Set beside a working vineyard in New Zealand’s most famous wine region, The Marlborough is a boutique hotel that beckons to oenophiles and outdoorsy-types alike. Inside this slate-hued clapboard stay, which once housed an early 20th-century convent, you’ll find 10 unique rooms, a cosy library and a farm-fresh restaurant. Make your way outside for dips in the pool, competitive-as-you’d-like tennis matches and as many wine tastings as you can handle. Head beyond the grounds for day hikes through the region’s dramatic landscape and sea kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds, then in the evenings, unwind on the veranda with your newfound favourite vintage. We recommend you get thee to this former nunnery immediately.
One of the top-floor suites has the original stained glass windows, which fill the room with colour when the sun hits. Within each category, individual rooms are named after trees and birds in Te Reo, the Maori language.
A brick-paved area surrounds the family-friendly swimming pool, which is heated from October to April. There’s a small clapboard pool house stocked with towels, sun cream and water, and drinks and snacks can be served straight to the poolside sunloungers or the tables arranged on the lawn just beyond the pool terrace.
You’ll find the petite spa in the far end of the revamped chapel. Stained glass windows cast a colourful glow over the sage-green single treatment room. Choose from relaxing Swedish massages, deep tissue interventions, hot stone treatments and massages focussed solely (see what we did there?) on your feet, head and shoulders; all massages use oils from John and Lyn Rainey, New Zealand’s oldest continuously operating essential oil production company. Don’t fancy padding across the soft grass in your lush robe? There’s a private changing and shower suite just steps from the massage table.
Bring outdoorsy apparel to make the most of Marlborough’s dramatic landscape, something bright and breezy for evening meals and an extra case for all that wine you’ll want to cart home.
The Lodge Room on the ground floor is wheelchair accessible and has a fully adapted bathroom. All common areas on the ground floor, including the veranda, are wheelchair-accessible with ramp entry to the Lodge.
Over-fives are welcome; younger guests may only stay if booking the property for exclusive use. There are bikes to borrow and a tennis court and pool onsite.
The Marlborough recycles (including grey water), composts (and feeds pigs), and uses green cleaning products. Energy-efficient insulation was installed during the building’s restoration and electric golf buggies are used onsite. The Marlborough is also enticing native birds to return to the property by planting native trees and shrubs throughout the grounds.
For a romantic tête-à-tête with garden views, snag a seat by the windows. Ask for a seat at the chef’s bench if you like your dinner with a show.
Take a cue from the gardens (and the original artwork that lines the walls) with a floral print or pop of colour.
Garden-view Harvest Restaurant, helmed by chef Sam Webb, is open for lunch and dinner. The ever-changing menu of of à la carte dishes, from sharing plates to morish mains, makes use of what’s in season directly from the grounds. Dishes include the likes of harissa-roasted carrots drizzled in yoghurt and burnt honey, bluff lemon sole for two, and puttanesca gnocchetti. As you’d expect, there’s an ample selection of local, regional and international wines, and other tipples too. Breakfast is served in the dining room, which has tall ceilings, large bay windows, and a vineyard-view veranda. The buffet spread includes fresh and poached fruit, muesli, cereals, yoghurt, smoked salmon, cheeses, freshly baked bread and muffins, cooked-to-order eggs and sides of bacon, tomato, mushrooms. There’s also freshly squeezed juice, aromatic coffee and a selection of teas.
There’s no separate bar, but you can take your drink of choice and curl up with a good book in the Library. If you’re feeling social, make your way to the Great Room, or head out to the outdoor fireplace to really air out that bottle of wine.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am (or earlier, on request), an à la carte menu is served from 6.30pm each evening and Harvest Restaurant is open from noon to 9.30pm.
None, but all items in your well-stocked minibar –, including red and white wine, soft drinks, beer, savoury snacks and chocolate – are free.
The Marlborough is in one of the most famous wine regions in New Zealand, at the northeastern end of the South Island.
Blenheim Airport is 10 minutes away by car, and transfers can be arranged for NZ$45 each way for up to four guests. The next closest airport is Nelson.
Blenheim train station is 15 minutes away by car.
There’s a car park onsite, and the lodge is a laid-back 25-minute drive from Picton.
The onsite helipad is 20 meters from the lodge, and private aircraft can land at Blenheim Airport (transfers to The Marlborough can be arranged from there). Boats can moor at Picton Marina, which is 35 minutes away by car.
Worth getting out of bed for
Private wine tastings of the region’s finest can be arranged in the onsite wine shack during summer months. Delicate trails criss-cross the sprawling flower- and fruit-tree-filled gardens, where many of the restaurant’s ingredients are grown; ask nicely and the head gardener will give you a guided tour. Fancy a friendly match? Head to the grass tennis courts (a selection of racquets hangs at the ready) or strike up a game of boules or croquet with your other half.
The Marlborough region is surrounded by mountains, most of which are part of nature preserves – including the famous Queen Charlotte Track – and open to the public for hiking and mountain biking (the hotel has a small fleet of suitable bikes on hand for guests to borrow). If you’d rather glide along on water, there’s kayaking on Wairau Lagoon or through the waterways of the Marlborough Sounds. Tarquin Cruises departs from Picton Marina and cruise for half a day through the Queen Charlotte Sound; add gourmet goodies and local wine to make an event out of it. Prefer a bird’s eye view? Helicopter tours can be arranged, too.
Plane spotters may want to peruse the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim; Sir Peter Jackson (of Hobbit fame) has amassed an impressive collection of vintage aircraft.
If it’s vineyard tour (and wine tastings, of course) that you’re after, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are over 100 wine makers in the region, and most can be visited on either public or private tours; you’ll also have the option to meet many of the winemakers, or head out on half- or full-day cellar-door tastings. Stuck for where to start? We’d go for Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Blenheim. While there, you can also sample Cloudy Bay clams, freshly pressed olive oil, local cheeses and Manuka honey on a gourmet food tour.
Just down the road, Saint Clair Family Estate Vineyard Kitchen is set against the backdrop of the dramatic Richmond Range. The estate offers wine tastings and tours, of course, but they also carry a wide-reaching range of New Zealand craft beers, including Pan Head, Parrot Dog and Marlborough’s own Renaissance. The ever-changing restaurant menu features fresh local fare; start with a shared plate of seafood sourced from the Marlborough Sounds – house smoked salmon, paua and half-shell mussels, all served with freshly baked bread. For mains, there’s pan-seared fish, New Zealand-raised lamb and chicken. There’s also a children’s choice menu, which includes a waffle cone of ice cream with every meal. The modern cube of a restaurant at Brancott Estate Wines seems to float over the vineyards; with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, there’s not a bad view in the house. Go for leisurely lunches of warm, dukkha-topped focaccia, citrus-cured Ora king salmon, and pan-fried Canterbury free-range pork; wine pairings for all options, appropriately enough, are at the ready. Make your way into nearby Blenheim for dinner at Gramados Restaurant & Barfor a New Zealand twist on Brazilian cuisine. Try the smoky Feijoada or lamb assado. You could leave without sampling the brownies and Brazilian pudim, a close cousin of caramel flan, but why would you do such a thing?
Some holidays are all about the destination, while others are about the journey. New Zealand is unquestionably a destination that is all about the journey. A breathtaking flight over snowy mountains and vibrant blue seas dropped me off at Nelson airport, where I picked up my hire car, tuned into my driving playlist, and zoned out not realising that this would be one of the most beautiful drives of my life.
Two hours of exhilarating hairpin bends through mountain passes, steep gorges, dense forests, silent sounds and gushing glacial rivers led me into the open expanse of Marlborough – the heartland of Sauvignon Blanc.
With hundreds of cellar doors to explore, temptation got the better of me and I stopped off for some cheeky wine tasting en route. As I swirled another shiny wine glass towards the horizon, I noticed that the sky had painted a stunning pink and orange sunset. It reminded me it was time to find my living quarters for the weekend – just a couple clicks away.
As my GPS directed me to turn into a long driveway, my phone rang. ‘Hello Ms Smith, it’s Karen from The Marlborough. I just wanted to check if you were okay and needed any help with directions’. I laughed and explained I was looking straight at the gates, which spontaneously swung open. From that moment on, I knew that Karen – and The Marlborough – would feel more like family and a home for the weekend, than a hotel.
With just 10 rooms, The Marlborough boasts staff who’ll get to know your name, how your like your coffee and who’ll curate wine recommendations depending on what you had the night before. By the time I was in the front door, another glass of Marlborough wine – this time Pinot Noir – awaited me along with a roaring fire and woollen blanket over the comfy sofa. A dream come true on a winter’s night.
As I took a look around the handsome art works and commented on the distinct architecture, Karen explained that the Lodge was originally a convent built over a century ago for a murmur of nuns in the town of Blenheim. In 1994, it was split into five pieces and relocated to the wine region, and it is easy to see why this feels like more sacred ground. Just step outside the 16-acre landscaped gardens and you are surrounded by wise old vines, chattering birds and panoramic views of the hills and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
The refurbished convent offers a peaceful sanctuary in the wine lands, and a chance to soak up the Marlborough sun and fresh coastal breeze without the interruptions of the modern world – whether that’s lazing by the pool in the summertime, a brisk walk in the crisp winter, snuggling on the veranda with a good book, or stargazing by the outdoor fireplace in the evening.
There’s a homely feel to the attention but, although it was a nunnery in a previous lifetime, each luxurious suite has little details that make this a romantic escapade for Mr & Mrs Smith… Candles and chocolates laid on your bedside; a bathtub big enough for two; and dimmer lights in both the bedroom and bathroom set the scene.
While the cosy interiors absorbed me into their comfort, and the beautiful wine valley outside beckoned, the true siren of Marlborough is the in-house restaurant, aptly named Harvest, which serves lavish dinners and breakfasts daily. Sourcing local ingredients from local producers, Harvest showcases the best of the season and region.
Care is taken in the fine details: three types of honey from different flowers and fields at breakfast; home cured Ora King Salmon in an omelette-to-order; and 30-hour sourdough with olives picked from the garden and warmed in their own oil and freshly picked herbs before dinner. It’s no small wonder Marlborough is often fully booked years in advance.
I was sad to leave Marlborough and the Lodge but as Karen packed me off with a care package of homemade muffins, water and a woollen sheep souvenir, I remembered with some glee I was about to enjoy the second best drive of my life..