lastminute lovelies in the Hunter Valley

It’s absolutely absurd – I live in Sydney, love weekends away, LOVE wine, but had never been to the Hunter Valley. Until now…

Arriving after just two hours on the road, we pull into the drive of The Golden Door – Elysia. The only world class, purpose built destination spa in Australia, Elysia leads a double life: fabled health retreat by weekday, indulgent luxury hotel come weekend.

lastminute lovely Courtney enjoying a little wine

lastminute lovely Courtney enjoying a little wine

I’d read about Elysia in mags like Vogue and Marie Claire for years, and am pleased to report that it doesn’t disappoint. It’s called Golden Door for a reason, and as I peeled back the towering metal gateway, the serenity hit me like a soothing wall of chill – think pale wood, tumbling water features and calming music. If first impressions count, I’ve hit the jackpot, and it takes all my newly acquired serenity to resist singing, in my very best annoying Annie voice, “I think I’m gonna like it here!”

A few minutes later we’re checking into our villa, one of 74 at Elysia. You can choose from one, two or three bedrooms, making them ideal for both couples and groups of friends. Like everything else at Golden Door, they’re equal parts classy and impressive – more of that pale wood, plus sea green glass, giant baths, huge beds with crisp white linen, and large balconys overlooking the lush green of the Hunter Valley. We spend a fair whack of time on that balcony, eating cheese, chewing the fat, and sampling some seriously gorgeous local wine.

Brekkie at Elysia

Brekkie at Elysia

Speaking of which… Next morning, we’re up and at ‘em in time to hit the breakfast buffet before our Wine, Cheese, Chocolate and Champagne Safari. Never in my years of travel have I encountered a hotel breakfast like it – think fresh figs and mango slices plus seriously delicious house-made muesli. There are still the usual suspects, like bacon and eggs, but it’s so nice to have café-food style options rather than the usual cereal and stodge. Big thumbs up!

Soon enough, our ride is here – it’s Wine, Cheese, Chocolate and Champagne Safari time! Sure, it’s only 10am, but we’re THIRSTY, and enjoy our first stop of the day, Tamburlaine Organic Winery. For us, it’s all about the Gestalt Petite Fleur Rose (possibly the best rose I’ve ever, ever had) and the absolutely sensational dessert wines – the apricot-y Reserve Noble Chardonnay, rich raspberry Framboise and toffee Muscat.

All that dessert wine needs a cheese platter to accompany it, so it’s perfect timing that our next stop is the famous Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop. Our faves are the feta with sundried tomatoes and garlic, the labna and an incredible blend of mascarpone and gorgonzola called duetto. Add some crackers, olives, dukkah and olive oil, and we’re ready to snack up a storm. Yum.

We spend the rest of the day meandering from winery to winery, stocking up the cellar and soaking in the views. It’s a lovely way to explore the Hunter, and a safe way too – the tour comes with a designated driver!

Said driver drops us back at Elysia, and we decide to explore. Befitting of a health retreat, there’s a whole lot on offer – a 25m heated indoor lap pool plus outdoor pool, his and hers saunas and spa pools (yes, pools – they’re far too big to be called spa baths!), tennis and basketball courts, a gym and cycle room, plus a boutique and a library where you can borrow DVDs, CDs and books. Oh yeah, and there’s the SPA.

The lastminute lovelies enjoy a relaxing spa treatment at Elysia

Spa treatment at Elysia

There are 26 wet and dry treatment rooms at Elysia’s spa, and dozens of treatments to choose from – Vichy showers, algae wraps, mud baths… But we’re in the mood for good old fashioned total relaxation, and both opt for a Swedish massage. It’s 50 minutes of pure bliss, and we leave feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and refreshed.

After a divine dinner, we whack on a DVD from the library’s collection (Point Break – my Kathryn Bigelow, how far have we come!) and hit the hay. We’ve got an early start tomorrow, it’s Sunrise Hot Air Balloon time!

We’re so, so excited – the Hunter is just gorgeous from the ground, we can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like from the air! Alas, we never get the chance to find out, because unfortunately the weather turns foul and our flight of fancy is cancelled… Thankfully, we’re given a credit to go back and try again another time, which means an excuse to come back to the Hunter!

It’s been a fabulous weekend, equal parts indulgent and restorative, and we can’t wait to do it again. With this gem only two hours drive from the hustle and bustle of the Sydney CBD, why wouldn’t we?

The lastminute lovelies xox

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