Spicers Guesthouse, Pokolbin, at the former Peppers site in the Hunter Valley, opened late last year after an 18-month, $30-million renovation.
Look one way and there are mountains, look the other and there's pasture. The star of this location, however, is the wine country in which the 48-room Guesthouse is nestled. The Hunter Valley, just a couple of hours from Sydney, is one of Australia's oldest wine-growing districts and is famed for its semillon and earthy shiraz. Its vineyards date back to the 1860s and generations of knowledge are on tap for wine tastings throughout the district. Just up the road is Tyrrell's and nearby are many other wineries, including David Hook and a new cellar door at Brokenwood. Tours, visits and tastings are easily organised.
Like the other boutique retreats in the Spicers' stable, the Guesthouse has distinct spaces that leave guests in no doubt as to how to spend their time. What better spot to lounge for a casual lunch or a glass of wine and a book than on the terrace, with its view of rolling pastures and roos (both real ones and the weathered steel versions fashioned by Victorian artist Matt Hill). Likewise the lounge, with its open fires and comfy seating, or the firepit under a quilt of stars, will be the places to be in winter. There's an inviting long bar and a stunning private dining room next to a wine wall of local producers' top picks – perfect for tastings and wine talks. New plantings forecast a spectacular spring. We are here, however, on a scorching summer's day and it's all about the infinity pool that tumbles into the landscape. Don't miss the John Olsen artwork in reception.
The colours are muted in our garden suite and we enter the lounge blinking as our eyes adjust from blinding blue skies. The room configuration is slightly odd: the narrow bathroom is off one side of the lounge area behind a sliding door, the good-sized bedroom is off the other side. But the king bed is comfy, there's a roomy wardrobe, the rain shower is powerful and there are good quality robes and Anise branded toiletries. Glass water containers on the bedside table are a nice touch, though guests wandering past our windows on the way back from the pool are a bit too close. There's a flat-screen TV, free Wi-Fi, a Bose sound system, safe, mini bar and good quality tea and coffee.
With some of the world's best wines on the doorstep it would be criminal if the food didn't live up to expectations. Happily, Spicers has secured multi-hatted executive chef Cameron Matthews, whose modern Italian menu at the Guesthouse's eRemo restaurant is exceptional. The menu choice flying out the door is the chef's selection of dishes served share-style for $80 a person. Highlights? Roasted octopus, spicy nduja and romesco sauce ($19) and braised veal shin, roasted kale cavatelli, XO and fresh greens ($32). Picnic baskets can be organised if you want to wander out into the 6.5 hectares of grounds. The home-made bread is seriously good so don't miss this in the complimentary continental breakfast served daily.
There are wineries – 150 of them – on your doorstep, but if you are more into wine country than wine, Pokolbin doesn't disappoint. Bikes are available for hire and nearby there's hot-air ballooning, sky-diving and horse-riding. Regular wine tastings and talks are planned for the private dining room.
Spicers works well as a weekend or mid-week getaway with that extra touch of luxury. You don't have plan anything, just book and turn up for a spot of pampering.
The choice of areas to eat, drink and chill.
The pub-style music in the dining room.
Spicers Guesthouse, 57 Ekerts Road, Pokolbin. Bed and breakfast from $329 in a king room midweek; $379 on weekends. Free parking on site. See spicersretreats.com
Jane Richards was a guest of Spicers Guesthouse.