Spend a wine-themed weekend in the Hunter Valley.
By Ellie Schneider
What to expect
- Book a gourmet cooking class, or wine matching course
- Take your pick from more than 120 wineries
- Float away in a hot air balloon
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 400 kilometres (249 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Sydney
- Price: $$$
Australia's oldest wine region is home to 120 wineries, award-winning restaurants and beautiful hotels, adding up to the perfect culinary escape. Drive two hours north from Sydney to discover the beauty of the Hunter Valley.
Day 1: Ride through the vines
Check in to Spicers Vineyards Estate in Pokolbin, a five-star guesthouse set among native bushland. Suites have bluestone fireplaces and the option of a private courtyard or balcony with views over the vines. Hire bikes from nearby Grapemobile Bicycle Hire to explore the Hunter Valley's fabulous scenery of rolling hills, country laneways and dairy farms. Stop for a relaxed lunch within the Tuscan-inspired courtyard of Café Enzo, where you can dine on linguine with tiger prawns, or pork cheek and pistachio terrine.
There are scores of wineries to visit in the Hunter Valley, and you can easily drive or cycle between them. Start at picturesque Audrey Wilkinson, which is perched atop the foothills of the Brokenback Ranges, and serves excellent semillions at its country house tasting room. Sample chardonnay and shiraz at the country estate of Oakvale Wines, which has been in operation since 1893. At Usher Tinkler indulge in wines or whisky matched with prosciutto, truffle salumi and camembert within the beautifully restored Pokolbin Church. Visit the sleek 'tasting pods' at Brokenwood or soak up the views on their expansive outdoor terrace. They also offer a number of bespoke master classes to enhance any visit to the Hunter. In the evening dine at multi-award-winning Muse restaurant on dishes such as New Zealand king salmon sashimi, Redgate Farm duck leg and roasted Rothbury mandarin ice cream with coffee cream.
Day 2: Discover the Hunter's other star attractions
Wake early for a one-hour sunrise hot air balloon ride with Balloon Aloft. You'll rise high above the vineyards of Pokolbin, Lovedale, Rothbury and Broke, before enjoying a decadent champagne breakfast at Peterson House Winery. Afterwards, tee off at one of the Hunter Valley's championship golf courses including the 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed Vintage Golf Club. Or take a stroll through the enchanting 24-hectare (60-acre) Hunter Valley Gardens. Ten themed gardens, including the Rose Garden and Storybook Garden, showcase a diverse variety of botanic beauty.
Spend your afternoon unwinding at Golden Door Day Spa and Wellness Centre. Indulge in the 170-minute Spa Fusion, which includes a Swedish massage, customised facial and pedi spa. Book well in advance for dinner at EXP. and delve into its tasting menu with matching wines. The menu showcases seasonal, local ingredients – many of which are sourced from the kitchen garden.
Day 3: Tempt your tastebuds
Get your hands dirty with one of the Hunter Valley's fantastic cooking classes, which specialise in everything from Thai to Vietnamese, Indonesian and Italian cuisine. at Margan Winery you can shadow the restaurant's chef for cooking classes that are inspired by the produce that's in season at the time. Learn to cook with truffles in winter (June to August) or make the perfect Christmas feast in December. Classes run approximately four hours, finishing with a multi-course lunch matched with Margan wines.
Before you hop in the car for the journey back to Sydney, stock up on some of the Hunter's delicious regional produce. Sample handmade Belgium chocolate and fudge at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company or watch cheesemaking in action at The Hunter Valley Cheese Factory. Drop into Wine House, which combines multiple wineries in the one location and offers a tasting bar, wine lounge and unique wine experiences. For the ultimate 3pm sugar hit, make reservations at popular dessert bar Sabor. The "adults only" menu includes Portuguese mousse, Mars Bar cheesecake and a chocolate dipping plate, each paired with a local wine.
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