Foodies' heaven at a rural retreat

SECLUDED: Billed as an exclusive retreat, Clouds is appropriately sited.
SECLUDED: Billed as an exclusive retreat, Clouds is appropriately sited.

It's about 2am that I wish I had exercised portion control. Thrashing restlessly, my shocked stomach announces that it really didn't need all that homemade Russian fudge icecream. Or all five of those paua patties. Or, come to think of it, that entire massive salmon steak.

And it's only about six hours until the next onslaught. Groan.

Unlike the teeny morsels dwarfed by outsize plates dished up by proponents of nouveau cuisine, Clouds Luxury House hostess Sandra Banham believes in serious portions.

In fact, nothing is done by halves. My suite has two bathrooms. One for the bath and one for the shower, obviously. The shower spans the length of the room and has three shower heads. Yes, three.

Billed as an exclusive retreat, Clouds is appropriately sited - nobody seems to know exactly where to find it. Some maps have it as a blue spot suspended in a roadless void. Others show a tentative, dead-end dashed line splitting off from State Highway 63.

In reality it's up the long gravel private road between the grapevines just out of Renwick. Skirt the man- made lake and the two-storey manor looms on the brow of the hill.

It lives up to its name - the low- hanging mist veils the view, which apparently extends all the way from my private balcony across the Marlborough plains to the coast. And it is pure luxury - beautifully appointed and filled with little touches: the arrival bowl of Marlborough cherries; the locally handmade soaps in the basins. So it should be, for the all-inclusive, single booking price of $1150 a night.

The sitting-room decor is hunting lodge meets island idyll - a stag's head overlooks the cosy fire while the palm-frond-inspired fan and chiefly throne look like they belong at tribal council. (The throne in fact came from a Masonic lodge.)

Having opened mid-recession last year, Sandra and husband Bill also offer a more accessible bed and breakfast option, at $300 per couple. But then there's no guarantee you'll have the place to yourself.

The banquet dinner, served on a grand old table, is included in the exclusive booking price. But even if you're taking the bed and breakfast option, the three-course meal with wine matches is excellent value at $80 a head. Having helped set up Whitehaven and Highfield wineries' restaurants, Sandra knows plenty about wine and food. Her wild goose pate and tapenade are divine, paired with a glass of velvety Whitehaven Greg pinot noir.

While Sandra concocts in her industrial kitchen hideaway, Bill entertains out front. Everything is made from regional produce, from the paua patties and soy, star anise and ginger-baked salmon and Sherrington's seriously smelly washed rind cheese, to the Mahi gewurtztraminer and Verner Estate pinot gris, whose grapes come from neighbouring vineyards.

Just make sure you don't eat all day, or you'll never do it justice.


Where: Clouds Luxury House, Delta Vineyard Estate Road, off State Highway 63, Renwick, Marlborough.

Getting there: Best to organise a transfer as it's tricky to find. Pick-up included with exclusive booking.

How much: $1150 a night for a couple, for exclusive use of the lodge; $300 per couple for bed and full cooked breakfast.

Style statement: Pure rural luxury.

Perfect for: A special weekend break or honeymoon.

Shame about: Confusing pricing, and some website prices quoted without GST.

Cheers: The bowl of plump Marlborough cherries on arrival.

Take the kids? Not until they're grown up.

Don't forget: To leave plenty of room for dinner.

The Dominion Post