Escaping 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.