When the opportunity of travelling to the birthplace of Australian wine with three of my nearest and dearest friends arose, I couldn’t help but jump up and down at the prospect of three indulgent days full of fine wine, cheese and plenty of me time. Just like most mums, I don’t kick back and relax that often. This was exactly we all needed – a chance to stop and take time out for ourselves, and let me tell you…. this is the place to do it.
I’d never been to the Hunter Valley before, and from the minute we arrived I could tell by the long tree lined country roads, horse filled paddocks, and driveways leading to old convents, wineries and restaurants, that this quaint and characterful area was going to tantalize all the senses.
We arrived late at night after a long eight hour drive from Byron Bay (our flight was cancelled due to bush fires and we were not prepared to forgo our well deserved break). But when we were greeted by The Grape Escape, our luxury four bedroom accommodation, we knew we were in for a treat. Each mama had their own king sized bed and we woke up the next day refreshed and ready for everything the Hunter Valley had to offer.
The heart of the Hunter Valley is a clever and tasteful combination of the old and the new, from traditional wineries steeped in family heritage to contemporary new world wineries that provide an equally contemporary tasting experience. So where do I start? We had less than three days to sample the Hunter. Here are our highlights and suggestions:
There are so many things to do in the region that it is impossible to experience them all. We had a few on our priority list though…
Admittedly we started at Sandalyn Estate because they have the most irresistible sparkling bottles and make their Cuvee in the traditional Champagne method – and who doesn’t love a delicious glass of bubbles. But, wow, were we happy to start our tasting experience here for an array of reasons. As you approach this boutique winery up the long and inviting drive, you can see why it is one of the seven hosts for the annual Lovedale Long Lunch. Surrounded by vines and olive groves you can relax in their Tuscan inspired courtyard to enjoy a spectacular cheese board and the Cuvee they are famously known for.
Sally, the gorgeously friendly and knowledgeable owner, began our tour with an Olive Oil and Vinegar tasting. They make their Caramelized Red Wine Vinegar from a ten-year-old Merlot, and I couldn’t leave without a bottle. Out – of – this – world!
We then ventured into the vineyard to see the Shiraz grapes in full bloom, before sampling their range of impressive wines (some of the best we tasted during our trip); of which my favourites were the 2016 Semillon Verdhelo, the 2013 Sangiovese Rose, and the 2012 Chardonnay. Be sure to taste their NV Semillon Late Harvest with the local Rum and Raisin Pudding they serve alongside. D-vine! We felt so lucky to have met Sally and her parents, and witness first hand how the family story and their association with premium wines which dates back to 1626, is still alive and well.
Next was the hugely popular and family owned Tyrrell’s Wines. It’s hard to know whether the big wineries will be as personal, but the family heritage is present from the moment you arrive. The tiny ‘Slab Hut’ built in 1858 by Edward Tyrrell, where he lived for two years, still sits proudly surrounded by stunning sloping vines and a backdrop of the Brokenback Range.
After our tasting in the bustling cellar door and falling in love with their 2015 Old Vines Chardonnay, we ventured off into the old cellar itself. With traditional earthen floors and beautifully crafted French Oak Casks, you can’t help but get carried away with a camera. And who did we meet on our little escapade, but none other than John Tyrrell or JT as he is affectionately known. John is the son of Bruce Tyrrell, Managing Director, and has an infectious and obvious passion towards everything happening on site, from the harvesting of the grapes to the moment a customer takes a sip of one of their fine vintages of aged Semillon. What a delight to meet this character. I would highly suggest you take a tour of Tyrrell’s and soak in the history and views from this traditional Hunter winery.
There are too many to mention them all, but here are a couple of others we loved:
Pepper Tree is set in a dreamy array of buildings and the prettiest of surroundings. We couldn’t miss a trip here to pick up our favourite Sticky Pig Pinot Gris and a bottle of their Liqueur Muscat as a gift for my husband. End your visit with a sneak peak of the Convent. You will see the road leading to it as you drive in/out of this gorgeous winery.
Upon arriving at The Grape Escape, we were greeted with a special bottle of Cockfighter’s Ghost, ‘The Legend’; a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot that blew us away. So of course, we went straight to the winery to purchase some more. This winery boasts some spectacular views for tasting and an equally spectacular story behind the winery (make sure you ask about the name when you visit).
If you want to feel utterly spoilt then please do me a favour and follow in our footsteps with this idea. We arranged for a gourmet picnic from Pokolbin Picnic Co. to be delivered and set up at our accommodation in the pretty picket fenced garden. We put the music on, pulled together our over the top and totally justified comfy picnic area, and spent several hours basking in the sun and eating and drinking our way through pate, canapés, cheese, wraps, lemon curd mousse with fresh poached fruit and brownies. Oh…and the wine! I think I died and went to heaven that day. It’s inspired me to do this more often. What’s not to love about a lazy picnic full of mystery treasures?
Whilst away with the girls I couldn’t help but think how much my husband and daughter would have loved the area for so many different reasons. One of these was the impressive Hunter Valley Gardens. Providing a temporary and welcome escape from the wine is 25 acres of tranquillity, beauty, and magic. I say magic because it really is like a secret garden that ignites your imagination and intrigue.
The powerful scent of the colourful Rose Gardens took me back to memories of my Grandmother’s own rose garden, and the highly manicured Japanese Gardens and waterfalls transported you to a different world. For kids, the Storybook Gardens are a visual and interactive journey through well-known poems, stories and characters.
It takes about two hours to walk the entire trail but you can do a mini version if you’re short on time.
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants but here are our faves from the trip.
Oh my goodness, food to die for and first class service! The atmosphere at Muse is intimate yet alive. Each course so thoughtfully prepared. The amuse-bouche set the impeccable tone for the evening; Plum macarons, Little Hill Farm chicken pate, and beetroot gel. Be sure that someone on your table orders the signature dessert, ‘The Muse Coconut’. You’ll be in for many a surprise at this two-hatted beauty. It’s been a while since I have experienced dining at this level. Take me back!
We girls love our fancy cocktails and so we started our evening as the sun went down, diving into the drinks menu at cocktail bar, Goldfish. Try their delicious Madam Marmalade, made with gin, elderflower, lemon and locally made marmalade.
When drinking wine, let’s face it, it’s nice to wake up and have an equally satisfying breakfast prepared for you. We sat in the pretty courtyard at Café Enzo and took the chance to unwind before feeling fully satisfied and ready for more wine tasting!
One of the things we didn’t get time to do was take to the sky. If you’re looking to add that something truly memorable to your trip then you can take a scenic flight or tour with Hunter Valley Helicopters. Flying over one of Australia’s most acclaimed wine regions you can arrive in style at most Hunter Valley venues, adding to that once in a lifetime (pretend you’re a celebrity) experience.
You can take your pick in the Hunter Valley, from luxury hotels to budget motels or private holiday rentals.
We had a few tick boxes for our girls’ getaway. Luxury, comfort, a convenient location, and a place we could share the experience together were all top of the wish list. We decided upon The Grape Escape, a luxury four-bedroom property with open plan living, styled with monochromatic colours and upmarket detail at every turn.
Situated in the heart of the region and only ten minutes from most of the places we visited, we were surrounded by parklands, a golf course, and many a curious and cute kangaroo. What a treat to have this quintessential Aussie wildlife right on our doorstep. Each night we would see at least a dozen bounce right by us – yes, kangaroo’s really do roam the streets of Australia!
We definitely made the most of our accommodation. We picnicked in the pretty garden, sipped tea and wine in the outdoor hanging chairs, and sat back in the separate media room to enjoy our favourite girlie movies in our PJ’s. Pure bliss! We even made the most of the on-site pool after our little biking escapade, although we didn’t quite make it to the spa, tennis courts or gym. Next time!
To sum it up, The Grape Escape was just gorgeous, made us feel totally spoilt, and was perfectly positioned to make the most of the Hunter. I can’t tell you how happy we were to be there. The smiles say it all.
The Hunter Valley is a two-hour drive from Sydney and only one hour from Newcastle Airport – the closest airport to the region. You can get flights to Newcastle from most major towns/cities. From there you will either want to hire a car or get a taxi to the region.
Personally, we wanted the freedom of a car. Whilst the Hunter Valley is not a huge area to explore (at least the main trail of wineries and attractions) it is really enjoyable to drive around and explore at your leisure. Designating a driver each day is a good idea, or you may even want to get a taxi when you visit the wineries or restaurants. With everything in reasonably close proximity, it’s not too expensive to do this on the odd occasion.
Just make sure you give yourself the opportunity to explore things at your own pace. Cramming too much in may detract from the peacefulness of the area. Select two or three things each day to explore and then take your time to relish in them. That’s exactly what the Hunter Valley is about.
For the perfect Hunter Valley break we suggest you plan a couple of wineries before you arrive but also improvise with a few. It’s lovely to find the unexpected. Book into one of the award-winning restaurants and take time to enjoy the natural surroundings and epic views of endless vines.
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Parts of this trip were kindly gifted, but all opinions and recommendations are strictly our own.
Welcome along. I’m Clare, Founder of Take Me To Australia. Having moved to Australia six years ago, I made it my mission to learn more about this epic country we now call home. As we travel across the country to unique destinations, we share with fresh eyes the most extraordinary places we are lucky enough to experience. We aim to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, live their absolute best life, explore what Australia has to offer, and even encourage people further afield to make a similar move. We’ve grown a like-minded community of over 120,000 people. Be sure to join them by signing up to receive all the latest inspo, and connecting with us on Instagram and Facebook. See you soon.