With coronavirus restrictions easing within South Australia, we head out to the Barossa Valley, a region typically best known for its wine, and bypass the vineyards to instead explore its foodie side from behind the wheel of the Audi A6.

It’s safe to say that it’s a tough time for travel currently – with international and state borders closed to stop the spread of coronavirus, and even travel to intrastate regional areas off limits in some parts, while many of us have been yearning for an adventure, it’s not been entirely possible.

However, being based in South Australia, one of the states least affected by and most effective at eradicating the virus, even going for weeks on end at some points without any active cases at all, heading out to the state’s regional areas and pumping some money back into the local economy has not only been possible but also encouraged – not least with some areas such as the Adelaide Hills where I live already being in need of a boost in tourism after summer’s bushfires.

This desire to get out for a bit of an adventure and to support the local economy was one of the contributing factors to why I decided to put together this story, having not written a travel piece since my Great Ocean Road adventure over half a year ago – the other, of course, given this is a car website, was a car.

When the email came through from Audi asking whether I’d like to spend a week with the A6 45 TFSI, I naturally said yes given the new A6 is one of my favourites in its class. However, I quickly remembered after firing off a response that I’d already reviewed one in almost exactly the same spec earlier in the year, along with featuring it in a comparison test that it won as well, so I’d have to come up with something different to feature it in.

Add on several months of dining exclusively at home, and by the time the state was all open for business again – in, of course, a COVIDSafe way – it seemed an opportune time to visit one of the state’s best-known tourist destinations, the Barossa Valley.

Although the Barossa is known for being Australia’s wine capital – so big is the wine industry here I even briefly worked as a grape picker in the Barossa myself back when I was a uni student – exploring that side of it isn’t exactly possible when you want to drive there like I do because, well, drinking and driving is a very bad mix.

That’s why, for the sake of this article, I wanted to actually dig deeper in this area and uncover some of its best food spots across a range of styles and budgets as I got out there to support some small local businesses at the sort of time they need it the most – especially with most currently having seating limits and social distancing requirements. And don’t worry, it was my own money being spent on all the food in question here – Audi merely provided the car I took on this day out.

The job of actually getting there needed to be taken care of first, however, although the hour-and-a-half drive time does pass by quite quickly.

Part of that comes down to the roads that lead you there – while you can take the straighter and fast-paced A20 from Adelaide’s northern suburbs to Nuriootpa should you so choose, with brekky lined up in Tanunda, the second and vastly more interesting option looked to be the better one to me, which is taking the magnificently fun Gorge Road before turning off and heading to Lyndoch.

With a range of tight and well-cambered twists in the earlier stages of the drive before an array of lovely sweepers between Kersbrook and Williamstown, it was a good job I’d chosen the A6 for this trip as it’s a car that feels remarkably composed on roads like this – combine a well-tuned ride, nicely progressive steering, its terrific ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system, and a set of Pirelli P Zero tyres, and it handled the bends with aplomb just like it did the more relaxed sections of the journey.

Plus, despite only featuring a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, its rapid seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box helped extract maximum performance out of it, so when you could give it some welly, it’s perfectly entertaining enough.

Breakfast: Keils Fine Food & Coffee, Tanunda

After arriving nice and early to get some photos in on Tanunda’s typically busy main street before the crowds arrived, while the street was for the most part still fairly desolate, it was nice to see a few locals in Keils as I arrived – some of whom had branding from local wineries on their jumpers, which I felt was a good sign.

This being Australia, and me being the millennial that I am, smashed avocado and an almond milk latte was naturally what I ordered to start the day. Light, fresh, and zingy, the avo was a perfect opening act for the day of indulgence that lay ahead. Kudos to Keils for perfectly executing the balsamic drizzle over it, too, as while in some breakfasts I’ve had out on the road balsamic vinegar has completely overpowered the whole dish, here it was perfectly complimentary.

Perhaps more important at this sort of hour though is a silky-smooth coffee to help wake up – which was certainly what Keils served up – as I sat at the bench facing out over the street at the A6 which was, of course, parked right out front.

Personally, I find it a most attractive car with not a single bad angle to be viewed from, but I can understand why some people would find the styling too conservative for their tastes. I see it as a big benefit though in certain occasions, as parked right out the front of a nice eatery it’ll both look the part, but also not make you look like too much of a show-off.

Morning Tea: Sunrise Bakery, Angaston

Wanting this to serve as a guide for anyone wishing to visit the area, I figured it would be worth including an option for morning (or afternoon) tea to allow for whatever time you may arrive in the area during the day, so view this quick list as something to grab one or two suggestions from to plan a day around, rather than packing all four into the one.

If a quick snack is all you’re after, or something that will be friendly to any budget, Sunrise Bakery is a great option in my eyes if you’re a bit of a foodie as what you’ll find in the warmer there is a step up from your average mince beef pie – think more chicken kiev or butter chicken and rice, the two options I sampled.

With several locations around this part of the world, including Angaston (pictured here) and Lyndoch in the Barossa, for those just after a quick fix that is far from breaking the bank but still delivers on flavour and quality.

Out at Angaston – one of the furthest parts of the Barossa tourist region from Adelaide – was where I considered just how good a long-distance cruiser the A6 is as well. Quiet, comfortable, and using 8L/100km on the dot over the course of the day, it reminded me why I had previously called it my pick of the mid-size luxury sedans earlier this year as it perfectly blends pace and grace, as the drive out to this part of the world shows.

Lunch: The Eatery at Maggie Beer’s Farm, Nuriootpa

In my eyes, Maggie Beer’s Farm would have to be the crowning jewel of the Barossa foodie scene. Established in 1979 after Beer – now a true superstar of Australian cooking – moved to the region from Sydney, located at the farm on the outskirts of Nuriootpa is not only her Farm Shop which sells produce made there and houses the studio where her show The Cook and the Chef was filmed, but also The Eatery, a restaurant run by her daughter Elli, in the building adjacent to it.

Originally created after the Farm Shop started to be swamped by visitors after the picnic food it served, the food served at The Eatery is similarly designed to be shared and features much of the same produce sold at the farm store, particularly things like quince and verjuice, along with locally-sourced pheasant, although not the same beautiful ones you’ll see in the aviary next to the carpark.

Wanting to take advantage of this unique menu, I set about ordering some of the options you’d only ever be able to get here. That, then, meant having wild fennel cola and a freshly-baked focaccia to begin; Maggie’s pheasant pie and game jus with a witlof, radicchio, orange, and walnut salad on the side for main; and honey and verjuice dumplings with poached quince and custard for dessert.

Admittedly being my first time eating pheasant, I was definitely impressed by its incredibly tender texture and the gamey flavour bomb it delivered. The salad that accompanied it admittedly tasted a bit odd at first just picking at individual elements, but once you got a bit of it all together, particularly with some orange, it, too, impressed big time.

The dessert definitely tied it all together, though, feeling light and almost refreshing thanks to the quince and how well-balanced it was overall, with it perfectly filling that tiny gap after a meal that only a dessert like this can.

Following lunch, I grabbed a coffee from the farm shop – yes, I drink a lot of coffee, but I am a journalist after all so I feel that’s hardly surprising – and went for a walk past the many quince and olive trees on the farm and around the lake that the restaurant and shop look out over as I reminisced over the incredible lunch I’d just had.

While you’re perhaps paying a premium for the name and some fancy ingredients – $40 for the pheasant pie! – there’s no doubt that the food at The Eatery delivers on flavour and substance in spades. Similarly, it made me consider that even though the A6 45 TFSI as tested here bore what was very close to a six-figure price tag for a model just one step up from the entry-level version, it still feels like you are getting your money’s worth given just how solid an all-rounder it is.

Dinner: Barossa 50’s Diner, Tanunda

Finally, to close the day, I came around full circle back to the main street of Tanunda to take a trip back in time at the Barossa 50’s Diner located right under the Penfolds-branded arch marking the end of the main strip of businesses.

I felt this was a worthy inclusion on the list as not only did it serve undoubtedly high-quality burgers, hot dogs, toasted sandwiches, fries, and smoothies affordably and in generous portions, but because the 50’s inspired decor I feel would appeal somewhat to petrolheads given the number of Route 66 signs and images of Chevy Bel Airs and old motorcycles hanging on the walls.

Wanting to go for something I hadn’t tried before, given I’ve eaten here before a few times, I opted for the Texan burger that packed in double cheese and some jalapeño zing which certainly didn’t disappoint. Neither did the huge serve of fries and big smoothie, either.

Much like how I feel the 50’s Diner has a certain charm that I feel would woo a petrolhead audience, I’d like to think that the A6 does as well, as while it’s perhaps not the absolute most thrilling drive out there – the sheer level of refinement it delivers perhaps removes some feeling of connectedness, even if it remains deftly capable – but its impressive performance for a lower-tier model and impressive levels of luxury mean it felt like a perfect companion on this 240km day trip.

While it’s here that I’d normally recommend that the Barossa deserves a place on your to-do travel list even if food is more your style, rather than wine, obviously the situation at the time of publication means that interstate and overseas travel will prevent anyone from outside of South Australia’s confines from doing so currently.

However, I will say here though that what you should do instead until borders open up again is to get out and (safely) explore the part of the world you’re situated in, as with how much of a big business overseas travel has been before now, it’s often been easy to overlook what’s in our own backyards. Plus, we’re the only tourists who can visit the tourist destinations that are close to us, so if ever you wanted to support your local businesses and economy, now’s the time.

When life does return to normal though, or whatever semblance of what normal may be, the Barossa definitely deserves a place on your list, as it’s one of the most beautiful parts of what is possibly Australia’s most underrated state. And if you do visit, do it in something like the A6 I took, as I can’t really think of a better sort of car for exploring this part of the world.