Hunting for a gastro getaway – by Piero!
The Hunter Valley is a lush wine region a couple of hundred kilometres north-west of Sydney, not far from the city of Newcastle. Think endless expanses of vineyards, beautiful hills, top notch restaurants, honest local produce and hopping kangaroos at dusk.
Here are my top tips for a fantastic romantic overnight gateway to this formidable place, with stunning Pokolbin as your base. It might not be a budget weekend away, but it certainly makes for something special – your better half will be more than impressed!
- Drive to the Hunter through lush countryside, sleep in a stunning colonial mansion, sample local wine in a wine tour and have a dine&wine to remember
- Great during all seasons
- Approximately three hours drive from Sydney
- If you are planning a special treat for your +1 realistically budget approx $800-$1000 for all the trimmings (although you can do it cheaper)
The best way to get there from Sydney is by car (approx three hours drive). If you do not own a car, all major rent-a-car options are readily available from Sydney airport or on William Street (near the city centre). To find a good deal you can use comparison site vroomvroomvroom.com.
I recommend to book a GPS with your rental, as getting out of Sydney can be tricky if you are not a local. This is a good chance to drive over the Harbour Bridge, as you need to go that way! After you have left Sydney behind watch out for the tourist drive (route 33) – it’s definitely worth going that way as it will take you through verdant roads through the bush. Wollombi town (on route 33) makes for a nice spot for a break or early lunch. Beware of Kangaroos on country roads at dawn and dusk.
For more information about the route you can take, check out this great article.
Budget from $170 for a two day car hire with insurance.
I recommend booking one night at the Peppers Convent in Pokolbin (a small locality near larger Cessnock). This turn of the century nunnery turned mansion house is a beautiful and intimate retreat set among hectares of vineyards and Australian bush. It was once home to the Brigidine Order of Nuns at Coonamble in New South Wales before being carefully transported 600kms to where it now sits in the Pepper Tree Estate today.
This place is very special to me as it is where I got married! I spent quite a few nights here and each of them was fantastic. The building itself is beautiful and colonial, and the service (including breakfast) is just wonderful.
The best rooms are the ones overlooking the swimming pool, or the larger suites upstairs.
How to spend your time
Well, the Hunter is all about the wine – Shiraz, Semillion and Chardonnay being among the most renown varieties from here. There are no many things I like more than spending a few hours sampling vino whilst chatting to local producers pretending I can taste chocolate and plums in what they are giving me .
For the lazy adventurers, there is a cellar door – Pepper Tree wines – a few minutes walking distance from the Convent. Here you will also find a small cafe serving coffee and light snacks. This is a good option if you want to sample a few wines, and then bring one or two bottles back to the Convent and enjoy a sip or two by the pool.
For the ones that want to go further afield, you can either go DIY or book a half day tour – where basically you will be driven around a few local vineyards without having to worry how many units you have drunk. The Two Fat Blokes tours is a well established and friendly company. For a special treat, book a private tour.
If you are doing your own thing (or have a say about what vineyards you are being driven to) then Scarborough Wines (the one on Gillard road), and Petersons Wines (not the champagne house of a similar name) are my favourite ones in the area.
The Hunter is well known for its fantastic restaurants, often showcasing delightful local produce – including beautiful meat and fish. A few meters (walking distance) from the Convent you can book a special meal at ‘Robert’s circa 1876‘ restaurant, commonly known as Robert’s.
The restaurant is located in a stunning late 1800’s wooden building which to me resembles old English cottages, giving it an ambiance of intimacy and luxury. The staff is beyond professional and friendly and the food is stunning and extremely fresh. Suffice to say that most of the veggies used come from a patch behind the restaurant. The cousine is modern Australian – hearty, honest and satisfying options as well as lighter and more complex ones. Obviously, the wine selection is memorable. Dinner for two (including wine) will cost you approx from $200-$250
On the way back
For variety, opt for the coastal route (through ‘The Entrance’ ) on your way back to Sydney. Great way to enjoy every last second of your weekend away, and an opportunity for a swim in the ocean to get rid of that fuzzy wine head!by