A weekend in Wollombi

IMG_6578Escaping the drudgery of the daily grind is always front of mind for me. I excel at, and thrive on, planning holidays, getaways, escapes, trips away, short breaks, days out and anything that involves seeing a new place and experiencing new things. It is sort of like a full-time hobby.

Thankfully Mr B is also something of a pro in such matters, so when he recently whisked me away to the utterly charming town of Wollombi in the Lower Hunter Valley region – a major wine region two hours north of Sydney – to celebrate my birthday, I was squealing like a little piggy in delight.

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Mr B and I have been to the Hunter Valley A LOT. We like wine, cheese, the countryside and all the indulgences that go with a weekend of gastronomical delights. What’s not to like? But as with most popular destinations, it can get a bit crowded at the weekends, with bus loads of people rocking up to wineries, overpriced food at mediocre establishments and general busyness that can prove irritating when all you want is a snifter of shiraz.

So this time, he took me to the delightful town of Wollombi, which is slightly off the beaten track, has a smattering of delicious wineries, luxurious accommodation options and less people than the main “hub” of the valley and is also pretty pleasing on the eye. To say I was in my element is an understatement.

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We stayed in Athol Cottage on the amazingly luxurious Blair Athol Estate, which is set on 800 acres of farmland and has kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, cows, horses and an abundance of other wildlife roaming freely. It was quintessentially Australian. And romantic.

Athol Cottage is an old cedar slab barn that has been lovingly restored to create a gorgeous getaway with a modern rustic vibe. It has a hot tub, all the mod cons you need, a hot tub, a log fire, a hot tub, a glorious deck, a hot tub and an amazing outlook onto the hills and valley. Did I mention that it also has a hot tub?

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As it was my birthday, we were greeted on arrival with a cheese platter, a special birthday chocolate fondue and a bottle of champagne, which was immediately opened and devoured, before spending the rest of the afternoon wondering the estate, feeding the horses and cows, drinking more bubbles and growing nice and wrinkly in the hot tub. It was divine. We didn’t want to leave.

Thankfully we didn’t have to as Mr B had the foresight to organise an abundance of food hampers to be delivered to the door of the cottage, so all we had to do was prepare, cook and eat. For me, this was perfection as it meant we could stay in the cottage (hot tub) and not have to get in the car and go in search of a pub or restaurant to fill our already full tummies. They even cut the onion and grated the cheese for the pizza toppings and chopped all the ingredients for the salad – what luxury! – so it really did require minimal preparation.

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Admittedly, we did venture out on Sunday after an amazing cooked breakfast of local produce, to visit a few of our favourite wineries and pick up some supplies to take back to Sydney, but we didn’t feel obligated to try anywhere new. We wanted to spend time in the amazing surroundings we had escaped to and savour every single moment. The weekend was all about Athol Cottage and spending quality time together – and of course, my birthday. We drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of cheese, ate a lot of everything else and played a lot of Trivial Pursuit. It was a truly magnificent birthday. Parting was such sweet sorrow.

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Glamping at Paperbark Camp

IMG_6430My husband and I are big fans of camping. Even before I met him I was a lover of the great outdoors, there is something really liberating about building a home for the weekend, settling down with a glass of wine by the camp fire and playing endless games of Trivial Pursuit under the beautiful night sky.

As I have gotten older, my camping experiences have evolved to be less about festival party experiences and more about a cheap getaway from the hustle and bustle of the nine-to-five. I wouldn’t say we rough it, we eat fillet steak and greek salad, drink Malbec and have cheeseboards. We just do it outside, away from technology and the comfort of our home.

Recently I upped the ante and booked a weekend away for Mr B’s birthday to the luxurious Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay, a gorgeous eco-luxury “glampsite” in Woollamia, about three hours south of Sydney. Having spent time in Africa, I knew Mr B would love the safari style tents, but I was a little concerned that the place wouldn’t live up to the hype and we would return to Sydney disappointed.

How wrong was I? It was truly glorious in every way. We stayed in one of the deluxe safari tents, which had THE MOST COMFORTABLE bed I have ever slept in and the most amazing bath tub overlooking the natural surroundings. I spent a good two hours with a book and a glass of bubbles (or two) in that tub – it was heaven.

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And if decadent plush surroundings were not enough to satisfy my pursuit of weekend escape luxury, the food in the onsite Gunyah restaurant was amazing too. Our booking included the Taste of Jervis food package which included breakfast and a three course dinner daily. I am usually a little sceptical about “food packages” and generally like to do my own thing, but once again, I was proven wrong – the food was sublime. Confit duck and Hiramasa Kingfish ceviche were a couple of the delicious morsels we wolfed down with a glass of red and my taste buds went into overdrive when I devoured the lemon posset, eucalyptus ice cream and compressed apple dessert – truly scrumptious.

And if a deliciously filling three course dinner wasn’t enough, a lovely touch also offered by Paperbark Camp is that you can order a picnic to take with you when you leave to explore the surrounding area for the day. On the Saturday, we drove to nearby Greenfield Beach, did a mini trek through the national park and returned to eat and drink a fantastic homemade lunch sitting on the beach, which meant we could enjoy our surroundings and not have to cut our beach time short to go in search of a place to eat. And believe me when I say this was not your average picnic, think gourmet chicken sandwiches, frittata, cookies, nuts and friands rather than soggy sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. It was a really nice touch.

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Back at the camp, we enjoyed drinks on the deck before heading to the Gunyah again for another amazing meal and a fantastic bottle of red and then retiring to our tent for a game of Scrabble and a nightcap. We woke on the Sunday completely relaxed but sad to leave as the whole experience was how a weekend should be – quality time together with excellent food and drink in beautiful surroundings. So we begrudgingly packed our bags and headed back to Sydney, but not before being farewelled by a family of kangaroos and the cutest little joey ever. It was simply perfect.

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