We arrived down to the Apollo Bay area on Friday and were greeted by a strong southerly breeze and a sensational ‘show’ that the ocean was putting on with beautiful big waves crashing onto the rocks, just outside our ocean front accommodation.

The weather leading up to this Weekend Escape had been cold and wet, however we were fortunate to have a little luck on our side, as the magic of the Otways really came alive for us this weekend.

Everyone arrived with plenty of time to see the sun setting over the ocean and indulge in a few pre dinner drinks and our seafood focused antipasti selection. Mussels cooked in white wine and then grilled with buffalo mozzarella and thyme, together with marinated anchovies on beautiful local Irrewarra Casalinga bread preceded a Venetian inspired snapper risotto, locally caught in Apollo Bay with a lemon, caper and olive oil gremolata on the side – the perfect accompaniment. The Otways vineyards are few, however we sourced a soft pinot grigio and pinot noir from Brown Magpie, which made for a very nice regional wine focus. Our first meal together finished with a beautifully light vanilla pannacotta, with local strawberries drizzled over the top. Delicious.
Relaxed and content, we confirmed the start time for the next morning and had an “early” night as we had 125km and about 2000m of elevation to contend with on the Saturday.

Awaking to remarkably different weather conditions from the night before, we rode into the slightest hint of a south westerly breeze as we wound our way along the Great Ocean Road into and then past Apollo Bay, on our way to the very undulating road to Lavers Hill. Rugged bush and open flat lands and spectacular ocean views were the predominant landscape for the early part of our ride, before we took a turn onto our first gravel section for the day.

With the breeze now behind us, this 13km uphill stretch of quiet tracks, surrounded by large ferns and tall trees, was our first highlight of the day. There is something quite special and unquantifiable about being on gravel, on a road bike….. it just makes you smile.

We came off the gravel and were on our way to Beech Forrest, with the sun on our backs and a well earned lunch awaiting us. After 80km’s the first double smoked ham and brie baguette didn’t even touch the sides.

After refreshing and refuelling ourselves, we were ready for the final 45km’s. Having already taken care of most of the elevation for the day, it was “technically all down hill”. Getting under way again, we headed towards Turton’s Track, an absolutely spectacular stretch of bitumen that should make everyone’s “must ride list”. Twelve fantastic kilometres of rainforest, with a breathtaking stretch of winding uphill and flowing downhill road through its centre. Pure magic.

We popped out at the end of the track onto Skenes Creek Road for a short moment, and then before we knew it, we are off it again onto an another quiet country track, which took us to our last climb for the day up a gravel stretch. As we rolled over the crest of the hill, we were treated to a sensational view of the rolling green hills stretching into the deep blue ocean and the white beaches of the bay beyond. Seeing amazing vistas time and again, we made our way down the winding road to the little valley which took us back to our short homeward stretch along the Great Ocean Road. Overall, just an awesome day out on the bike with a great group of people.

With the riding wrapped up, it was time to unwind and relax, and enjoy the view of the ocean. Our aperitivo was a good one and was part of the conversation with a couple of our guests leading up to the weekend. Not only did we have our home made black olives, green tomatoes ‘sott’olio’ and preserved pine mushrooms, we also had a home made salami “taste off” with Michael – sharing some of the salami that he made earlier in the year and the cacciatore that we had made with Nancy’s family in June. It was very interesting to try the two side by side. With the same list of ingredients going into them, these two different style of salami were so different to each other, but both so delicious…and made for some fantastic conversation.

After slowly grazing on the antipasti as the sun set over the ocean, it wasn’t too long before another Venetian inspired dinner would be ready. We had decided in the lead-up to this weekend that it would be great to feature a particular region of Italian cuisine for each of our different weekend escapes, aligning them to our location in Victoria. So, being by the ocean, Venetian cuisine seemed fitting for this weekend. Our main meal was a locally sourced organic chicken, braised with a mix of porcini, swiss brown and portobello mushrooms and wine, paired with rosemary and garlic potatoes, and a delicious pink grapefruit and radicchio salad, which was a taste sensation. Accompanied by wines from the Veneto region and a wonderful polenta cake for dessert, to celebrate the first of Mary’s birthday cheers, this was a beautiful meal, shared. After a long day on the bike and a wonderful meal, it was time to retire.

Sunday…
Sunday was another sensational day, warm and only a light breeze. ‘Where had this come from?’ With a later start and a lighter ride, we took the opportunity to do the great Ocean Road while it was quiet. Words can’t really do this road justice. It is just an undulating, flowing thing of beauty that you can never tire of, and which just makes you smile as you roll along.

As is the tradition on our Weekend Escapes, we try to find someone who is doing interesting things with the region’s produce for our Sunday Lunch, and given we also had a birthday being celebrated in our group, we wanted this to be extra special for Mary. We absolutely struck gold at Bespoke Harvest in Forrest. Sitting on their deck, with the soft, warm breeze around us, we had a leisurely few hours indulging in their “Long Lunch”, which was eight amazing courses full of flavour, texture and colour, using all ingredients that had been sourced locally.

With a glass of wine, beautiful food and more great conversation, this was the only way to conclude another perfect Weekend Escape. We’re already looking forward to the next one, which is in spectacular Gippsland in February 2017.

If you’re up for a weekend of pure indulgence, both on and off the bike, join us in Gippsland – this is one of the highlight weekends of our year.