“Going to the Hunter” is a time-honoured weekend break for Sydneysiders.
Just dropping those four words over a lunch or coffee – revealing you’re about to make the straightforward drive north of the city for a sojourn defined by spectacular countryside and long afternoons of great wine and produce – is enough to draw sighs of friendly envy.
The Hunter Valley is famed for its distinctive Shiraz, Semillon and Chardonnay wines, and more lately has become known for its broadening range of exciting varietals and blends as well as artisan produce.
But with Australia’s oldest wine region having so much to offer, getting the best out of it takes some knowledge and insight.
Here’s your guide to the highlights.
Where to stay
The Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens
The Mercure Resort is situated in the heart of Hunter Valley wine country looking out over acres of manicured vines across the rolling hills – ideally located to enjoy everything the region has to offer.
If the resort itself is the attraction, stay in one of the Mercure’s stunning suites, complete with a fireplace, spa bath and private courtyard. Onsite, you can enjoy the ambiance and relaxed luxury of the pool, spa and sauna.
The Mercure’s éléments restaurant, run by Executive Chef Jean Marc Pollet, is inspired by a fusion of classic French cuisine and Australian produce, adding a French flair to local and seasonal produce.
What to see
Tour the Hunter Valley Gardens
The stunning Hunter Valley Gardens are a must see, and a great activity for all ages. 14 hectares of garden are meticulously kept by a team of more than 40 landscape gardeners, architects and engineers.
There are ten different themed gardens – including a Japanese inspired Oriental garden, and a “storybook garden” – maintained year round, as well as signature events like the Christmas Lights Spectacular. There are rides for the kids during school holidays, and other festivals or culinary delights throughout the year for the grown-up kids.
Sample some great local food
There are a heap of foodie festivals hosted across the Hunter Valley year round disguised as long lunches and markets. While Esca Bimbadgen – the restaurant at the winery famed for its regular concerts such as Day on the Green – has weekly Sunday roast lunches during winter, Calais Estate has monthly Long Lunches that include a winery tour, May and June are the best times to visit for the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival.
For a less formal introduction to local food, there are farmers markets pretty much every weekend, as well as cheese and chocolate makers, olive oil producers, a smokehouse and several cooking schools if you need inspiration.
Explore the bush
The region is surrounded by National Parks and has a strong Indigenous and European pioneer history, from convicts to bushrangers. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the Bimbadeen Lookout on the Great North Walk, atop Mt View, where you’ll also find mountain biking tracks.
What to eat and drink
While there are heaps of wineries to choose from, we’ve lined up a couple that come highly recommended.
The first stop, just around the corner from the Mercure, is McGuigan Wines, home of four time International Winemaker of the Year, Neil McGuigan. McGuigan Wines is one of the biggest sellers of red wine in Australia by volume, but at the Cellar Door you can also experience wines from the Personal Reserve range. The next stop is Brokenwood Wines, well known for its Cricket Pitch range and Graveyard Shiraz.
For a rich red or soft rose, Keith Tulloch Wine has something for you, and a view to enjoy it with. If you want to grab a bite before an afternoon tasting, the award winning Muse Kitchen is also on site.
If you prefer organic wines, Tamburlaine is Australia’s largest organic wine producer that boasts a five red-star rating in James Halliday’s ‘Wine Companion’.
Not sure what you like, but want to support the region? The Small Winemakers Centre showcases some of the best boutique wineries of the region from five boutique winemakers.
While most good wineries will have the option to purchase a cheese board with a tasting, it’s more an afterthought to the wine. If you want to experience the best cheese the Hunter region has to offer, a cheese tasting at Hunter Valley Cheese is a great place to start.
Or, you can build your own tasting plate to enjoy at home by picking up a cheese and antipasto platter at the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese shop.
If you can’t decide between wine and cheese, check out the ‘Cellar and Salumi’ experience at Usher Tinkler Wines.
If you’re not that into cheese, Two Fat Blokes will take you wine and chocolate tasting.
What to do
Get off the ground
What better way to see the Hunter Valley than from the sky? Wine Country Ballooning offers passenger balloon flights to take in the Hunter away from the crowds, and run daily sunrise flights that obviously include a champagne breakfast.
Relax and recharge
Heavenly Hunter specialises in the ancient Hawaiian massage styles of Lomi Lomi, Kahuna bodywork and most natural therapies – but it wouldn’t be the Hunter without grapes, so you can also ask for the ‘Shiraz Pizzazz body scrub’.
Pack the sticks
Tee off at the Hunter’s Cypress Lakes golf course. Designed by Steve Smyers from Florida, the 18-hole, Par 72 course is set on 6487 square metres in the heart of NSW wine country, providing numerous enticing options for the 19th hole.
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