Still life with vines

  There's something very soothing about grapevines. Perhaps it's seeing nature tamed into orderly rows. Perhaps it's the thought of their end product. Whatever it is, the vineyard view from our front door at Emma's Cottage helps make this a restful weekend, despite the presence of an active one-year-old.

We have brought back-up – his grandparents – who stay in the property's one-bedroom loft apartment nearby. We are in a two-bedroom cottage that's more like a modern cabin. There's another one next to us but there is enough distance and screening to ensure privacy.

Emma's Cottage Vineyard is near Lovedale in the Hunter Valley.We check in at the cellar door. It's a bit early for us to sample the wines on offer here but the price of accommodation includes a free bottle. A selection of Emma's Cottage wines is provided in our cottage so we can choose one (or more) at our leisure. It's like the vineyard equivalent of a bar fridge but more sophisticated and reasonably priced.

It's been years since I've visited the Hunter and my British-born husband has never been. As a rule, we prefer to be near the sea for our holidays.

Also, though we like good wine, we're not big on wine tasting. There's that slightly awkward moment when you leave without buying anything you've tried – I'd rather go tomy favourite bottle shop, where I can browse without feeling like a freeloader.

Fortunately it's possible to enjoy the Hunter without wine tasting. Our cottage is so pleasant, we're happy to just hang around. It's simply, comfortably furnished, with nothing much the one-year-old can break. He is very interested in the wood-fired stove but it's not cold enough to light it. He also likes the remote-operated airconditioner but we don't need that, either.

The property is owned by Alec and Megan Barrass. Alec looks after the vines and Megan is an artist. Her bold, decorative paintings are on display at the cellar door and add splashes of colour to the cottages. The main room is openplan and includes a well-appointed kitchen, a dining area and living space with couches, TV, DVD player and CD player. The two bedrooms are also minimally but tastefully furnished.

Everything we need is here, including two sets of dining tables and chairs – one inside and one outside on the concrete patio, where a large barbecue squats under its cover, ready for action. It's lovely sitting here with a cup of tea or glass of wine, depending on the time of day, gazing over the vines and enjoying the bird life. Flashiest are the small, bright-green grass parrots with red backs and yellow trousers. To us they are beautiful but later Alec tells us they are new arrivals to this area and eat a lot of his chardonnay grapes.

One advantage of having a small, early-waking child is we get to see the vineyard at dawn, floating in mist. By the time the sun has risen, when most people think about getting up, the fog has cleared. The night before, we were impressed by the huge yellow moon rising over the vines.


The grandparents relish their Saturday dinner at Molines Bistro at Tallavera Grove. On Sunday morning it's our turn to eat out, child-free. We find very good coffee at Cafe Bella, hidden in the Hunter Valley Gardens Village, an odd kind of touristy shopping mall pretending not to be a shopping mall. Then we move on to the Small Winemakers Centre for breakfast, where the setting among trees next to a pond is pleasant but the prices seem inflated.

In the afternoon, we all drive to Morpeth for an outing and to buy bread from Morpeth Sourdough, where the baker is the great-great-greatgrandson of William Arnott, the founder of Arnott's Biscuits. The lovely old building was one of the company's earliest bakeries. Morpeth is heaving with people like us and our son is not good in cafes, so we buy pies from the Cottage Bakery and eat them in the park next to the river, serenaded by a well-amplified busker.

On the way home we stop at the Lovedale Smokehouse for dinner supplies and, back in our cottage, feast on smoked trout pate, pork-belly terrine and smoked pork and fennel sausages, with Morpeth sourdough, a salad dressed in local Bunna Bunoo olive oil and a bottle of Emma's Cottage 2007 pinot noir. It's an excellent way to end the weekend and proves we don't need a beach to have a good time.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

Emma's Cottage
Address Wilderness Road, Lovedale, Hunter Valley. The verdict A pleasant spot in a central wine-country location. Price A two-bedroom cottage costs $325 a night on weekends, $195 midweek (minimum two nights). Three-bedroom and four-bedroom accommodation is also available; the one-bedroom loft is now part of a larger house and not available for hire separately.

Bookings Phone 4998 7734 or see

Getting there Lovedale is about two hours' drive fromSydney on the Sydney-Newcastle freeway. Cessnock is the nearest main town.

Perfect for People looking for a wine-tasting weekend or just some peace and quiet. Also good for groups who want self-contained accommodation.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Go wine tasting, by all means. View the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery. Check if there is a concert at any of the vineyards while you're visiting. Book a class at Majors Lane Cooking School in Lovedale. Admire the street murals at Kurri Kurri on the way to Morpeth.