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Tonic Hotel

Travel Castlecrag

2005 was a vintage year for the Hunter: tonic opened for business. A boutique bolthole in the middle of what is effectively Sydney's wine cellar, the place is like Hansel and Gretel's house, only without the wicked witch. Everything inside - from the quirky artwork on the walls to the achingly cool salt and pepper mills to the comfy slippers on your feet - is available to take home. "People were always asking me where you could get this bedspread or that candleholder, so I thought I'd make everything in the rooms available for purchase," says owner Nici Stanford.

There's no check-in or check-out. You just punch in a code that Stanford has given you prior to arrival. When you leave (and there's no pressure to vacate by 11am, or even 3pm for that matter) you just shut the door behind you and that rug you just had to have will be added to the bill emailed to you and settled on your credit card.

If guests are feeling more sociable, however, Stanford holds an optional, casual drinks party by the pool for people to meet and taste some of the local wine and cheese.

That's if you even want to leave your apartment. Made from steel, glass and timber in the style of an outback shed, each of tonic's six unique double rooms has its own decking looking across the lake to the abounding kangaroos and vineyards in the distance. Each room is styled as shabby chic: old, rustic antiques alongside designer furniture.

The fridge is packed with delicious complimentary DIY breakfast - the homemade fruit porridge is outstanding - as well as cheese and fruit platters. Chocolate dipped strawberries go very well with a bottle of Verdelho, Time Out discovered.

Great vineyards Thalgara, Peterson's and Sandalyn are nearby and so exhausted were we after a day of wine tasting (and so enticing were the DVD library and board games) we cancelled plans to go out for dinner one night and stayed in.

Instead we made ourselves a veranda platter of local cheeses, some Von's Delight chutneys from Thalgara and a bottle or two of their award-winning shiraz. However, if you do want to go out for a meal, Stanford will recommend several excellent local restaurants and ensure you get the best table. Leaves and Fishes and Mojo's in Lovedale are both superb.

Doubles $395 a night; apartment (sleeps four) $850 a night. Both include breakfast. Minimum two-night stay at weekends.

Getting There

An easy scenic two-hour drive on the F3 freeway from Sydney takes you to the old mining town of Cessnock - the gateway to Wine Country. From here, toss the map and meander at will.

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Venue name: Tonic Hotel
Address: 251 Talga Rd
Static map showing venue location