Jay Houhlias

Brave Leonidas and the 300 Spartans took the attitude of ‘no mercy, no surrender, and no retreat.’ Inspiring and heroic as these men were, I find it a real shame they missed out on experiencing a retreat with Spicers Retreats. My retreat at Spicers was fortuitously blessed with sunshine and it included a one-night stay at the Tower Lodge with lunch, dinner, and breakfast.

Arriving at the newly opened Pokolbin’s Tower Lodge in the Hunter Valley felt like arriving on the precipice of a small European town. The yellow sandstone and white stone floors combined with the use of black is a tribute to Northern Spain, and Country Basque in particular. As soon as I pulled up out the front, I could sense the care and compassion of the staff. Patrick came out and greeted me with a champagne and parked my car. I was then led to the dining area for lunch, which I decided to take outside in the courtyard area. The fine dining then began, and I couldn’t help laughing to myself–I had on a t-shirt and slippers! This, however, is something I came to learn that Spicers prides themselves on. The staff wanted me to be comfortable. They wanted to be there for me however I chose to show up.

I met one of the chefs, Bilal, and he gave me a masterclass on a special ham from Spain called Jamon. This delicious ham is cured for 12 months and comes from a very rare species of pig which only accounts for 6% of all ham in Spain – and you could taste its exclusivity. Whilst the Sebastian restaurant is based on Spanish cuisine, the chefs like to draw inspiration from their natural environment. Surrounded by the Hunter Valley, the chefs emphasised the importance of sustainability and using local ingredients to craft their meals. In fact, one of the dinner desserts included a plant that the chefs had stumbled across that morning on their walk!

It is difficult to name some of the foods I ate, partially because I am a layman with these things, but mainly because of the intricacies of each plate of food. It not only felt as though tastes and flavours were being put on display, rather each meal was an artwork, and eating an artwork is delicate as it is pleasurable. Bilal told me that every plate of food has a story behind it. It is a very beautiful sentiment which is testament to the care and pride he and the other chefs have about their work.

I then returned to my lodge for some rest and relaxation time. The lodge had a beautiful open fireplace with the wood inside, all ready to be lit. I sized up the structure, and my primal instincts took a hold of me–man vs fire. But then, swallowing my pride, I admitted my ineptness at lighting fires and asked Patrick to light it for me. I think it was best that way and Patrick agreed. I then moseyed on up to the roof of the lodge and treated myself to an outdoor spa. The modern wooden deck had a fantastic view of the vineyards yet all the privacy you could hope for.

Passion for their work–that is what stuck with me about the Spicers crew. Everyone wanted to be there, they wanted to answer your questions, they loved to see you smile after taking a bite of food or sip of wine, and they loved to hear that you enjoyed your sleep or your walk. I was speaking with the waitress Susana about why she likes working at Spicers. She said that it’s so elegant and beautiful, yet she feels she can always be genuine and herself. This perfectly sums up the experience.

If you want first class elegance with complete genuine, human service, visit https://spicersretreats.com/retreats/spicers-tower-lodge/rooms/ or call 13 77 42