3 May 2024

Vintage Rail Tours partners with Piccolo, De Bortoli and Calabria to showcase nation’s food bowl

| Oliver Jacques
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Kids in front of train

A special delivery from the Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory was made by Boys to the Bush participants in March. Photo: Facebook.

Some of the Riverina’s most prominent food and wine producers are being showcased in four annual historical rail tours running from Sydney to Griffith via Coolamon, Temora and Junee.

Since March 2021, Vintage Rail Tours has run trips to the Riverina in restored Southern Aurora carriages, which were part of overnight express passenger trains that operated between Sydney and Melbourne between 1962 and 1986.

The five-day journeys depart from Sydney’s Central Station and go via Goulburn and Orange to the Riverina before returning through the Blue Mountains.

“It’s like having five days in business class,” operator Simon Mitchell said.

“We have a butler in every sleeping carriage, which takes 20 guests. Nearly all our guest attendants are former Qantas long-haul flight attendants.

“We give our guests a choice of things to do when they come to the Riverina. We do a wine tasting in the underground cellar at Calabria Wines, and we visit their museum. We also do a tour of Ann Furner’s Naturally Dried Prunes farm.”

There’s also the option of visiting Emeri De Bortoli’s famous private garden and the Coolamon Cheese Factory.

Emeri De Bortoli in front of cherry blossoms

Emeri De Bortoli in her famous garden. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A chance meeting with Griffith chef Luke Piccolo saw another item added to the itinerary.

“We were at Limone Restaurant when we were doing a recognisance for our Riverina rail tour; we got talking with Luke [Piccolo, the owner] and he invited us to the farm the next day,” Mr Mitchell said.

“So we started doing a breakfast at the Piccolo Family Farm; that’s been one of the absolute highlights for our guests. What Peter, Luke and Bonnie are doing is a real credit to the region.

“We’ve also got a good relationship with Aquna Murray Cod. When we arrive in Griffith, they hand over the box of Murray Cod to our chef. It’s going to take the culinary world by storm; it’s an amazing product, the way it cooks and retains its temperature and moisture.

“We also go to the Whitton Malt House and learn about the southern cotton gin and the voyager maltings.

“Michael Maher from the Wagga Wagga Observatory visits us at Murrami where our tour stays before Griffith. The guests are always blown away by how clear the night sky is. We’ve got a bunch of moon chairs and Michael explains to people what they’re seeing in the night sky.”

A festival at Piccolo Family Farm.

A festival at Piccolo Family Farm. Photo: Piccolo Family Farm.

Mr Mitchell said it had shown domestic tourists a slice of Australia they previously never encountered.

“We’ve experienced a real increase in demand. We’ve had a lot of guests who previously did all their holidays on the coast; they’ve had their eyes opened to what the interior of NSW has to offer.

“Through the relationships we have developed, we can show people things they wouldn’t normally get to see.”

The next Riverina Rail Tour departs in August 2024 and can be booked on the Vintage Rail Tours website.

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