooking Queens Park with all the mod cons and delightfully helpful reception staff (yes, we’re looking at you Quest Toowoomba), or maybe a heritage B&B-type setting is more to your liking? In fact, you could choose a converted church, mountain cabin or even a pet-friendly abode to rest your head, and paws, during your country weekend adventure.
One thing about Toowoomba that has changed immensely since I was last ‘up the mountain’ is the food and coffee scene. While scouring the CBD on foot on our first day in town, we were impressed to find funky hidden-away cafes, restaurants and other eateries to rival those we’ve enjoyed in cities around the world. Ground Up was one laneway café typical of the foodie revolution going on in Toowoomba right now. A true hidden treasure, on the day we stopped by, this place was heaving with customers wanting their morning caffeine fix or a plate of trendy breakfast nosh. It offered atmosphere aplenty via clever and quirky interior design, old-school tunes and loads of happy chatter.
Foodie options in Toowoomba are as vast as the accommodation options. For example, at Kajoku, we delighted in Japanese and Korean cuisine including croquettes, fried chicken, dumplings, yakitori and (old fave) edamame, while hubby scratched his itch for meat by barbecuing pork belly at our table. Bloke heaven. At iconic Picnic Point Restaurant we dined among the clouds it seemed, at 710 metres above sea level, enjoying views across the Great Dividing Range with our chunky bruschetta, duck pie and baked salmon. And at Artisan Pizza, we enjoyed a window seat overlooking historic 100-year-old CBD buildings and the most satisfying pizza we’ve had in a long time. Think an irregular shaped “hand-stretched” base (which to me screams ‘pummeled with love’), glistening fresh toppings, king prawns and a mega bowl of anchovies on the side – because I can eat them by the bucketload and hubby will not have pizza contamination. No siree.
The one thing that stood out about our foodie experience in Toowoomba was the emphasis the locals place on fresh food. Blessed with fertile ground and therefore some of the best produce around, the local experts simply add love and attention and they come up with amazing meals for visiting guests.
One Brisbane local who also calls herself a Southern Queensland Country local is Jocelyn Hancock. Better known as the Jocelyn behind Jocelyn’s Provisions in Fortitude Valley as well as more recently, Cake & Bake in West End, Jocelyn’s family home at Killarney near the New South Wales border oozes long-lunch appeal. With wide country views through a wall of glass doors, the smell of freshly roasted beef wafting from her bright kitchen, bowls of the most vividly coloured sides, desserts TO. DIE. FOR, oh, and wine, lots of local Granite Belt wine, you’re hard pressed leaving this bubble of contentment. Thank the fashion gods for stretchy pants. Jocelyn’s undeniable passion for fresh produce comes across in the tender love by which you see her prepare and serve her food, in how she talks about food and in how she speaks adoringly about her homegrown gs, her orchard and the beehives.
Southern Queensland Country is offering 15 different Breathe Break packages this autumn/winter. To choose your favourite, head to www.southernqueenslandcountry.com.au.