From making your own flavoured gin or signature fragrance to learning to cook from the pros, there's plenty on offer if you want to learn something new on your next South West getaway.
Now more than ever, travellers are looking to do something on their holidays — to pick up a skill, learn a new craft or make their own souvenir or meal — and all the better if it’s something with a distinct local flavour. In WA, few places offer broader scope for these kinds of hands-on activities than the Margaret River region, where the selection of workshops and classes reflects the area’s reputation as a foodie hub that offers visitors a generous slice of the good life.
1. A Class Act
Cooking classes as a holiday activity have surged in popularity in recent years and, given Margaret River’s reputation for food and fresh produce, it’s no surprise it has a good number to choose from.
Among the most established are the classes at Wildwood Valley Cottages, near Yallingup, which offers instruction in Italian, Thai and wood-fired cuisine in addition to four self-catering holiday cottages. Classes are hosted by Wildwood proprietors Sioban and Carlo Baldini, a couple with strong culinary credentials: she trained as a chef under Neil Perry and worked at acclaimed South-East Asian restaurant Longrain in Sydney, while he formerly ran a restaurant in Tuscany. Classes are limited to 10 people and include hands-on demonstrations and instruction before a five-course feast. The pair also run a private cooking school in the Italian town of Cortona and lead food tours of Tuscany.
See wildwoodvalley.com.au or phone 9755 2120.
2. Cape Crusader
Swedish-born chef Michael Elfwing has worked in some of the world’s most prestigious kitchens, including at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in the UK. These days he calls WA’s South West home and is the executive chef at up-market boutique hotel Cape Lodge, midway between Yallingup and Margaret River. Each of his regular cooking classes covers a three-course menu that participants can recreate at home, working with local produce and themes ranging from cooking with truffles to vegetarian cookery and French bistro classics. Other upcoming classes including cooking with marron and festive menus for Christmas time. The classes are followed by a three-course long-table lunch served in Cape Lodge’s restaurant, which has a lovely overlook over one of the property’s lakes — or, if you prefer, you can join just for the lunch. The restaurant is also open for dinner and breakfast.
See capelodge.com.au or phone 9755 6311.
3. Virgin Territory
Margaret River’s Vasse Virgin is known for its soaps and skin and body products made using extra-virgin olive oil, and also produces its own olive oils, olives and other gourmet foods. If you’re feeling crafty, the company also offers a range of classes and workshops, and recently ran its first ever natural olive oil soap-making workshop in response to customer demand. Regular workshops at the Vasse Virgin Soap Factory in Wilyabrup include a 90-minute natural perfumery class to create your own signature perfume, the chance to make a natural lip balm using honey, shea butter and beeswax, and an EVOO 101 masterclass incorporating tastings of local and international extra-virgin olive oils to help you learn how to choose the best olive oil to use at home.
See vassevirgin.com.au or phone 9755 6111.
4. Coffee Culture
A pioneer in the Margaret River coffee world, Yahava KoffeeWorks was founded in 2001 by Dutchman Alex Kok, otherwise known as the Koffee Baron. These days the company sells its coffees, teas and more at its shopfronts in the South West, Perth and Singapore, and coffee lovers keen to perfect their morning cuppa can also sign up for Yahava’s two-hour Coffee at Home course. Designed for amateur coffee enthusiasts, it includes an introduction to coffee roasting alongside a focus on practical skills including grinding coffee beans and steaming milk, and some tips on maintaining and cleaning your machine. Introductory and “skill booster” courses for professional baristas are also available.
See yahava.com.au or phone 9755 0786.
5. Gin Is It
Having grown out of Albany’s Great Southern Distilling Company (known for the award-winning Limeburners whisky range), the Margaret River Distilling Company is set amid forest on the edge of town, offering casual dining and tastings of its whiskies and spirits. But if you’re after something more “educational”, there’s also the chance to become an honorary distiller for the day. Its Giniversity experience covers the history of gin and the art of distilling, and you’ll choose from dried botanical ingredients such as herbs and spices to produce your own bespoke 500ml bottle to celebrate your “graduation” and take home at the end of the day. This three-to-four hour, hands-on “postgrad” option includes gin tastings and lunch, while there’s also an abridged “undergrad” option for those short on time.
See distillery.com.au or phone 9757 9351.
6. Cheese, Wine, Yum
Cheese and wine are a classic combination, and have long gone hand in hand for visitors to Margaret River — so it makes sense that Yallingup Cheese Company head cheesemaker Alana Langworthy has an extensive background as a winemaker. Having studied cheese making in France and Australia, she now produces a range of artisan cheeses using organic South West milk and offers classes at her cheesery near Yallingup.
Classes focus on the likes of camembert, brie, mozzarella and fetta, and typically run for between two and three hours. Each class includes a cheese and wine tasting to give you an understanding of different types of cheese and how they pair with wines. Also coming up is a Platter PhD class, which will cover how to create a lavish grazing platter for parties. It’ll be running at the end of November — just in time for summertime and the festive season.
See yallingupcheese.com.au or phone 9755 2121.
- For more on activities and workshops in the Margaret River region, go to margaretriver.com.
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