IT SEEMED like a military operation – seven adults and seven children disembarking en masse, wrestling with luggage and kids, collecting hire cars and establishing who would be getting the food and who would be in charge of stopping at the pub to get essential supplies.
As we arrived at the Hunter Valley house, the neighbours would have heard a cacophony of noise – car doors slamming, kids jumping on beds, people yelling between rooms about who was sleeping where, and eventually champagne corks popping as we settled in for our three-day weekend of winery tours, gastronomical experiences and family fun.
My mother wanted to create a lasting memory for her 70th birthday, so she decided to pay for her children and grandchildren to fly to Newcastle where she hired cars and rented a beautiful house in the Hunter Valley region of Broke.
She achieved her purpose. Three days of family bonding has created a lifetime of memories for her grandchildren and cemented the relationships of a group of people who already had strong family ties.
That’s not to say that the whole weekend was a bubble of love and perfection. In acknowledgement of our Italian heritage there were spirited discussions and plenty of wine consumed, and in recognition of our Australian birthright there was time spent yelling at the cricket, suffering hangovers, and arguing over kids.
The Hunter Valley is the perfect family getaway. Only a short flight from Brisbane to Newcastle and a one hour drive to the Hunter Valley there was a wide range of accommodation options from five-star resorts, bed and breakfasts and self-contained houses that accommodate anywhere from two people to 20 people.
The Hunter Valley Olive House had four double bedrooms, three bathrooms and a bunkhouse for the children. The tennis court was also used as a cricket pitch and the table tennis table in the bunkhouse was the venue for an elimination tournament. It was a basic three-star standard but a comfortable spot for us to stay.
The main attraction of the Hunter Valley is the wineries. With a choice of over 120 cellar doors in Pokolbin, Broke, Wollombi, Rothbury and Lovedale which make up the Hunter Valley Wine Region, each have a unique feel and style.
Entry to the very fancy Bimbadgen Winery introduces the sights and smells of wine making with its production tanks and crushing pits on display. The cellar door overlooks the vines and there was an extensive selection of wines to sample.
For lovers of bubbles and chocolate, combine a visit to Peterson’s Champagne House where in addition to sampling the sparkling wines, you can wander out to the deck and dine on oysters, cheese or antipasto. Next door is the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company with a large range of Belgian chocolate products. The chocolate-dipped strawberries will have you licking your plate clean.
If wineries and chocolate shops are not enough there is plenty to keep the kids busy such as a visit to the Hunter Valley Gardens, playing a round of golf, or horse-riding. Other indulgences include a visit to a day spa, a hot air balloon flight, shopping in boutiques and gift shops or taking part in a cooking school.
Another Hunter Valley attraction that goes hand-in-hand with wineries is, of course, the food. There is a plethora of choice from degustation menus and romantic dining to tapas and casual pub meals. Local cheeses, olives and breads can be bought to enjoy with your cellar door favourites.
Multi-award winning Margans Restaurant in Broke was the venue we chose to celebrate mum’s birthday meal. They provided a table for our large group on the veranda which overlooked the fruit and vegetable garden where chooks roamed free. The atmosphere was relaxed and laid-back but the food, which was influenced by Mediterranean flavours, was superb.
There is a choice of a three, four or five-course tasting menu including offerings such as spaghetini with spanner crab chilli, lime and pangrattato, seared pepper crusted kingfish, torched avocado and sauce gribiche; and triple cooked pork cheek with scallops, flamed jamon and white bean cassoulet. You could include the white peach parfait with raspberry rose water, peach syrup and Persian fairy floss to finish of your gastronomical experience. Margan’s wines were an affordable and perfect accompaniment to our fabulous meal experience.
Our weekend included family, food, wine, love and laughter and many happy memories. Thanks Mum.
Accommodation and touring information: http://www.winecountry.com.au/