With its open countryside, rustic laneways and scores of cellar doors, the Hunter Valley offers acres of bike-friendly terrain. Last year, the icing hit the cake when a new cycleway opened, connecting more than a dozen wineries. Whether you're content to explore just one such patch or hope to cover as much ground (and as many wineries) as possible, our guide will take you where two wheels work best.
OPTION ONE: CONQUER THE HUNTER VALLEY CYCLEWAY
In August 2017, cyclists scored a win when the ribbon was cut on the new Hunter Valley Cycleway. This multi-million dollar, 10.6-kilometre adventure travels alongside Hermitage Road, from the New England Highway intersection in the north to Broke Road in the south. Electric bike hire is available at the nearby Sutton Estate.
Whichever direction you choose to travel, start or finish with a wine and cheese flight at De Iuliis' stunning cellar door, designed by architect Lionel Glendenning. While gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows over landscaped gardens, you'll be feasting on divine local cheeses, matched with expressive small-batch drops. Another boutique stop en route is Peter Drayton, a fifth generation wine maker, where you can taste tyrian, a hybrid variety created by the CSIRO. There's a microbrewery onsite, too, offering seasonal brews, such as Black Forest Stout and Hazelnut Brown Ale, as well as woodfired pizzas. Then, at Mistletoe Wines, you'll be sipping sparkling rose while wandering through a sculpture garden, and, at Tintilla, sampling sangiovese overlooking an olive grove.
Come lunchtime, settle in at Restaurant Botanica, within Spicers Vineyards Estate. Every morning, head chef Matthew Bremerkamp picks produce from the kitchen garden and transforms it into refined dishes. Start with a beef carpaccio served with roasted artichoke, porcini cream and parmesan, before moving onto a pistachio- and cumin-crusted lamb with asparagus and pomegranate. Or commit to the tasting menu, which lets you taste your way through five courses ($110), with optional matching wines ($155).
WHERE TO STAY: Cyclists need their rest. For a stay that combines everything good about Hunter sleepovers – beautifully-designed things, vineyards, gumtrees and kangaroos at dusk – while keeping crowds at a distance, book a designer villa at Ironbark Hill. It's located right on the Hunter Valley Cycleway. You'll be soothing your tired muscles in your own spa, losing yourself in mountain views from your private deck and getting snug before a roaring log fire in your open lounge room, before collapsing into a kingsized bed. Picture windows let in loads of light, plus there's a spacious kitchen (with Nespresso machine), massive TV and BBQ.
Spicers Vineyards Estate
OPTION TWO: GLIDE DOWN POKOLBIN MOUNTAIN
To cycle around secret territory, head to Grapemobile Bicycle Hire, at Pokolbin Brothers Wines. Once you're fixed up with a bike, you'll be handed a map, which guides you to boutique wineries via off-road trails and private vineyards. Work your way through Calais Estate's extensive wine list, surround yourself with rural panoramas at Waverley Estate and sink into a leather lounge in an art gallery at Gemelli Estate. Should you work up an appetite, you'll find tapas backdropped by mountains at The Verandah Restaurant, as well as cheese platters and gourmet picnic hampers at several cellar doors.
For a more extensive adventure – and an adrenalin rush – go for a Grapemobile Mountain Ride. The team will drive you to Pokolbin Mountain Lookout, where you'll get a complimentary morning tea, while taking in epic vistas of the Hunter Valley, before beginning your descent. Cruise at your own pace down Pokolbin Mountains Road, passing bushland, farms and gorgeous rest stops. Bike hire continues until 6pm, so rushing isn't necessary.
Be sure to pop into Nanna Kerr's Kitchen, which you'll find at number 16. Here, Matthew Kerr (yep, brother of the famous Miranda) and his husband, Jimmy, serve home-style, mostly-organic fare, very close to where their nan was born. If all the cycling has you ravenous, dig into Nanna's Got A Sore Head: three tiers loaded with fritters, spicy chorizo, beef sausage, bacon, roast tomato, marinated mushrooms, OMG potatoes, scrambled eggs, sourdough toast, Kerr's Organic Chutney, relish and jam. There's also a generous high tea, crowded with beef brisket sliders, soup shots, double choc brownies, panna cotta and other delights. If you're a vegetarian, paleos or celiac, you can count on being well looked after.
WHERE TO STAY: If all that cycling has you dreaming of soft sheets and massages, a luxurious option is the tranquil hideaway of Spicers Vineyards Estate, surrounded by vineyards on one side and bushland on the other. Every room features soothing natural colours, a spa and an open fireplace, while communal facilities include an outdoor pool and a day spa.
OPTION THREE: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ROUTE
Cyclists who like to free range can hire a bicycle from Crowne Plaza and take themselves on their own adventure. Do be careful: some of the Hunter's roads are rather narrow. Just 15 minutes' ride from the Crowne, at 86 Halls Road, you'll find Pepper Tree Wines. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the picturesque cellar door or go straight for a tasting, working your way through several multi-award winning drops.
Another 15 minutes will get you to The Cellar Restaurant, housed in a magnificent sandstone and glass building with an enormous fireplace indoors and a wisteria-draped courtyard outdoors. Among the indulgent, European-influenced offerings are braised Milly Hill lamb shank with shepherd's pie, spinach and gremolata, and duck confit with shallot tarte tatin, chestnut puree and cavolo nero. Once you've eaten to your heart's content, explore the Hunter Valley Gardens, before moving on to nearby cellar doors, which include McGuigan, Brokenwood, Tempus Two and Tamburlaine Organic.
WHERE TO STAY: You can hire a bike from Crowne Plaza, so it's a convenient choice of accommodation. You'll have every activity imaginable on your doorstep, including tennis courts, basketball hoops, a Ubika Spa and a golf course. It's a good solution for groups.
Jasmine Crittenden travelled to the Hunter Valley as a guest of Destination NSW.