If you’re looking for a fantastic weekender, that’s approximately 2 hours’ drive north west of Sydney and full of breathtaking scenery set against a backdrop of mountain ranges and magical vineyards, then the beautiful Hunter Valley Region is just for you.
You will find some of the finest brand names in wine to tempt the palate and sample some absolutely superb gourmet restaurants and food. There are also luxurious spas, top quality golf courses and hot air balloon rides to name just a few of the wonderful attractions! After a long weekend down there we thought we should list some of our favorite places to go and things to do. It’s places like this that make us realize just how much NSW has to offer.
WHERE TO STAY
♣ The Sebel Hotel
The Sebel Kirkton Park Hotel offers a range of gorgeous signature guest rooms, each with a unique point of difference. We had the privilege of staying in the Signature Suite, a delightfully chic and spacious room that comes with a glorious statement piece soaking tub front and center, right in the middle of the room. Definitely not your standard hotel, you will find charming features such as gold lamps and gold speckled wallpaper, a trendy bar with pool tables and a roaring fireplace. The dining room is stunning with over sized blue and white china bedside lamps and luxuriant blue and black colouring featured in the suites. Take a stroll through the gorgeous rose gardens on your way to the huge indoor pool, tennis court or convention center. The staff have certainly done their homework and are welcoming and very efficient. If you’re looking for a delightful retreat, the Sebel is the place to be.
WHERE TO EAT
♣ Muse Restaurant
If you’ve perused some of our earlier Hunter Valley articles you’ll know it’s no secret how highly we think of Muse. In all the 4 times we’ve visited the Region, me make sure it’s on our itinerary. This award-winning restaurant (situated in the grounds of Hungerford Hill Winery) offers contemporary Australian cuisine, with a focus on using local seasonal produce.
The degustation menu offers a fantastic selection of seafood, meat and poultry. Stand out dishes were the Armidale lamb with roast onion, cavolo nero, goats’ curd, black garlic togarashi and the optional cheese course of Maffra cheddar custard, hazelnut, Dijon, rocket. Saving the best till last, Muse’s desserts are a winner in themselves. We tried all of them (sorry, not sorry) especially their signature Muse Coconut, a work of art consisting of all things coconut. You have to try it to believe it. In the colder months, you simply must check out the dining room with the huge open fireplace giving the place real atmosphere and ambience. On top of this the staff are absolutely amazing at what they do, whether it be Troy and his team creating masterpieces on plates in the kitchen or Megan and her team on the floor bringing that extra level of service.
♣ Margan Winery & Restaurant
The Margan Winery and Restaurant at Broke NSW has some of the finest gourmet foods and award winning wine labels on offer. Margan has also been voted one of the best restaurants in Australia and is in our opinion one of the top Hunter Valley places to visit. The staff are friendly, attentive and highly skilled in recommending the right wine to go with your specific food dish.
After a delightful tour through the highly productive garden with Mrs Margan herself, we sat down to an absolutely stunning lunch. Starting with a glass of bubbles and some homemade bread and butter we quickly upped the ante, feasting on elegantly plated dishes of pork, lamb and duck, all accompanied by a fresh array of vegetable additions, 90% of them from the stunning garden we were eating in view of. Just before our dessert we were tempted with a mouthwatering selection of cheeses, which we happily obliged to. We finished on some beautiful and tasty desserts that left us rubbing our bellies in glee. We matched each of our meals with some sensational wines from the cellar door. Whether you’re there for a simple tasting or just a stroll around the grounds, we definitely suggest sitting down to a meal you won’t forget.
♣ EXP Restaurant
A visit to the EXP Restaurant at Pokolbin is an amazing experience and one not to be missed. The setting itself is very charming (in the midst of Oakvale Wines Cellar Door) with a menu containing carefully crafted dishes and a delightful degustation menu. It all starts with a little WOW factor with a nitro frozen bowl of herbs to crush and them mix into house cultured butter.
The experience only goes up with plate after plate of unique and delicious dishes. Some of our favourite picks were the house made Jersey Milk Haloumi, pumpkin, warrigal greens, Pinnacle Meats Wagyu, native rice, black garlic, mushroom, daikon, wasabi and most notable the additional cheese course that really is something else. The Warm Blue Cheese, brioche and honey is out of this world good. EXP is a place that you will return to time and time again.
♣ Restaurant Botanica
Restaurant Botanica at Pokolbin is renowned for its welcoming country atmosphere as well as the beautiful and elegant décor. An open fire welcomes guests in winter and the restaurant offers wonderful views of the vineyard and beyond (especially popular at sunset).
The menu offers a wide range of delicious meals and desserts (such as handmade chocolates) and the wine list is extensive. Notable dishes were the Zucchini flowers with blue eye cod, prawn, seaweed, daikon and the Beignets with hazelnut, apple, mascarpone, pedro ximinez and brown butter ice cream. Much of the fresh herbs originates from the restaurants kitchen garden, and the friendly staff treat every guest as if they are family.
WHAT TO DO
♣ Majors Lane Cooking School (Sichuan)
If you enjoy cooking and sampling Asian cuisine, then you should certainly head to the Majors Lane Cooking School in Lovedale where fun and hands-on lessons are provided. These sessions are conducted in a lovely courtyard which has stunning views of the extensive vineyards.
You may choose a date from the range of Thai, Vietnamese, Sichua or Indonesian classes on offer and there are individual and group bookings available. Most importantly though, this class was genuinely fun and entertaining and we actually learnt a lot. These recipes aren’t particularly hard or something you would never be able to do again. We learnt three incredible recipes for meat, chicken and fish that were practical, which we think is very noteworthy. These classes are perfect to expand upon your culinary skills or learn something entirely new at one of these fun filled classes.
♣ Two Fat Blokes- Half or full day Jaguar Connoisseur Experience
This private wine tour can be taken for either a half or full day charter period. The tours cater for up to 4 passengers at a time who experience VIP treatment in the comfort and luxury of a Jaguar F-Pace. It was really our amazing tour guide Julie who made the tour so great. She was knowledgeable, passionate and bubbly which made our tour so fun. You get picked up from your accommodation and taken to places where you can sample scrumptious and outstanding wines (as well as great cuisine). One of the best and easiest ways to see all that the Hunter Valley has to offer.
Well worth it.
♣ Hunter Valley Resort Segway Tour
Ok I have to say, this was actually so much fun, we’ve re-booked to go again. This Kangaroo Spotting and nature tour begins at the brewery at the Hunter Valley Resort. It then takes you off road to explore forgotten bush land trails and to experience the historic 1880s stock route. I thought that being the uncoordinated person I am that this would be hard, but within minutes I was weaving between the cones like a pro. This really is great fun with our guide making sure to stop at some picturesque locations to take a snap or two. Great for team building days or just a bit of fun with friends and family, this is a must do in the Hunter Valley.