If you think there’s nothing to do in the Valley that doesn’t involve vino, think again. Jessica Humphries explores a host of indulgent activities for non-drinking travellers.
An easy, two-hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, the Hunter Valley offers the perfect weekend escape for wine lovers. Set amid picturesque rolling hills and expansive vineyards, the area invites ultimate relaxation and rejuvenation before you’ve even picked up a glass.
So, what do you do if you don’t really fancy a vino? Rest assured, this plentiful part of the world offers an abundance of options for everyone – from foodies to health and wellness lovers.
Tempt your taste buds
Chocoholics will be pleased to discover that the region boasts almost as much chocolate as wine, even offering Chocoholic Tours for the seriously sweet toothed. If you’re keen to explore solo, Cocoa Nib is a must-visit to enjoy an abundance of artisan chocolates in an adorably quaint cafe. You’ll discover incredible flavours like Rose and Earl Grey, and the gold winner of Sydney’s Royal Chocolate Show, Yazu and Guava. Muse Kitchen next door offers an equally cute cafe that makes the perfect lunch venue if you haven’t filled up on sweet treats.
If cheese is your poison, check out The Smelly Cheese Shop, a quirky store overflowing with cheesy goodness, hamper delights and gelato in Roche Estate. Or for quality over quantity, Bionnorie Dairy is the expert in local soft cheeses.
A visit to the Hunter Olive Centre will allow you to ooh and aah over delectable delicacies just like your vino-loving companions.
Enzo is a romantically Tuscan-inspired cafe set aside a lake at Pepper’s Tree Village, serving up mouth-watering meals that will impress the most seasoned traveller. Love Kitchen is equally quaint, but a little quirkier, and serves country fare with a modern twist and a focus on local, organic produce. There are also plenty of vegan and vegetarian options – a unique offering in the area.
If an indulgent dinner inspires, there’s no better place to be than EXP – one of the Hunter’s most celebrated culinary destinations that boasts a dining experience like no other. Book ahead.
Enjoy some seriously indulgent spa time
Who needs wine when you can melt your worries away with a delicious treatment in a world-class spa?
The Golden Door Elysia Health Retreat and Spa is Australia’s biggest retreat centre, offering a smorgasbord of spa and wellness treatments to tickle everyone’s fancy. Think à la carte massage and facials, as well as healing treatments like chakra awakening and reflexology. Its signature treatment, Watsu, is a unique, water-based body treatment in a private heated pool – inviting participants to deeply relax the spine in ways not possible on land.
The Spa at Chateau Élan features an incredibly indulgent menu of French-inspired treatments in stylishly serene surrounds, as well as a day spa with Jacuzzis, saunas and a relaxing lounge to sit and enjoy a glass of bubbly (or some macaroons of course) before or after your session.
Ubika Spa at Crowne Plaza takes Hunter Valley indulgence to the next level, with its signature range of ‘Vinotherapy’ – you don’t have to drink wine to enjoy the afterglow offered by beauty treatments using wine by-products to rejuvenate and soothe the skin.
Nourish with nature
Hunter Valley Gardens is a natural wonderland with eight kilometres of walking paths that wind through 14 hectares of perfectly manicured, themed gardens, waterfalls, a lake, murals and more – offering the perfect place for reflection and tranquillity. If you happen to be around over the silly season, the Christmas Lights Spectacular is a fun family-friendly event, and there are many other joy-filled activities on offer throughout the year that have absolutely nothing to do with wine.
For something even more family-friendly, there’s Hunter Valley Zoo – showcasing animals from around the world in peaceful, natural surrounds perfect for a lunchtime barbecue. You can even experience a camping sleepover to immerse in a soundscape of nocturnal animals and wake up to roaring lions.
Shop till you drop
There’s a boutique-shopping village at the gardens where you can stock up on special treats and souvenirs to remember your stay. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, Lovedale Antiques won’t disappoint with its floor to ceiling treasures, and the Handmade in the Hunter Markets showcase local artisans and their quirky creations.
Frolic at a festival
The Hunter Valley plays host to a handful of concerts and festivals each year, showing off local and international talents, often set amid the vines. Hope Estate is home to Australia’s biggest purpose-built outdoor amphitheatre and features famous talents during concert season, as well as putting on some exciting events – from Opera in the Vineyards to the Cheese and Chocolate Festival.
Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Traveller.