Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, the Perfect Spot For a Weekend Getaway

Pokolbin is located in the eastern part of the Australian state of New South Wales. It rests in the internationally famed wine region of the Lower Hunter Valley. Pokolbin is in fact a rural area rather than a town, though it is situated between two towns, Cessnock and Branxton. It is a popular attraction due to its many wineries and vineyards, day spas, resorts and local artisans. What follows are some of the attractions of the land.

The Hunter Valley is most famed for its wines and is what draws most of its visitors. Dozens of wine producers and vintners are based here, ranging from big multinationals to small family operations. Most of the countryside is under cultivation. The most common plantings are Shiraz and Semillion with Chardonay, Cabernet and Sauvignon rounding out most of the rest.

The Vintage Hunter Wine and Visitors Centre at 455 Wine Country Drive in Pokolbin can direct visitors to the towns, accommodations, dining establishments and festivals in the Valley. Most importantly they can direct you to the many wineries and arrange visits to such vintners as Vinden Estate Wines, Thalgora Estate, Blueberry Hill Vineyard, Morgan Family Wine Growers and Tyrrell’s Wines.

At the center of the area is Pokolbin Village, popular as a base from which to tour the wine country due to its central proximity and being in walking distance of nearly all local wineries and cellars. The resort is set up like a village amidst landscaped grounds. Visitors may stay in suites with private verandas or bedroom villas and a homestead for more private stays. Tours of the wine country and its attractions can be arranged with the staff there.

Another famed place here are the Hunter Valley Gardens. Created by Bill and Imelda Roche, award-winning gardeners and landscapers. Here twelve themed gardens cover over twenty-five hectares of land. A famed holiday spot, the Mercure Resort provides accommodations and there are many events besides the regular garden tours.

Some of the gardens found here are the Rose Garden, where over eight thousand roses of over one hundred and fifty varieties grow in a garden patterned in a corkscrew shape. There is the Sunken Garden, a garden landscaped to give a sunken, grotto-like appearance, featuring a large waterfall and pond the size of five Olympic pools amidst an array of evergreen and deciduous trees. Then there are the Chinese and Oriental Gardens where one enters through traditional Chinese moongates and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese influences are blended to incorporate rocks, raked gravel, bamboo stands, Ginko trees, pagodas and lakes filled with water lilies and Asian fish.

Barrington Tops is a natural area that is divided into a State Forest and a National Park. Here one finds great basalt cliffs, rain forests, moss swamps and trout streams. It is on the list of World Heritage sites and is a twenty-five kilometer long plateau set between extinct volcanoes. Diverse and plentiful flora and fauna live here. The site provides for outdoor activities such as bushwalks, canoeing and kayaking, mountain and trail bicycling and camping.

As one can see, Pokolbin provides access to domesticated as well as wild nature and makes available activities and amenities in plenty for those on holiday.

How to Be a Hayes Valley Girl

We really enjoyed this gourmet food walk. Hayes Valley is a hidden gem that we recently discovered and is a wonderful mix of restaurants, shops, galleries and cafes.

Our tour took us to several places The first was at the Samovar Tea Lounge House. We tried tea that was infused 3 times for 3 different tastings. Couldn’t discern the difference that much but maybe we don’t have a sophisticated “tea palette”?

Next was one of our favorite stops – and that was at Fritz, a chic cafe that serves Belgian Crepes to die for and fries with an array of over 20 delicious dipping sauces. We were served the fries and chose three sauces – White Truffle Artichoke, Pesto Mayonnaise and Kalamata Ketchup. Yum! We could have munched on these all day!

Next door to Fritz was Marino Mexican Seafood Restaurant where we had tasty fish tacos. Very fresh and satisfying. We walked across the street to check out True Sake. We aren’t fans of sake but if you are they have a great variety to choose from.

After a nice walk through the Hayes neighborhood, past elegant Victorians and the San Francisco Zen Center, we stopped at Delessio, an organic deli. We were served a generous plate of a variety of cured meats with some bread and olives. The deli food and desserts on display looked incredible and we want to go back to try some of the dishes.

Ok, we were getting a little full by now but there’s always room for dessert, right? Our last 3 stops were at Miette Confiserie, Citizen Cake Patisserie, and Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates.

Miette Confiserie had European style macaroons which were good but don’t expect there to be any coconut in them. Elizabeth Faulkner (anyone who watches the Food channel may recognize that name) owns Citizen Cake. We sampled the most amazing cupcakes! Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate had some of the most beautifully decorated and delicious chocolate that we have ever tasted! So with overstuffed but happy bellies we rolled ourselves back to our car. We were very impressed with our Hayes Valley tour. Our guide Andrea, was friendly and gave us a lot of interesting tid bits about the area. There were so many other restaurants that we didn’t get to that looked delicious.

We liked the area so much we returned and gave our own little tour with other family members…more then once. (Ok, Fritz fries are amazing but enough of them already)

Baja’s Wine Route and Valleys

There aren’t that many places in Mexico where the combination of land, altitude, seasons, time and weather come together in such a way as to give the ideal Mediterranean conditions for the growing of grape vines, olives, refreshing citrus fruits as well as the collection of honey. One such area is located between the parallels 32o35 and 31o15 North Latitude in the region known as the Wine Route; where not only the Guadalupe Valley (Valle de Guadalupe) but also San Antonio de las Minas, Santo Tomas, Calafia, San Vicente, Las Palmas, and the Tecate valleys extend perpendicular to Baja’s Pacific Coast.

Perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, this part of Baja offers you a number of choices for entertainment. If you choose to venture into the wine valleys, you can start from Tecate in the north, sampling the beer that bears the town’s name, the Cuauhtemoc brewery, founded more than 110 years ago, offers guided tours of their facility Monday through Saturdays, from there you can continue your journey south by highway #3 which will take fist of all to the Tanama Valley where Tanama Wines awaits with its beautiful gardens; continue on and you will reach Valle de las Palmas, there you fill find the Cavas de Don Juan where you can stop by and visit their store which offers products such as grapes, honey, olives and olive oil. To the south of Las Palmas you will find the Guadalupe Valley, also known as Calafia Valley, home of the two largest wine producing houses in the country Casa Domec and L.A. Cetto where you can sample award winning wines and enjoy a tour of the cellars and fields; this valley is also home to Monte Xanic, Chateau Camou, Adobe Guadalupe, Biyaboff with its Russian heritage, Baron Balche where you might just want to take a closer look at the sand by the caves, you’ll be surprised to discover you are standing on grape seeds. Continuing the route further to the southwest, San Antonio de las Minas Valley awaits with Casa de Piedra who offers a course on wine growing, Viña de Liceaga, Viñedos Lafarga, Vitivinicola Tres Valles, Vinisterra, one of the newly established wine makers in the region, all of which offer tours and sampling; some require reservations. If you continue south, 90 km past the city of Ensenada you will arrive in San Vicente Valley home to Vides y Vinos Californianos.

Another option is to start from the south, taking the scenic route (highway #1) all the way to the third toll booth, before entering Ensenada look for the highway 3 exit (Ruta del Vino), toward Tecate, which will take you to the San Antonio de las Minas Valley. Tourist offices in Baja can provide you with a map of the wine route.

Considering that this area is home to around 50 wine producing houses from the large internationally know to the small family owned artisan wine producers, a lot of which are gaining international acceptance winning awards in Nappa Valley, Ensenada and Europe, it is impossible to list all of them and their particular qualities. The best way to experience them is to come down for a visit, along the Wine Route you will find choices of dining from family restaurants to fine cuisine, ranches for camping, artisan centers, museums, wine boutiques, art galleries, small inns and B&Bs, Viñedo Adobe Guadalupe has its own six bedroom B&B plus stables where you can go horseback riding; all of this and the beautiful natural surroundings make this a special tourist destination. Whether or not you come for the wine, the food, ranches and other recreational areas still makes the trip worth while.

The history of wine making in the Baja valleys is speculated to go all the way back to Hernan Cortes, who in 1524 was the appointed governor of the New Spain, ordered the planting of vineyards each year for 5 years, having as a result a grape that was known as criolla, and with it establishing the first wine-producing haciendas in Coahuila, Mexico. During the 16th century, the wine production was extended by the Jesuits to other parts of southern America like Argentina, Peru and Chile; by the 18th century it had extended to Baja California and parts of western United States.

The first vineyard in the peninsula was planted by Father Ugarte a few years after the Nuestra Señora de Loreto Concha mission was established in 1697 in the town of Loreto in Southern Baja. In 1888, on what was the Dominican Mission of Santo Tomas, Francisco Andonegul and Miguel Ormart started the vineyards and wineries of Santo Tomas still in operation today, making this the oldest continuously operating wine producer in Northen Baja. Around 1904 Russian molokan immigrants and their families opposing the war, fled Russia to avoid being recruited by the Czarist armies, originally settling in the Los Angeles area, they soon ended up in Guadalupe Valley, where they purchased land to cultivate their grape cuttings, along with oats, grasses, wheat and barley brought over from Europe. These Russian farmers where the first to bring wine production to a large scale within the valley; the Bibayoff winery, established in 1970 is owned by descendants of that group of immigrants continuing with the family tradition that started in the 1930’s; this winery along with Casa Domecq, established in 1972; followed by L.A. Cetto in 1974 marked the growth of the valleys into what they are today.

If you have ever requested wine with your meal while visiting Baja, chances are that you have tasted some of these wines, in case you haven’t and are unsure to make the trip, there is a closer starting point, L.A. Cetto has a facility close to downtown Tijuana, where they offer free tours of the cellars and sampling starting at 2 dollars; several cultural activities such as concerts, and plays are presented in their venue, also available for your social or business events.

A warning for those living in the U.S.; you will be tempted to purchase more than one bottle of wine to take back home with you. When you come to visit these valleys, be sure to visit this link [http://www.abc.ca.gov/permits/importing.html], it tells you how much wine you can bring back with you to the U.S. To everybody living in Mexico, feel free to take home as much Baja wine as you like.