Coming to Martinborough from Horowhenua my GPS led me through Akatarawa Road. In hindsight I would avoid travelling this broken, narrow and windy mountain pass at all costs, unless of course you enjoy the heart-thumping adrenaline of not knowing whether someone will come bowling around a blind corner towards you, on a road barely wide enough for one car. It was a relief to finally find myself on the Rimutaka Hill Road, which was wide, newly resurfaced and so much safer. Featherston is the only town you pass through before arriving in Martinborough, with Bakers, a stunning earthy bakery, on the left as you arrive. I had a large smoked chicken, paprika and lettuce sourdough roll for only $5. This bakery also has gourmet pies and sweet pastries. Though they did not have barista coffee, the bakery provided complimentary filter coffee, unconventional, but a refreshing point of difference for the penny conscious traveller.
Location: Martinborough is a tiny boutique wine village in South Waiarapa. The town centre is a cluster of historic buildings dating back to the 1880s. Built in 1882, The Martinborough Hotel, with its grand facade, is impossible to miss, sitting in pride of place at the entrance to the town square. The hotel's glamour mirrors the town's changes in fortune, but its sense of history remains.
Check-in experience: I arrived two hours early for the 2pm check-in and my room was not yet ready so I took a walk around the historic village. They prioritised my room and had it ready for me within the hour.
Room: Set in the garden, up a flight of stairs, the room was sunny and spacious, a tranquil spot to linger in and unwind. Opening a bi-fold cupboard I discovered a cute kitchenette. It had a mini fridge housing Artisan sparkling water, Mela fruit juice, milk for Robert Harris plunger coffee and a range of Dilmah teas. Fresh white roses graced my egg-shell blue bedside cabinets and complemented the French country style decor. On my bed was a golden envelope, small box of Schoc handmade chocolates and a bag of cookies made by their restaurant's talented pastry chef. Inside the envelope was a note welcoming me and wishing me a comfortable stay, and vouchers for complimentary continental breakfasts. The television had Freeview and Sky Movies.
History of the area: Martinborough was named after John Martin, an Irish immigrant who bought the large Wairarapa sheep station "Huangarua" in 1879. Martin subdivided the station into 593 sections to create a town. As a gesture of patriotism he laid the streets out in the shape of the Union Jack .
In the early 1880s the wine pioneers discovered Martinborough's soil and microclimate were perfect for grape-growing, quickly the wine industry grew into what it is today.
Wi-Fi: Yes, complimentary.
Bed: Ahh, a super comfortable, firm but soft super king with cotton sheets and a spare blanket in the wardrobe.
Noise: I just happened to be visiting for Toast Martinborough, the annual wine, food and music festival. The entertaining music in the town square was easily heard from my room.
It wrapped up by 7pm and after that all I could hear was the sweet singing of a tui in the tree that shaded my veranda.
View: That veranda overlooked the hotel's gardens and provided a tranquil, peaceful and private space. Dappled light filtered through the tree that shaded two padded deck chairs. These proved to be a comfortable spot to relax with wine and antipasto delivered by the hotel's Paddock to Plate restaurant.
Bathroom: The large walk-in tiled glass shower was big enough for two and the water pressure was adjustable to suit. A large inviting black and white claw foot bath sat under white shutters. A white ceramic basin sat on a black granite vanity with a wall-mounted tap. The Koha Spa toiletries were lovely and a hair dryer was provided. This bathroom was clean and had a classic elegance but a persistent pungent rusty smell greeted me and didn't go away all weekend.
Thumbs down: I woke in the morning itching for a coffee, but horror of horrors, I popped the lid of the jug to find a black build-up inside. Shudder. So I went without till breakfast.
Food and beverage: Room service is available. Martinborough is an epicentre of stunning cuisine and fabulous wine. Paddock to Plate provides rustic home style cuisine designed to complement local wine. Its chef Mike Smith is a talented hunter-gatherer, making his own stocks, dew, ricotta and cheese curds and even brings in salad greens from his garden. The Continental breakfast prepared by pastry and breakfast chef Will Geisler was an array of seasonal fruit salad (strawberries, pineapple, orange and apple), bacon, sausage, egg, orange juice and topped off by coffee alongside a delicate sweet pastry.
Price: Varies between $195-$250.
What's in the area: The hotel provides a petanque court but if you wish to venture out, there are many adventures to be had. From wine tasting on Green Jersey Cycles, Tranzit Wairarapa Gourmet Wine Escape, Wairarapa Quad Adventures, golf, the Cape Palliser seal colony, Putangirua Pinnacles (a 200-metre narrow canyon of massive grey pillars of rock), antiques trail or spa treatments. There is something for everyone in Martinborough.
Perfect for: Food and wine gurus. Martinborough is New Zealand's only wine village. With wineries in walking distance from town and each other, Martinborough is the perfect place to park up your car for the weekend and indulge in fantastic food and quality wine.
In a nutshell: Make this historic hotel your next weekend retreat, discover the rich history and stunning wine, I promise you won't want to leave. It has become my new favourite summer holiday destination. See you soon, Martinborough.