The Hunter Valley is one of those destinations that require multiple visits. It’s near impossible to truly appreciate the diverse vineyards, restaurants and attractions of the region in one trip (or two… or five) – especially when you’re only in the area for a long weekend.
Since our first visit to the Hunter Valley late last year, Simon and I have been working on a way to make a return visit, but the stars never quite aligned for us – until recently.
Kicking off birthday month with a bang (why limit yourself to just one day) we returned for a much-needed long weekend of wining and fine dining, and this time took things to the next level by staying at one of the region’s most celebrated hotels – The Convent.
Located in Pokolbin, the heart and soul of the Hunter Valley, The Convent is about as iconic as they come. As the name would suggest, the 100 plus year old building was a convent in a former life. Disassembled and transported from Coonamble like an IKEA flat pack in the 90s, the property was rebuilt and transformed into the luxury hotel that exists today.
Entered via a grand, tree-lined driveway, The Convent cuts an imposing yet surprisingly inviting presence on the surrounding landscape. The heritage details of the building – from its colourful stained glass windows to the white bannister rails of the upper level – catch your eye, making you wonder just what might be hidden inside.
Though once a place for modest living, the building of today is almost the polar opposite – there is nothing austere or understated about the hotel’s décor. Every room is now luxurious and over the top, an eclectic fusion of Hamptons chic meets good old-fashioned Australiana. The nuns certainly never had it this good.
Entering the large front door, the first thing to grab your eye is the chandelier in the lounge. It’s huge. A cosy fireplace, lounge setting and high-backed chairs arranged for socialising hint this isn’t the kind of hotel where you just stay in your room. After a day of sightseeing, this makes a great spot to relax over a few wines.
Our guest room was similarly furnished, though things were thankfully toned down a bit (no one wants to wake to see a smiling cherub on their bed side). Sparkle and excess were replaced with a look of simple sophistication; a colour palette of navy blue, white and black transforming the heritage space into a modern retreat.
Rather than remove the soul of the old building, heritage features such as ceiling roses and pressed tin have thankfully been retained, with glittering chandeliers and more contemporary furnishings adding a sense of modern bling to the space.
When compared to the opulence of the bedroom, the peach-tiled ensuite does look a little dated – but it ticks all of the required boxes. Appelles Apothecary toiletries, which have become a fixture in hotels of late, up the luxe factor.
In the grounds outside, a swimming pool, tennis court and outdoor dining area prove there’s more than just indoor fun to be had here, while garden sculptures (such as a very cute wire dog) brought a bit of quirky charm to the property.
A hundred metres down the drive is Circa 1876, an award-winning restaurant with a strong focus on the paddock to plate philosophy, whereby food on the table is either grown in the onsite gardens or sourced within a local 50km radius.
During a garden tour with Head Chef Trent Barrett, we were told the much-loved kitchen garden is a great tool for reminding people where their food comes from and the effort required to create it. And it seems to be working. Chef Barrett says several diners have been inspired by the do-it-yourself approach, returning to show off images of their gardens.
Beyond the hotel, dozens of vineyards and wineries are at your disposal. If you don’t feel like travelling far, Pepper Tree Wines has a cellar door within the hotel grounds. Polly Fume, Tempranillo and Semillon are just a few of their drops worth trying.
The Convent isn’t the newest property in the Valley, but that’s what makes is so special. It has character and charm in spades. If the quintessential Hunter Valley food and wine experience if what you seek, this is the place to find it.
Learn more about The Convent – theconventhuntervalley.com.au
Check live rates at Booking.com
When You Go
Where is the Hunter Valley?
The Hunter region is located just over two hours drive north of Sydney.
There are over 150 wineries across the region. Semillon and Shiraz are two of the notable local varieties produced, but the region also produces top notch Chardonnay and Verdelho.
Where should you go?
- Hunter’s Dream Estate – The newest cellar door in the Valley. In addition to vines producing Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Semillion and Chardonnay, the 77-hectare estate features lavender fields, olive groves, fruit orchards, tea trees and bee hives. Try the Director’s Reserve Sparking Bruit Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2014, which picked up a Gold Medal at the 2016 Hunter Valley Boutique Wine Show.
- Pepper Tree Wines – Pepper Tree cellar door has a relaxed and informal vibe, but don’t let that fool you – they know their stuff and the wines are seriously top notch. They have a small vineyard in the Hunter, but the majority of grapes are produced in Orange and Wrattonbully.
Visit winecountry.com.au for more info.
– We stayed as guests of The Convent.