Chateau Elan, Hunter Valley review: Perfect elevation

Read our writer's views on this property below

Helen Anderson finds a retreat for those who are serious about the pursuit of pleasure: spas, golf, wine and sleep.

The sun is setting on the 10th hole at the Vintage when I enter the zero-gravity position. Neither a new putting technique nor a swing training system, I'm told this is the position adopted by astronauts during lift-off. With no NASA training whatsoever, I assume this attitude by simply lying on my bed at Chateau Elan, the Hunter Valley's new spa retreat, and adjusting a remote control.

The head is raised, the knees bend gently and I'm suspended, with no pressure points but all the support of a $9000 bed. Just as easily, it can glide into a perfect tea-in-bed elevation, or try setting the timer for an in-bed vibrating massage and see how long you can stay awake.

In some ways this space-age bed sums up the $40-million spa retreat's approach to innovation and luxury: the attention to detail is understated rather than flashy, meant for people who are serious about the pursuit of their pleasures - in this case spas, golf and wine.

Developed by American pharmaceuticalentrepreneurs Don and Nancy Panoz, Chateau Elan's spa, 20 spa suites and collection of villas comprise the first stage of a larger hotel project.

At this time of year the Hunter can look crisped but the vineyards and the Vintage's championship golf course are a picture after weeks of rain - "God's own country," proclaims thecourse's affable resident pro, Richard Mercer. The site of the NSW Open, it's a challenging course for serious golfers but, I'm told, a rewarding public-access course for any skill level.

A golfer's massage is one of more than 40 treatments on the menu but it's the Thalgo products and Terrake rituals that will most interest those who know their spas. It's the first in Australia to feature the luxurious French Terrake treatments, based on four elemental themes (water, air, earth, plant life), each with a shared ritual but specific scents, sounds, products and techniques. "It's a journey of all the senses," promises my therapist, Renee, and that's perhaps the best description of the two-hour "marine wave" exfoliation with mother-of-pearl, a long soak in a deep tub lit Pacific blue and a massage with hands and "rain sticks", which really do feel like the drum of rain on skin. When I emerge to rest in the spa lounge, there's rain falling on the fairways.

The spa is large, with 18 treatment rooms, which ensures privacy for those who want it and space for socialising. A "hydrolounge" has a fireplace and lounges for lolling inside (and an infrared "detox box") and an open deck outside with warm spa, cold plunge pool and morelounges. There are double treatment rooms for couples, friends and mother-daughter bonding sessions and a "Sante Room" for small gatherings, with a fireplace, sofas, bar and library.

From here, you could assess the game ofchampions, raise a glass of Hunter semillon with friends and look forward to a night at zero gravity.

Helen Anderson stayed courtesy of Chateau Elan.

Chateau Elan, at Vintage Drive, Rothbury, is about two hours' drive from Sydney. It has a midweek "guilt-free golf" package from $1130, which includes two nights' stay for two, meals, one day's golf for one partner and one day in the spa with a Terrake treatment for the other. Terrake treatments cost from $69 to $269. Phone 4998 2500, see