In Pokolbin, Natasha Wallace finds Hunter Valley hospitality at its best.
Set among autumn-toned shiraz vineyards, at least at this time of year, the lodge-style Hunter Resort at Pokolbin is in the heart of wine country. A cellar door tour offers a taste of local boutique wineries.
We are on a mothers' group bender, sorry, relaxing weekend away. So the natural thing to do is pull up a wooden chair on the back porch, quaff local semillon, gorge on brie and blue cheese and watch the rusting tractor in the distance slowly vanish under a crimson sky. If it were summer we would be lounging poolside and, I'm quite sure, having a game of tennis, too. Oh, and we may have risen early enough to catch the 9am guided tour among the 40-year-old vineyard, set on 28 secluded hectares. The four-star property is more country inn than resort and the accommodation is in long buildings with standard hotel rooms.
It has the usual hotel room offerings - two-way airconditioning, TV and mini fridge - but nothing to really shout about. We are after a comfortable crash pad after a day's effort cramming in as much wine tasting as possible and it fits the bill.
The "Hunter" rooms are in neutral tones of butter and beige with a queen-size bed as well as a large wrought iron day bed, which could easily sleep an adult. There is also a round table and chairs though we move the table outside to make the most of the view. The pine cupboard and chest of drawers could do with an update but the white-tiled bathroom is large and clean and has a bath and shower. I'm pleased to discover four cooled wine glasses in the fridge and a generous pile of soft towels and bathroom products (including facial soap bars). Aside from these rooms, there are also spa cottage rooms and a two-bedroom cottage for families.
We dine at the onsite Italian restaurant San Martino, which has a small selection of fish, steak, pasta and gourmet pizzas, arriving in generous servings, but the vegetarian among us is a little disappointed. Of course, the wine selection is fantastic. If you're prepared to drive - a tough call in wine country - then Hermitage and Broke Roads offer boundless culinary choices. Our breakfast pick is Cafe Enzo and we nab the last big table when we arrive on a Sunday morning. Also at the resort is the Blue Tongue Brewery Cafe - some may say you haven't lived until you've been treated to their so-called beer tasting paddle, a narrow wooden board with holes in it large enough for a selection of small glasses of the amber ale. Try the alcoholic ginger beer and take a front row seat to peer through glass panel walls to view the production line.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
Ah, where to start? It is simply not possible to visit all of the lovely wineries in a mere weekend but we gave it a good go, particularly enjoying Tempus Two, Brokenwood and Keith Tulloch. Our noses are down, for quite some time, in the troughs of The Hunter Valley Cheese Factory and we leave with a sack of smelly slabs. I suggest scouring the glossy brochures beforehand and being a bit strategic about it.
Affordable, comfortable accommodation for anyone who wants to spend most of their time exploring the region and doesn't want to cook when they get back.
HOW TO GET THERE
Head north on the F1 freeway towards Newcastle for an hour. Take the Cessnock exit and follow signs to Cessnock, and then onto Branxton. Turn left into Broke Road, just after Cessnock Airport. Follow Broke Road past Tyrrell's Vineyard, and turn right into Hermitage Road.
Hunter Valley Resort Cnr Hermitage Rd and Mistletoe Lane, Pokolbin. Prices start from $245 a night (four people in a Hunter room) up to $465 for a two-bedroom cottage.
Phone (02) 4998 7777, see hunterresort.com.au