Words: Rhonda Bannister
There’s something intrinsically romantic about whisking your sweetheart away to wine country. After all, wine and love have been entwined throughout history, with Roman poet Ovid noting: “Wine warms the blood, adds lustre to the eyes, and wine and love have ever been allies.” So, where better to plan a romantic weekend of food and wine than in Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley?
With a swag of excellent options — including hotels, resorts, villas, and cottages — it can be tricky to decide on your wine country accommodation. Still, for something a bit special you can’t go past Château Élan at The Vintage for a five-star Hunter Valley experience. With its luxurious suites, world-class spa, superb dining, and Greg Norman-designed 18-hole golf course, we made this our picture-perfect base to explore the delights of this beautiful area.
Driving from Sydney, the beloved wine destination of the Hunter Valley is about two hours north. Travelling through aptly named Lovedale to Pokolbin took us past the many estates that make this area so popular before reaching The Vintage Golf Course and the sweeping drive up to Château Élan.
Arriving at the porticoed entrance to this Tuscan-inspired property evoked memories of a long-ago visit to California’s Napa Valley. Perhaps it was the elegance and sophistication of the surroundings that reminded me of that trip, as I’ve never been to Tuscany to compare. Check-in was a breeze as we stayed in a Spa Suite in the central hotel, not in one of the larger free-standing private villas. The Lobby Lounge with its comfortable sink-into couches looked pretty inviting after our long drive, but our suite beckoned!
Best room for two:
After a day of winery-hopping, couples will love coming home to a luxurious Spa Suite. Along with contemporary styling, a freestanding spa bath, king bed, 42″ LCD-HDTV, and a Nespresso machine for that all-important morning coffee, you’ll have a private courtyard, terrace, or balcony. Watching the golfers and resident kangaroos traverse the manicured green was an unexpectedly relaxing highlight for us.
And the clincher? Being just steps away from the award-winning day spa — when it was time for our treatment, we simply threw on a fluffy bathrobe and slippers and strolled over.
For a little more space, the One Bedroom Villa Apartments come with a designer kitchen, double-sided fireplace, and a balcony or terrace.
The Hunter Valley Day Spa is one of the country’s most extensive private spa facilities. We knew this would be a special treat, with a 20-page spa menu focused on body treatments and massages, indulgent rituals, and rejuvenating and anti-aging facials.
Sadly, we didn’t have time to enjoy everything as we had an afternoon of cellar door tastings booked, so we settled on a couple’s massage (which I truly, deeply loved!). Promises were made that the next time we came for a weekend at Château Élan, we would spend half a day popping in and out of the hot and cold mineral spas and infrared sauna before relaxing with a cheese platter and a glass of wine in the Hydrolounge.
Food & wine:
You don’t have to be an oenophile to enjoy the sensory pleasures of a wine tasting session at one or two of the Hunter’s 150+ cellar doors; I reckon it’s mandatory!
Did you know that Hunter Valley Semillon is the best in the world? I must admit, before we sat down with the owners of McLeish Estate (Maryanne, Bob, and daughter Jessica), I didn’t. This boutique family-run winery is a top spot to sample the variety, having won the 2016 Best International Semillon award at the London International Wine Challenge.
Our one-hour tasting dipped into the estate’s Vineyard Range Selections as well as its Wines of Distinction, accompanied by a delicious cheese platter. These wines are only available here, or at a few selected outlets, so it’s well worth sipping your way around the single-vineyard whites and reds at the cellar door or booking a gourmet picnic to graze amongst the vines.
Next was an Epic Tasting Experience at the family-owned estate Hungerford Hill. This mini degustation paired five Hungerford Hill wines with bite-sized dishes created by two-hatted Muse Restaurant. The adage that food tastes better with wine, and vice versa, rings true here. The thoughtfully designed menu was exceptional! I rarely choose ‘matching’ menus at dinner, but after experiencing the delights of this fabulous tasting (which was indeed epic), I’ll be trying them more often.
After a day of indulgence, you may be thinking dinner was out of the question — but you would be underestimating our enthusiasm for the wonderful food of the Hunter! That night at Château Élan’s in-house Legends Restaurant, we tucked into one of their legendary Angus Riverina Beef Scotch fillets and finished with Chili Chocolate Churros. Like their fantastic breakfast spread, dinner was outstanding, and the service fast and friendly. We waddled home to our plush bed like two replete and happy campers.
Life is so good in Hunter wine country that next time we’re coming for a week!
Château Élan, Vintage Drive, Pokolbin, NSW
Find more excellent Australian winery stays here