Read our writer's views on this property below
It's hard to make a hash of it at this eco-retreat as Ashleigh Bonner discovers.
If there are two words - as well-travelled tweeters may be aware - that are trending right now, they would have to be "#eco" and "#retreat". You can now "retreat" at every second "eco" hotel, apartment and resort, enjoying all the mod cons while minimising your carbon footprint.
This brings me, literally, to the zippered doorstep of the Donnybrook Eco Retreat in the heart of the Hunter Valley, a little more than a few hours' drive north of Sydney. It's a luxury "tent" nestled at the foot of a dam favoured by ducks and set among lush green rural paddocks. Unlike many so-called eco retreats, this one has serious environmental cred.
Its facade is built from wood; floorboards throughout the tent and adjoining bathroom are made from recycled plastic bottles and sawdust; the wet stuff for drinking and showering is collected rainwater; electricity is derived from solar panels out the front; the entire tent has been built on poles to minimise its impact on the surrounding environment; and it's finished off with a five-star self-composting toilet (more tolerable than it sounds).
I arrive at Donnybrook Eco Retreat late on a Friday afternoon, accompanied by an old friend. We're both keen to "retreat" for the weekend. On arrival we're met by the friendly owner, Manda, and her equallly welcoming spaniel and shih-tzu cross. Neither my friend nor I have been "glamping" before, and we're amazed by just how luxurious a tent can be. The accommodation is one main spacious room with a queen-size bed, a mini-fridge and all the camping basics, while the acoustics of the corrugated-iron roof over the en suite bathroom can be enjoyed in the hot shower.
It's easy to sleep in at Donnybrook, with the orchestra of local wildlife sounding like a baby-calming CD. In the morning, with the windows of the tent fastened all the way, the soft orange glow of sunrise seeps through the canvas, making us feel more like we're on an African safari than the outskirts of historic Maitland. When we finally rise and undo the floor-to-ceiling windows, we are awestruck by the 270-degree views of verdant countryside. Naturally, we hop back in bed to properly welcome the morning breeze and savour the sort of views you don't tend to get in a conventional hotel.
And then we ate When we arrive, the mini-fridge is fully stocked with more than enough food for breakfast over the weekend. There are farm eggs, freshly picked strawberries, home-made pancake mix and jams, bacon and creamy yoghurt. A bottle of complimentary wine from the local winery, Tranquil Vale, has been left on the bed.
We have no need to do a supermarket run all weekend, although my biggest concern is rationing the plentiful home-made caramel slices over the two days.
Both mornings we pull the electric cooker out onto the deck only metres from the dam and have breakfast with our new duck friends in the sun. Gosh, there's even an espresso machine for your morning cuppa.
The deal maker The isolation of the location. Within half an hour you can be in Paterson, Morpeth, Maitland, and lots of Hunter Valley wineries, but the tent itself sits in a valley in which the only other property within earshot is the owner's house.
Stepping out Donnybrook is a stone's throw from the myriad attractions of the Hunter Valley. For something different, Manda suggests we find Cranky's Corner, a local swimming hole hidden in the hills about a 20-minute drive from our tent.
The road into Cranky's is more suited to a four-wheel-drive than my city-friendly hatchback, so we decide to park and take the adventure on foot.
We find our way down to the natural pool, with gushing waterfalls and sheer rock faces draped in moss enclosing this hidden gem. The water is very brisk but we can't resist a dip in Mother Nature's therapeutic ice bath. After all, we're on a genuine #retreat, and an #eco one at that. Tweet, tweet.
Donnybrook Eco Retreat
Address 702 Luskintyre Road, Lambs Valley.
The verdict A true eco retreat that lives up to all glamping expectations.
Price $190 a night with a minimum two-night stay. Stay seven nights for $1100.
Bookings Phone 0412 003 941, see stayz.com.au/101914.
Getting there Donnybrook Eco Retreat is about a 2½-hour drive north of Sydney on the F3 Freeway. Following the signs to Maitland.
Perfect for A weekend retreat from the big smoke.
Wheelchair access No.