An Unconventional Australian Vacation

I’ll be honest with you now and admit that this post deals with a romantic stay at the most unlikely place; a converted convent. Even more bizarre, it was built over 600 kilometers away from the convent’s current location in the Hunter Valley on the other side of the Australian state of New South Wales. It has undoubtedly been one of my most memorable travel experiences in Australia.

Here’s what I mean.

This beautiful building was built in the early 1900s in the small town of Coonamble, NSW, and served as the residence for a community of nuns for many decades. In 2009, precisely 100 years after its construction, Peppers hotel brand transported the now disused convent building across the state to become a luxury hotel in the famous “wine country” of Australia. I’m sure there’s a joke about how a convent ended up surrounded by vineyards and occupied by intoxicated guests. Still, as soon as I set eyes on Peppers Convent, I knew it would be a memorable experience.

Aside from the scenery of rolling hills of neatly arranged vineyards that surrounded us and the beautiful tree-lined approach to the hotel, this old building stood out in a country that is relatively new and modern. Stained glass windows and a plaque with the building’s birth date and location provided me with external clues about the building’s original purpose. There was an old, and unused organ inside that had been lovingly restored, but you could almost imagine the women who sat around the instrument and sang their hearts out. The decor was traditional but warm, and the wooden floors creaked just enough, but not enough to keep us awake. Despite its size, the room was spacious, with a huge bed that required you to jump up to gain access and a huge bathroom that was almost big enough to get lost in—our kind of hotel room.

It was our balcony, a small deck shared with the room next door, that was home to two grand high back wicker chairs and a small table. Upon looking at the arrangement, you knew all that was missing was a crisp, white Hunter Valley wine. We were fortunate to have popped into a winery before checking in to pick up a chilled bottle of wine. Later that day, I admit to tasting more wine after visiting a local cheesemaker and having a small picnic on the balcony.

Following a comfortable night under clean, white sheets – despite a persistent chorus of cicadas outside – we enjoyed a continental breakfast in a sunny dining room downstairs. We took advantage of the free tennis racquets and court to burn off calories after overindulging the day before. This time we ventured out in search of more local eats and drinks – this time locally made chocolate and, yes, more wine. The friendly and helpful staff at the hotel, who also booked dinner reservations for us every night, gave us all of the local recommendations, so we were sad to leave Peppers Convent in the Hunter Valley. However, the experience was all the richer for having stayed in an old traveling convent!

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