Hermitage Lodge is a multi-award-winning boutique hotel nestled on 10 hectares in the very heart of Hunter Valley wine country. Owned and operated by Noreen and Mark Gottaas, the hotel also boasts Il Cacciatore – a restaurant serving up Northern Italian inspired cuisine that is a firm favourite of locals and visitors alike.
Mark and Noreen arrived back in Australia in 2002 after living abroad in Canada for 20 years and had the enviable task of deciding where to live, work and play and luckily for us the Hunter Valley was on the very top of their list.
“Mark had worked for a couple in Canada managing their boutique hotel for four years when our family decided to return to Australia,” said Noreen.
“They asked us to look for a property like theirs, and so we became partners. The Hunter Valley was always on top of our list, and the property we bought had everything we wanted as well as the opportunity to expand the business. That was almost 19 years ago!”
Mark had hotel and restaurant experience, Noreen had many years of restaurant and kitchen administration experience; this combined experience was a perfect fit for Hermitage Lodge.
“Every day is a new day and no two days are the same,” said Mark.
“We are constantly looking for ways to improve the accommodation and restaurant. We have very loyal hardworking staff, many of whom have been here for more than ten years. We have a lot of face to face time with our guests either during check-in, check out or when they come into the restaurant. It's this personal interaction which our guests love… and the feedback we get is that they love the feel of the place. It makes the guest experience so much more memorable.
“In fact, over the years, many guests have become firm friends after having stayed several times and becoming familiar with our family. They have watched our boys grow up and move on, and always inquire about their welfare.”
The accommodation comprises twenty studios and suites (most with king beds), located on 10 hectares, and all rooms have decks overlooking the picturesque 1.6-hectare vineyard. Some rooms have spa baths, some have fireplaces, most are single storey, and one has a loft bedroom.
The two-storey self-contained ‘Premier Suites’ even boast a jetted bathtub outside on the private upstairs deck looking down over the vineyard, while the beautiful ‘accessible’ suite has all requirements as well as an oval spa bathtub and fireplace in the separate living room.
Either a cooked breakfast or a continental breakfast is available each day for guests when ordered the night before. This is delivered to the room where the guests can enjoy their meal on the deck overlooking the vineyard or watching the kangaroos grazing on the lawn or passing by.
Perhaps the fact that guests can ditch the car keys and enjoy a true Hunter Valley experience, without having to go anywhere else is what has made Hermitage Lodge visitors come back time and time again.
“Il Cacciatore has a great reputation, and almost all our guests dine with us while staying,” says Noreen.
“Relaxing here is easy because you don’t really need to drive anywhere. The saltwater pool is a welcome relief on those hot days, and the complimentary on-site guest laundry is a hit with international travellers. We have the perfect location; cellar doors, concert venues, golf courses are all close by.”
Il Cacciatore is one of those unique dining venues that you look forward to returning to time and again, and is by far one of the most central and most convenient spots in wine country to go for a meal. The restaurant has a welcoming and "homely" feel to it and is cleverly divided into three dining areas, which includes a spacious deck overlooking the reed-filled lake – just perfect for dining al-fresco on a warm evening. Adjacent to the restaurant is the guest lounge, complete with plush sofas and an open fire for those colder evenings, and where diners can enjoy a pre-dinner drink or an after-dinner coffee and port.
Noreen says that Il Cacciatore diners are not looking for cutting edge, fine-dining style food, they’re looking for a good honest flavoursome plate full of food. And that is delivered in droves.
“For 27 years, Il Cacciatore has focused on bringing fresh Northern Italian cuisine to diners. It's still a firm favourite,” says Noreen.
“When we took over the restaurant we increased the restaurant from 50 seats to 90 seats and added the deck. We have made many changes over the years but our food has remained consistently delicious. We have won silver at the National Restaurant and Catering Awards for Best Informal Italian for the past two years running.
"This year we added to the Italian dining experience by introducing our Bottomless Brunch and Bubbles on weekends – an Italian style buffet brunch and our take-out pizzas are now available from noon daily. The restaurant continues to be open seven nights a week from 6pm for dinner, so we’re kept pretty busy."
Noreen has held the role of Executive Chef for the last four years, co-ordinating the kitchen and creating seasonal menus. She has a great team of chefs; mostly from Argentina that are all passionate about preparing and cooking delicious food.
“Many of our ingredients are sourced locally, our cheeses from both the Hunter Valley Cheese Company and Binnorie Dairy, Gelato from the Smelly Cheese Shop, Pukara Estate Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar, Hunter Olives from Adina. The menu changes seasonally, featuring slow-cooked and hearty meals in the winter and lighter meals in the summer,” says Noreen.
When asked which dish is her favourite, Noreen can’t really decide!
“The one dish that has been on the menu for the last 27 years is the Fettuccine Chicken Boscaiola, a creamy mushroom sauce with chicken and pancetta – it’s absolutely delicious, but the Chocolate Ravioli with Nutella filling, hazelnut gelato and white chocolate sauce has made a comeback in recent years,” she said.
“Although our gnocchi dishes change seasonally, the housemade gnocchi remains very popular as both a restaurant dish and a take out dish. When you start with the best and freshest ingredients and you don’t complicate the preparation and cooking, you end up with something special – that’s the Italian way of cooking!”
You will find Hermitage Lodge and Il Cacciatore at 609 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin. Bookings are strongly recommended for the restaurant – call 4998 7639 or visit www.hermitagelodge.com.au for more information.