For ultra luxury, Tower Lodge in NSW’s Hunter Valley fits the bill. Boutique size and grand in scale, it is often a retreat for celebrities – oh crap, I swore I wouldn’t mention that.
Built in an imposing but spartan Spanish mission style with a central cobblestone courtyard and fountain, the lodge comprises 12 super-sized guest rooms including two suites, a library (pictured below), the award-winning Nine restaurant, a central dining room and lounge area in front of a cavernous fireplace. The lodge is part of the Tower Estate winery.
If you’re reading this from overseas, the Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s major wine-growing regions, and it’s about two hours north of Sydney. It is hugely popular as a weekend destination and for weddings. Concerts are also held at selected vineyards, drawing tens of thousands of fans.
Tower Lodge – open seven days a week, not just weekends – took top honours winning the Global Luxury Lodge award at the 2010 World Luxury Hotel Awards. It’s one of only five Australian members of the French gold-standard organisation of Relais & Chateaux, a global fellowship of individually owned and operated boutique luxury hotels and restaurants that reflect unique cultural and historical perspectives. The group has some 500 members in 60 countries on five continents – most strongly represented in Europe.
Each room at Tower Lodge is uniquely furnished and features a king size bed, deep soaking spa bath, complimented with antiques and original art.
The decors are Lawrence of Arabia meets Camelot meets French Renaissance. Tower obviously doesn’t have bedroom-wrecking rock stars or Charlie Sheen as guests. Precious artefacts include a Picasso, a Louis XV writing desk and a 300-year-old handcarved Rajasthani bed. You wouldn’t want to stumble over any of those after a few too many glasses of Tower Estate wine. One room is particularly popular with wine tasters because it has no steps down into the bedroom area. You can totter in the door and weave to the bed with no obstacles to be negotiated.
The Tower’s prestigious restaurant Nine, is located nine feet below ground and seats only a few more than nine. The nine-course degustation menu is $A150 ($A250 with matched wines). You can tell the place was created and is run by a Virgo, right? More about him soon – he’s training to climb Mt Everest (a very Virgo thing to do) . Nine is accessed by a staircase from the main dining room. Staff must get fit just racing up and down those stairs all night. Talking of which, dinner takes a while. A brisk walk to the nearby wineries – there are four within spitting distance – is not a bad idea before you sit down.
Nine won the Best New Restaurant award at the National 2010 Savour Australia Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence. Executive chef Daniel Hunt has designed seasonal degustation menus using local Hunter Valley produce paired with one of six optional wine lists, featuring a selection of premium local and imported varieties along with Tower Estate’s own wines. The dessert featured below is Daniel’s creation: crisp lemon roll, raspberry powder, coconut and white chocolate. Take a bow, Daniel, it looks too good to eat.
High tea, created by pastry chef Carla Wile, is $A42 a head and is open to any visitors on weekends. Like Daniel, Carla is also an artiste. This is seriously elegant fare. Champagne is also available.
The bottom layer is triangles of sandwiches, with the middle layer comprising scones, clotted or whipped cream and jam, and melting moments or macarons. The scones are usually served warm, straight from the oven. If they’re not warm, ask for them to be heated. The top layer may include panna cotta, cupcakes, miniature lemon meringe pies and fudgy brownies.
Wile makes the best lamingtons I’ve ever tasted. Seriously. The sponge is feather light and the dark chocolate coating has a magnificent bitter-chocolate rush. Lamingtons are a traditional Australian treat made with a light sponge cake cut into squares, coated in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut. In keeping with the lodge’s exclusivity, this afternoon delight is only available for about 15 people all up – so bookings are a must.
- Tower Lodge is about two and a half hours drive from Sydney or 35 minutes by chopper. If you are driving there from Sydney, leave by early afternoon because after 2.30pm the traffic on the Pacific Highway is HELL.
- Room rates range from $A710 to $A810 per night and include accommodation for two, full buffet and a la carte cooked breakfast, complimentary afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks and an evening turn down service.
- High tea on weekends is $A42 pp or $A56 pp with champagne. Reservations essential. Call 02 4998 7022.
- Tower Lodge is part of the Hunter Valley’s food and wine festival during June, with special dinners and wine tasting.
- More info www.towerestate.com.
- For transport by helicopter go to www.helicharter.com.au
*Heather Tyler was a guest of Tower Estate. Fabulous photography: Sue Murray.