Why is the Crowne Plaza one of the most popular places to stay in the Hunter Valley? Megan Arkinstall reviews this crowd favourite to see if popularity equals quality.
Dating back 180 years, the Hunter Valley is one of the country’s oldest wine regions but also one of its smallest, but Oenophiles are not left wanting, this blooming wine country now boasts more than 150 wineries producing exceptional wines, in particular its world-famous Semillon.
Accommodation is in abundance here too with everything from quaint guesthouses to country pubs to holiday rentals to luxury hotels. The choice will have you feeling woozy even before your first drop of wine.
As a relative local (a 90-minute hop, skip and jump down the freeway), I’ve been to the Hunter Valley more times than I can remember; for hen’s weekends and weddings, romantic breaks and family reunions, work events and concerts, staying in all types of accommodation… But on this occasion, it was a no-fuss getaway with family (AKA a great excuse to stock up on some wine).
We chose the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley for its location, affordability, but more so for its villas that suited our group of two couples (it also has hotel rooms). And you can’t go wrong with a reliable brand like a Crowne Plaza, right?
Located in the Lovedale region, it’s not too far from Cessnock but close to some great wineries and the wine region’s epicenter, Broke Road.
First impressions are lovely as we drive in past golfers putting on the golf course, up to the main building’s grand portico with its tiered water feature, stacked sandstone and floor-to-ceiling glass entrance.
We’re not greeted by porters or a concierge, but the front desk staff are pleasant. Our villa isn’t ready yet (it is only 1pm), so I enquire about a café for lunch and the front desk clerk’s suggestion, Café Enzo (part of the Peppers Creek property just 10 minutes’ from here), proves to be a great choice. After lunch and some wine tasting, we get a text message to advise our villa is ready.
We notice the grounds surrounding the villas are a bit bare and agree it could do with more greenery to soften the landscape and give it a bit of character; we also notice the exteriors need a bit of a freshen up.
Inside, the villa has a contemporary design –spacious and clean, with a kitchenette and lounge area, a main bathroom, and two bedrooms, one with an ensuite.
The three-bedroom villas are two-storey, whereas we have the ground floor with a terrace outside overlooking a pond and part of the golf course, a nice spot to chill out.
The furnishings and design are nothing extraordinary but suitable for our group who wants to relax together after a long day, with a glass of locally purchased wine, olives and cheese.
But it’s not just adult fun here: the resort’s kids’ facilities are impressive, with a kids’ club, small carnival carousel, mini train and teenage zone.
There’s also a 24-hour gym, tennis and basketball courts, sprawling 18-hole golf course, helicopter flights that leave from just outside the south villas (for $60 per person), Segway tours, day spa, and a large swimming pool and spa, where we spend the afternoon whiling away the hours.
Indeed, during the Hunter Valley’s very hot summer, this pool is the place to be, and it’s readily equipped for large crowds with a huge number of sun lounges and it’s close to the bar for a poolside drink and snack.
While we’re on the subject (again) of wining and dining, the resort has three dining venues: its signature a la carte Redsalt Restaurant, with views over the pool and the golf course; a lobby lounge which serves bar snacks and an extensive range of whisky (including a $120 a glass 30-year-old Macallan), and the more casual Lovedale Bar & Restaurant downstairs, which opened in 2014 alongside a boutique brewery of the same name.
We decide some local lager will be a welcome break from the vino, and would prefer a more relaxed meal.
The restaurant is very casual, with bistro-style furnishings and a pub grub menu – but unfortunately this pub has no beer. OK, not quite, but only three of the six Lovedale brews are available: the rest ran out on tap last night (a Saturday, when there is live music).
We understand craft beer is brewed in small batches but it’s still disappointing we can’t sample a paddle of four of the hand-crafted beers. The signature Lovedale Lager is one of the three options available, so some from our group opt for this and give it the thumbs up.
The menu has a good selection of pizzas, burgers, salads and items from the grill.
For the most part our party was happy with their choices, including a tasty ravioli of mushrooms and good ol’ fish and chips, but the service lacked a little bit, particularly when clearing dirty plates and glasses and knowledge of the brews and wines on offer.
Breakfast at Redsalt
But the meal that impresses most is breakfast at Redsalt. In particular, service trumps service at the Lovedale Restaurant and Bar two-fold.
The dishes are cleared quickly, the barista remembers our order and name when we go back for seconds and the servers are friendly and prompt.
The food is a hit with our group: buffet includes the usual bacon, eggs and baked beans, pastries and bread, and yoghurts and fruits; there is also an egg station for specially made eggs, a barista making fresh coffee at no extra charge, and – my favourite – a juicing station for DIY fresh-made juices.
I choose a detoxifying blend of carrot, orange and ginger… an appropriate final drink to end a weekend of gluttony in the Hunter Valley.
With a lovely first impression and a great last impression, it’s a shame the impressions in between were a bit hit and miss.
The details: Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley
The verdict: A good value accommodation option for groups and families coming to wine country for a no-fuss getaway.
The score: 3/5
Greats: The facilities, especially the huge pool, and activities on offer, the spaciousness of the villa, the heavy curtains which had us (deeply) sleeping in.
Grates: The fact they’d run out of several beers at the Lovedale Bar & Restaurant and the lack of service when it came to knowledge and prompt clearing of tables; the bareness of the landscape around the villas – as a result they lack character.
Notes: We paid $476 for a two-bedroom villa with balcony, including breakfast for four people and a $40 food and beverage credit. See crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au
All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.