Gem of the Riverina.
Around a four-hour drive north-west of Canberra following the Burley Griffin Way is the NSW country town of Griffith, a planned city designed by the genius architects of Canberra – Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.
It’s a scenic drive through the undulating countryside of Yass Valley and Hilltops, past the grain fields around Harden-Murrumburrah and Temora, and the flat grazing country near Ardlethan before striking the rich irrigated farmlands at Yenda, about 20km this side of Griffith. Here, the land is suddenly lush with rice fields, vineyards, citrus, plum and almond trees.
A multicultural city, more than 60 per cent of Griffith’s population claim Italian heritage, many of whom migrated post WWI to establish or work the farms in the new MIA, and again post WWII.
Right in the heart of Griffith on its grand main street, Banna Avenue, is the recently refurbished Gem Hotel. CW stayed in a beautifully appointed deluxe king suite on the third floor, with a king size bed, a luxurious freestanding bathtub in the spacious ensuite, kitchenette, big screen TV, leather tub chairs, a desk, multiple charging points for mobile devices, free wi-fi, and a balcony offering views of the verdant and vibrant city centre. Warm and inviting, the Gem has the friendly hospitality of a country inn with all the modern amenities and sophisticated style you’ll find at a first-rate metropolitan hotel. Striking pieces by local artists adorn the lobby, hallways and rooms, adding colour and unique flair to the contemporary neutral décor.
On Saturday night, we dined as guests of the casually elegant and inviting Bull & Bell steakhouse located on the ground floor of the Gem Hotel. It was full of happy, smiling diners of all ages, enjoying the carefully curated menu designed by ex-capital city (Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane) chef, Anthony Fullerton. True to the restaurant’s “farm to table” philosophy, Anthony’s menu proudly showcases local produce grown within a 300km radius of Griffith.
Bertoldo’s Pasticceria: Not far along Banna Avenue across from the Gem Hotel, you’ll find this impressive bakery and gelateria that has been serving delicious Italian style breads, cannoli, cakes, biscuits, slices and French nougat to the people of Griffith and surrounds for over 70 years (since 1951). It’s a true family business, now run by the founder’s two sons and their families. The ricotta or custard cannoli are their top sellers, with trays of the mouth-watering pastries refilled several times a day.
La Piccola Grosseria & Italian Deli: Another Griffith institution is this pocket-sized grocery shop and deli selling a comprehensive range of traditional Italian fare. In addition, delicious coffee, scrumptious almond croissants and a selection of freshly filled panini cater to the breakfast and lunch crowd.
Rocket Toppa: A Griffith speciality, this deliciously fresh and light, less cheesy version of a pizza is sold at most Italian pizza places in town. Highly recommended, a must try!