Where wine, romance and countryside collide – here are our top picks of things to do and places to stay in the Hunter Valley
Just a short three-hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is a destination that’s all about decadence. But there’s more to explore beyond the cellar doors. With rolling greenery, gourmet food, quaint cottages and fireplaces aplenty, this stunning wine region is steeped in charm and romance. So set aside a long weekend to explore Australia’s oldest wine region, Sitchu style. Here's our pick of things to do and places to visit, for your next wine-fuelled getaway.
For a weekend in the Hunter Valley, be sure to…
Fuel up with coffee and brekkie at Café Enzo
Soak up the sun in the courtyard or cosy up by one of the fireplaces and dig into a simple but hearty meal. On day two, mix it up by going to The Deck Café or Redsalt Restaurant in the Crowne Plaza – the five-course degustation is an absolute must. Tuck into delectable plates of sashimi tuna, house smoked kangaroo loin and house honey cheesecake served with ginger crumble and strawberries. Delicious.
Indulge in delicious chocolates at Cocoa Nib
Pastry chef Aymee Slaviero is the genius behind this delightful shop at the Keith Tulloch Winery, which serves up artisan chocolates and cakes with T2 tea.
Linger over a long lunch at Circa 1876
Tucked inside a historic cottage on the Roscrea Estate, this is one of the Hunter’s most iconic restaurants. Clear your schedule and go for the two-, three- or five-course chef’s tasting menu. On your way out, pop into the Champagne Lounge for a glass of bubbles by the open fireplace.
Book a table at Restaurant Botanica
Set on the Spicers Estate, most of the ingredients and herbs are plucked from the garden, and there’s a sommelier on hand to match wines to every dish. PS. Ordering the custard and caramel ice-cream for dessert is another way to say ‘I love you.’
Take your tastebuds on a trip at EXP Restaurant
With chef Frank Fawkner at the helm, this is the Hunter Valley’s most adventurous dining experience. Opt for the five- or eight-course tasting menu with wine or non-alcoholic beverage pairing (just for something different!). It changes seasonally, but you can expect a string of dishes supercharged with flavour.
Leaves & Fishes
The Smelly Cheese Shop
Dress up for dinner at Muse Dining
Located at the iconic Hungerford Hill Winery, this fine dining restaurant is the ultimate date night spot. It serves local produce in the most beautiful way. For a more casual vibe, go to its sister restaurant, Muse Kitchen at Keith Tulloch Winery.
Sit down to a beautiful meal at Margan
The owners are pioneers of paddock-to-plate dining and produce their own olive oil and hone. Start by strolling around the stunning one-acre garden, and then order a bunch of seasonal dishes. Oh, and if the gnocchi is on the menu, that’s the best decision you’ll make all day.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Sabor in the Hunter
Nothing screams romance like whispering sweet nothings over dessert. This dessert bar is nestled in the vines at Lambloch Estate and offers everything from scones and soufflés to tarts and truffles.
Turn up the heat at Leaves & Fishes
Open Wednesday to Sunday, this restaurant dishes up Asian eats with a little kick. Share the Sichuan spiced chicken wings with pepper caramel peanuts.
Bring the Hunter home by stocking up on cheese and charcuterie
Hunter Valley Vineyard
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
Taste-test your way through the Hunter Valley’s best vineyards
With over 150 vineyards, it’s near-impossible to narrow down your list of cellar doors to visit. But don’t worry – this won’t be your last trip to the Hunter! For excellent chardonnay (and a trip down memory lane), go to Tyrrell’s; the winemaker’s wall is a who’s who of Aussie viticulture.
For chardonnay served with a side of culture, make your way to Winmark Wines. The chardonnay is next-level, as is the firepit which overlooks the property's beautifully landscaped grounds. There's also a majestic steel sculpture perched above the vines by sculptor David Ball. Owner Karin Adcock commissioned the piece just before he won the 2017 Bondi Sculpture by the Sea.
Resting on a hilltop, Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard is one of the valley’s oldest, and its sparkling Shiraz is phenomenal. Share a bottle, then sip on limited-edition wines at Piggs Peake Winery and organic drops at Tamburlaine and Macquariedale.
To transport yourself to the south of France for the afternoon, head to Krinklewood. Leave room to devour the cheese platters – they’re divine! And if you’re a go-boutique-or-go-home couple, you’ll love Pepper Tree, Vinden Estate, Spicers Estate, Hart & Hunterand Bimbadgen– which even has an outdoor amphitheatre that hosts concerts from time to time.
Usher Tinkler Elfes Images, Chris Elfes
Whispering Brooke, Gez Xavier Mansfield Photography
Whispering Brook, Gez Xavier Mansfield Photography
Usher Tinkler Elfes Images, Chris Elfes
Pair wine and cheese Boydell's cellar door
Stop off in the historic town of Morpeth to sample some of Boydell's critically acclaimed small batch drops. This boutique winery has won a plethora of awards, not to mention the glowing accolades from prestigious critic James Halliday, so you know a visit here means business. Tastings run from Wednesday through until Sunday, and can be paired with a platter of local cheeses, or alternatively, book into the restaurant where you can sit down to a delicious menu of local, seasonal classics.
Enjoy wine with handcrafted olive oil at Whispering Brook
A charming winery and olive grove, Whispering Brook will transport your taste buds to the heart of Greece. Their deliciously unique tasting experience combines handcrafted olive oil together with a selection of their finest vintages. Learn about olive cultivation, harvest, and artisan methods of olive and olive oil production, all the while sipping on some of their signature Hunter blends.
They also run a series of long table lunches nestled in the olive groves. Look forward to a Mediterranean share-style banquet with accompanying Whispering Brook wines, plus guest speakers and live music. 2020's lunch date is yet to be announced, so keep a look out on the website for further updates.
Head to Usher Tinkler for Cellar and Salumi
Housed inside an old converted church in Polkobin overlooking the Brokeback Mountains, Usher Tinkler's stylish cellar door brings a touch of urban cool to the heart of the Hunter. Decked out in rustic woods, old-school ceramic tiles and vintage mismatched furniture, this quirky space comes steeped in charm. Pull up a pew at the bar or nuzzle into the cosy Chesterfield sofas while one of the friendly, knowledgeable staff members takes you through a selection of Usher's inimitable blends.
The peppery shiraz is a particular highlight, and tastes incredible with one of their signature grazing platters. They come overloaded with local and imported cheese, – the French brie is to-die-for – salumi, local honey, olives, and house-pickled veg. Tastings cost $5 per person, which is redeemable on any wine purchase. They don't accept large groups either (up to 8 people max) so the atmosphere is always super relaxed and low-key.
Treat yourselves to a wine degustation at Hungerford Hill Winery
Are you wine-loving foodies? Indulge in the Epic Tasting Experience, a mini-degustation of eight Hungerford Hill wines matched with six bite-sized dishes from Muse Restaurant next door.
Appreciate the finer things in life at Tempus Two
Set on the rolling hills of the Roche Estate, this cellar door is gorgeous – and its shelves are lined with lovely Tempus Two drops. To make the experience more intimate, you can organise a private tasting.
Sip on colourful cocktails at The Goldfish
Settle in to a leather booth at this chic cocktail bar. If the weather’s warm, sit on the deck, order a crispy, thin-crust pizza (the braised lamb shoulder and potato is amazing), and admire the views of the Roche Estate. On weekends, you’ll be treated to live music.
Mingle with the locals at Harrigan’s Irish Pub
To get a taste of everyday life in the Hunter, swap stories at this lively Irish pub.
Visit the Hunter’s first microbrewery
Take a break from wine and check out Hunter Beer Co. With 10 beers on tap, the tasting room has a brew that’ll suit both of you.
Switch to vodka at the Hunter Distillery
Walk into warehouse distillery, and you might think you’ve wandered into a science lab. It offers flavoured vodka tastings in test-tube shots, along with the occasional gin.
The lush, sprawling parks are home to swimming holes and walking trails, so pack your sneakers and cossies! The Rock, near Pokolbin Mountain Road, also has gorgeous views of the valley.
Sign up for a romantic tour of the Hunter
With Vintage Connection’s Love in the Vines tour, you’ll be chauffeured around the Hunter’s most picturesque vineyards in a luxury car. The team can also arrange lunch in a private dining room or leave you with a picnic hamper.
Challenge each other to a grape-stomping competition
Adventurous couples, this one’s for you. At the Hunter Valley Resort, you can jump in an open quarter oak barrel, lock arms with your partner and stomp away!
Wander through the Hunter Valley Gardens
Spread over 60 acres, these gardens are gorgeous. Spend the afternoon getting lost, or do the ultra-romantic Lakes Walk.
For an equestrian adventure, sample the delights of the Hunter on horseback. Saddle up with Kim Murdock and Steve Hutchesson as they take you on a galloping journey of the famous wine region with their friendly rescue horses. Mucchessons Horseback Wine & Dine Tours (choose from full- or half-day tours) include VIP tastings at Wynwood Cellar Door, Hanging Tree Vineyard, a visit to the Wynwood Cellar Wine Museum and lunch at voco Kirkton Park.
Go all the way up with a hot air balloon ride
There’s nothing quite like floating above the vineyards while watching the sunrise. For a birds-eye view of the valley, Balloons Aloft will sort you out with a hot air balloon ride, followed by brekkie and bubbles at Peterson’s.
Before you leave, make time to visit…
Bordered by Wollemi National Park, this beautiful estate has a 4km ridge walk and mountain bike tracks to enjoy before a wine tasting.
The Spa at Château Élan Hunter Valley
This boutique winery might just be the most picturesque vineyard in the valley. Pick up a bottle of wine and a picnic hamper, and then head down to the lake.
An elegant, stylish boutique with sustainability at its core – all rooms feature plastic-free bedding made from recyclable materials and large-bottle amenities to reduce the volume of plastic waste. The kitchen also adopts a paddock-to-plate, zero-waste approach to food, with vegetable gardens, beehives and resident roaming farm animals who gladly make use of the leftover veggies. Set on 70 acres of picturesque countryside, and just minutes away from the region’s famed cellar doors, this luxury retreat is a haven of tranquility.
For the ultimate alfresco indulgence, Boydell's glamorous new safari lodges offer pure luxury in the great outdoors. Safari-style living at its most extravagant, these romantic retreats are beautifully decorated with wooden flooring, king-sized beds, stone sinks, mosquito nets and freestanding copper baths. Glamorous doesn't even cut it. Wake up to the sound of birds chirping and the waft of fresh, countryside air. If you're looking for a relaxing escape, this is undoubtedly the place to do it. Indulge in rustic surroundings and savour the picturesque views, before settling down to a barbecue feast paired with Boydell's matching wine flight. Sign us up immediately.
Tucked between the vines of the award-winning winery, this country house has eight spacious suites, along with a saltwater pool, tennis court and garden. For the utmost privacy, book The Gatehouse Cottage.
The Boathouses at Leaves & Fishes
Made up of four lakefront cabins, this adults-only retreat is an idyllic hideaway. The Balinese-inspired cabins feature a king bed and marble bathroom with a double shower and stone bath.
Tinonee Vineyard Estate
Casa la Vina
Tinonee Vineyard Estate
Vinden Estate Wines
The Residence at Tinonee Vineyard Estate
The Dairy Cottage and The Residence at Tinonee Vineyard Estate
Set in the charming village of Broke, this quaint two bedroom cottage beckons with a sense of charm and serenity. A romantic escape for couples – walk amongst the vines, cuddle up on the sofa next to the roaring fire, then sink into the beautiful period bath with a chilled glass of their signature Vederlho. Pure bliss. For larger groups, the neighbouring and rather opulent residence sleeps up to 18 guests and also has an outdoor swimming pool.
These luxurious, Moroccan-style villas are perfect for a romantic getaway. Each villa has a fireplace, BBQ and courtyard for lunching and stargazing, plus a king bed and kitchenette.
Post wine-tasting, stay the night at this vineyard’s Victorian-style guesthouse, which has a pool, tennis court, and scenic views of the Brokenback Ranges.
This two-bedroom cottage is as charming as it sounds. The owner, Sally, provides bacon, eggs (from her own chooks!), fresh bread, juice and fruit from the nearby orchard, and down the road, Bistro Molines can deliver dinner.