“If you are a single woman and you’ve made a commitment to moderate your drinking this year, which holiday destination would you choose for a weekend away … surely not the Hunter Valley wine region?
Yet this is the very place I chose to go. What’s more, I suggested the idea to a colleague who hasn’t been drinking for 17 years. Was it a reckless place to suggest? Possibly. But I don’t want to restrict my options just because I choose to have an alcohol-free trip.” – Emma.
A few months ago I decided to go on a self-care weekend away. It was the start of autumn and the Australian beaches would have been too cold for swimming – at least for me. So I decided to embrace a cooler change and look for a nice cottage where I could sit by the fire and read, cook comfort food and create some art (The place had to have a decent size dining table for the extra space to do my drawing). I chose the Hunter Valley because it is a beautiful part of the New South Wales central coast. It is also a good season to visit this region, with abundant wildlife and nature for inspiration.
To give a bit of background, my relationship with alcohol hasn’t always been healthy. I tasted my first beer when I was twelve and I grew up watching my father drinking with other male relatives to show who were the strong and powerful men in the family. I never saw my mother or any of my aunties drink; they always let the ‘boys’ drink. It was the culture I grew up with and I suspect there was a rebellious side within me that wanted to go against the cultural norm. I started to use alcohol to give myself an identity so people would accept me and find me interesting. Something to be proud of – which is really silly, but it is what I wanted then as an insecure twenty-something-year-old woman. I lived in that shadow for years until the dark side of the relationship finally emerged. What I hoped would give me good feelings began to turn against me. I would wake up feeling deeply remorseful and depressed the day after each night’s drinking session.
Since then, I’ve learned to see alcohol in a different light. I took a month off alcohol during one Christmas, and then three months off, and finally a whole year off alcohol last year. Now I choose to drink only on select occasions, and a self-care weekend away is not one of them. Once I’d decided to go to a wine region, I wanted to share the idea with a colleague who hasn’t been drinking for 17 years. So I did some research on alcohol-free activities in the Hunter Valley, which wasn’t an easy task, but I eventually created a list for us, and these are the main suggestions:
What I’ve discovered through this trip is that I am not restricted in places to be just because I choose not to drink. I’m still an occasional sucker: I don’t always say ‘No’ when someone offers me a drink, and I’ve had the occasional regrettable night since I wised up. However, like this trip, I don’t want to be restricted by my own past failures. I choose to be free, and I continue to have a better relationship with alcohol.
The Hunter Valley – well known wine region! But I no longer drink alcohol … why would I go??
If you google the Hunter Valley, you’ll see it is home to numerous wineries and known for varietals such as Semillon and Shiraz. I am a person who has stopped drinking wine (actually, all alcohol) so it’s always been in my head that the Hunter Region is somewhere I should avoid.
Backtrack a little … In 2002 it had become obvious that drinking alcohol was not working for me anymore. I had always adored wine, but it had turned on me, and I had become dependent. I was certainly no longer living my best life, because of my alcohol consumption. I felt desperately unhappy and could not recognise myself (to put it mildly) … so it had to go! I needed support – there was no way I could fight that battle alone.
Today I am so thankful. I’ve been alcohol free for 17 years and I can truthfully say that I am happy and free of the desire to drink alcohol at all. Having said that, I would not want to traipse around wineries all day! Hence I’ve given the Hunter region a wide berth during that time.
But – who knew that there was so much fun stuff to do there, sans wine!!
When a work colleague excitedly told me of her impending trip to the Hunter, my head immediately went to ‘that’s nice, but not somewhere for me’ – until she showed me a picture of her accommodation. A beautiful shabby chic cottage, with a French design vibe, surrounded by open fields, cows and horses. Inside there was a fireplace; I could visualise myself drinking hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows, reading books, going for nature walks and generally breathing out and slowing down, all in that wonderful ambience. So, my light-bulb moment happened: just because I don’t drink alcohol does not mean that I wouldn’t love everything else that the Hunter Region has to offer. Some quick research later and, wow! I discovered that there was so much more to this place than the wineries … I was going!
It was also a beautiful reminder to me that I can do anything I want, except one little thing: which is, I choose not to drink alcohol because, for me, it is no fun at all. Instead I can appreciate with clarity of mind, and abundant enthusiasm, the beautiful cottage and all these other places and activities –
Myrtle House, a great place to start. Great coffee and breakfast, with a bookstore attached. That was heaven, right there!
So many quirky and interesting little shops to look around. I dropped into the Hunter Valley Chocolate company – the chocolate there is out of this world. Could not resist the Smelly Cheese shop – taste-testing their cheese! I purchased River Flats herb and garlic infused garlic oils. I went to Thornton, to the Mortels sheepskin factory, and climbed up on the Big Ugg Boots for a photo opportunity (shhhh, there was a sign that said no climbing!)
I had the best time, with self-care in abundance.
Hello Sunday Morning did not receive any commission to promote the businesses we mentioned above. The recommendations are subjective and not influenced by any offer.
Photo source: Unsplash © Tim Mossholder