When it comes to regional towns there always seems to be some similarities, feelings that are often carried through the communities that are universal and are often felt by those visiting. Feelings of being welcomed, awaited and accepted even though you’re not local. It’s a feeling I adore and one that’s evident in spades in the southern New South Wales gem known as Albury.
I’ve been a bit of a frequent flyer in these parts with my travel shows over the years and it’s been a delight to watch the city go from strength to strength when it comes to offering tourists excellent choices be it via cuisine, cultural experiences or getting active on or around Australia’s longest river, the mighty Murray, that flows along the edge of the city centre.
Gone are the days when the only decent restaurant available in these types of cities was the Chinese feed at the local bowlo! A lot of the biggish regional centres have attracted top chefs from the major cities and beyond who have had enough of the big city life and made the move to one that offers a more balanced lifestyle. Then again there are many home grown and nurtured chefs that have put in the hard yards and are becoming just as successful. During my few days in Albury I was lucky enough to sample the offerings from both.
Let’s start with one of my Albury favs, The River Deck sitting proudly on the banks of the Murray. The RiverDeck is open for brekky and lunch seven days a week and serves dinners on Friday and Saturday nights, delivering a unique blend of Modern Australian with a twist of Europe, thanks to head chef Ludo Baulacky, who has strutted his stuff in London and Mauritius. Managed with love by owners, Christa and Alex Smit, it is without doubt one of the premier dining establishments in the region and I do say a trip to Albury must include a visit here.
A really great spot to enjoy a little culture, and get a fine meal while you’re at it, is available in the centre of town at Murray Art Museum Albury. MAMA is a really terrific venue, a real contemporary art experience that not only displays an array of ever changing exhibitions from far and wide but also has solid connections with the surrounding region, which I think is once again a sign of what the city is about generally.
After you have perused the gallery I suggest you head to what is really the main entrance and enjoy a meal or a beverage or both at the aptly named Canvas. Such a lovely spot, outside in the sunshine overlooking a wonderful old church and a lush expanse of lawn area. Once again the cuisine on offer is absolutely top notch and the relaxed atmosphere makes a visit there even more enjoyable.
Now if you’re partial to a wee dram of whisky, a drop of gin, a morning coffee … or for that matter, if you’re a fella in need of a beard trim or a slick new haircut, you can get yourself all of that at Two Fingers Gentlemen’s Barbershop & Bar. This place is eclectic to say the least and in a way is a step back in time. One of its main aims was to serve the finest premium whisky to hard working blokes after a long day. It’s metamorphosed slightly and is definitely not a men’s only club. In fact, on my visit there were just as many females as males enjoying the relaxed and super comfy surrounds while enjoying a bite to eat, a spot of whisky or in my case a most delicious combo of gin and StrangeLove bitter grapefruit! Seriously it was one of the most refreshing, enjoyable drinks I have had in a long time. In fact, so good that I bought a case of StrangeLove to take home. Never thought I would be loving grapefruit juice! Two Fingers Gentlemen’s Barbershop & Bar is certainly worth a visit, even if it’s just to admire co-owner Chris Maney’s outstanding beard.
I enjoyed a pre-dinner splash at there and then made my way to what from the outside looked like a very unassuming venue. On stepping inside and meeting owner-operator Matt Fuller I was taken in by a very down-to-earth gentleman who oozed a certain charm. This theme continued as I eyed the restaurant space itself, nothing garish or overstated, just a comfortable, friendly atmosphere with a unique cross section of patrons all enjoying themselves. That’s where the humbleness ceased, because without doubt it’s the food that’s the star at Bistro Selle. Head chef Tara Davis is a genius! Creating dishes that (and I don’t mean to judge) belie her age. She has such a cherub-like face that it’s as if the angels themselves have blessed her with an ability to produce food from the heavens! I kid you not, my meal here was one of the best I’ve encountered in my many, many travels both here and abroad. I believe Matt and Tara form the perfect team. You must visit, and you should book first!
When it came to my choice of accommodation in Albury I choose to explore the newest player in town. Mantra is well known for its contemporary, comfortable properties all across the country and this is certainly evident with their newest offering in Albury. Nothing beats a comfy bed when you’re travelling, I believe it just makes you feel a little loved. The rooms are well designed and my room in particular was really well set out with an open style bathroom that had plenty of appeal. I also had a gorgeous view above the back of town across to the mountain range in the distance, which was a pleasure to wake up to. The hotel has a superb location and it’s an easy walk to just about everything you could want. Albury is a fairly flat city as well so nothing is too difficult to explore. Mantra also has its own in-house dining option which unfortunately I didn’t get a crack at, but it looks very inviting so I certainly will in the future.
A couple of must-dos:
- Take a stroll along the riverbank and admire the Wonga Wetlands.
- Check out the Albury Library/Museum which houses a very engaging permanent exhibition on the local history.
- Grab a bike from the Cycle Station and visit the Botanic Gardens and ride some of the 50kms of bike tracks on offer.
If you want help planning your Albury adventure head to www.alburycity.nsw.gov.au