A Weekend in the Hunter Valley

So I finally had a short break! As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a busy few months and I was deeply, definitely, desperately… in need of a good break. Y & M were also keen for a break, so we made some plans and decided on a long weekend in the Hunter Valley – or as we dubbed it, the Burnout Getaway, because that’s how we were all feeling. We all needed to just get out of town, away from any reminders of work and just unwind.

The drive up to the Hunter was super easy, and relatively fast for a Friday night but we made it to Pokolbin in just under 2 hours. We managed to get a really great deal on a small villa in the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley resort and it was absolutely perfect – we all had our own rooms and there was heaps of space to just veg out. The villa also came with a good kitchen, but cooking was definitely not on the agenda for the weekend! Our plans were very simple – no cooking, no rushing, and no stress! We fortunately didn’t have to wander very far at all for most of the weekend. Red Salt, the standard restaurant of the Crowne Plaza brand, was great for a convenient and delicious dinner on site and they did breakfast service as well. (No photos cos by the time we arrived, I was lazy AF XD)

The only solid plans we made were for what we called the “Luxe Day”. After a lazy morning enjoying the full spread buffet breakfast at Red Salt, we vegged out watching cable TV then got ready for a 4 hour session at the Ubika Spa, also on site at the resort. Our package included an ah-mazing 2 hours in the private Sanctuary Suite to relax as a with hot-tub and sauna followed by a full hour body massage and another hour facial – really great value! With just the three of us in the private suite, we just chilled and chatted in the beautiful space and were fully at peace, ready for the rest of the treatments.

We left the spa floating on cloud nine and also starving – it’s funny how lazing around can make you hungry! I always find this is the case after a massage, maybe there’s something in that with all the muscles being worked… Anyway, we knew we wanted to have at least one delicious degustation on this trip and it fit perfectly with our day of luxury. We chose EXP. Restaurant, a really interesting and delicious experience – I’ll post seperately about this later.

We spent our final full day of break sleeping in and then meandering out for a late brunch at Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Kitchen. Well known for the hearty meals and generous portions, we were recommended this place by several friends, and were excited to try it out. We were luckily one of the last groups to make it in just before the lunch peak hour as we saw a few groups turned away after we sat down – bookings are a must for this popular spot!

The Two Fat Blokes? Or just the cutest S&P shakers?
Fresh, hot, maple and chilli cornbread with sweet chilli butter.
Giant bbq pulled pork sliders with hand cut chips.
The German sausage feast and corn fritters.
12 hour slow cooked beef cheeks on a bed of mash, with broccolini and mushroom puree.

Having slept in, we were pretty hungry and possibly ordered with our eyes rather than our stomachs… but what’s a holiday without some (more) indulgence? As M says, “when on holiday, just don’t hold back!”. We each ordered mains with the intention of sharing, though with the generous sizing, we probably could’ve just shared two mains… but I mean who knows when we would be back? And boy were we glad we didn’t miss out on anything. Maybe it was the hunger, maybe it was sitting outside on a brilliant shining Sunday with chill live music playing behind us, or maybe it was just holiday euphoria, but everything was amazing and delicious! The sausages had a perfect bite and pop (cheese kransky was the fave), the pulled pork was tangy and morish, and the beef was sticky and rich and just melted onto the fork (and into my face!). The corn fritters we ordered as a bonus to share, and they were fluffy and crisp – something I find to be a rare achievement. The favourite though I think was the fresh, hot steaming cornbread – just a little spicy and so morish. We ate pretty much every morsel and had (mostly) no regrets… until we stood up :D.

We eventually rolled our way out of our perfect bench in the sun and after a quick spin of the deli and a mental note to come back to potentially pick up dinner, we continued our day of meandering. Wineries were not high on our list of adventure for the weekend, but while in the area we felt we had to explore at least one or two. I was interested in checking out Krinklewood – an organic winery that I’d only recently heard of – and M had never been to Piggs Peake (my absolute fave), so we had to take her there.

Krinklewood is a fully certified organic and biodynamic vineyard, meaning that the vineyard is managed in a wholistic and sustainable way, without the use of any chemicals. The cellar door is a little off the beaten track, quite literally as they’re located in the southern end of Broke Fordwich – a good 15-20 minutes from where we were in the Pokolbin area (I may have missed the original turnoff and had to double back…). I think this has possibly been why I missed this vineyard in my previous visits as the maps we had back in the early 2000s focused mainly on the Pokolbin/Lovedale regions so Krinklewood would have fallen outside of these maps – good thing the internet, instagram and good ol’ flyers at our hotel pointed us this way!  The people at Krinklewood strong believers in that ‘you get back what you put in’ and it shows in their delicious wines! The rose was a favourite in the group, as was the Wild White and the Gypsy Shiraz, but I loved the complex flavours of the River Blend, a refreshingly sweet dry blend of verdelho and gewurztraminer kept unfiltered to maintain all the flavours. I also loved the light stickiness of the Lucia dessert wine. It’s a lovely cellar door and I recommend a visit, even if only to enjoy the beautiful courtyard where I had to strike a pose.

Back in the other direction,  and perhaps the other end of the spectrum, is Piggs Peake, where we pretty much wrapped up the day. What can I say about Piggs Peake… I call it the rock’n’roll vineyard of the Hunter because it’s relatively younger (ish), has made waves, and is just super fun. Also every time we visit, they’re playing awesome rock/grunge. I don’t have any snaps from this trip… mostly cos I was too busy enjoying everything. They have a large range of wines, mostly I feel because they develop based on whim and wherever their fancies take them, which is fine by me because it’s all pretty delicious. My favourites are the sweets… pigscato and the riesling – sweet but not too sweet. From the current range, I liked the marsanne, the verdelho, the pedro… I like all their whites really. I’m not a big reds fan, but if you like shiraz, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The tempranillo is delicious. The zin is fantastic. I really do just love it all. One day I’ll go back for a proper visit and maybe do a proper post… if I remember lol.

And all too soon it seemed we were packing and getting ready to head home. We were so chilled out and relaxed though, we didn’t really want the adventure to end and we stretched out that trip home with as many side stops as we could! We forewent another breakfast at the hotel for sleeping in and a pit stop in Cessnock before the main leg of the drive home. Keep cups in hand, we stopped in at Mr O Kitchen Espresso for the compulsory coffee and also at Grice’s Bakery, just a regular town bakery, but the best kind that does everything from an iced bun to super buttery flakey sausage rolls. I love Aussie town bakeries. Pies and pastries just somehow get better the further from home you are.

Next pit stop plugged into the GPS was a fish’n’chip recommendation in Brooklyn, just off the M1, but a bit of ducking and weaving on the motorway somehow meant we missed a turn and next thing you know were quickly Googling a new spot. Some fast backseat driving and a stressful winding road later, we were in Berowra Waters at the Fish Cafe. I love discovering new places – and while this place was definitely not a new joint, it was certainly new to me and a true adventure find! A little ferry trip at the bottom of Berowra Waters Road pretty much leads to this cafe, nestled in heart of the national park in a small little anchorage full of boats.

Lovely views (even in the gloomy weather) and fresh, flaky, battered fish? I don’t think I could complain about that ending to a short getaway! We shared a seafood platter and some salt and pepper calamari. Well worth the drive.

I’ve spent many a long weekend thinking that I could have taken more time, if only to be able to take a break after the drive home, but I’m glad we didn’t make that mistake this time. Taking just the weekend is enough time to spin around and by the time you’re settled, you have to go home. This trip was a proper break, three nights and four full days of doing absolutely very little and yet we also seemed to pack in a bunch! A little bit of rest and recuperation, a little bit of luxury and a lot of good wine and company. I think that’s my favourite kind of getaway! 💛


Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley / Red Salt
430 Wine Country Dr, Lovedale NSW

Two Fat Blokes Kitchen
De Iuliis Wines, 1616 Broke Road, Pokolbin NSW

Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard
712 Wollombi Rd, Broke NSW

Piggs Peake Winery
697 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin NSW

Mr O Kitchen Espresso
41 Vincent street, Cessnock NSW

Grices Bakery
96 Vincent St, Cessnock NSW

Berowra Waters Fish Cafe
199 Bay Rd, Berowra Waters NSW

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