Driving the winding country roads leading to Glen Aros estate, you could be forgiven for wondering if you'd taken a wrong turn. The rolling hills and sheep-filled paddocks look more rural station than five-star luxury lodge. But passing through the wrought-iron gate into grand manicured gardens, it quickly becomes apparent things are different here.
Late on a Friday night it's getting dark and starting to drizzle, but as we pull up to the beautiful building our host Meg Bremner is ready and waiting with an umbrella. After a quick greeting we step into the lobby, all gleaming natural woods and crystal chandeliers. Soon dinner is ready, a superb feast cooked up by Glen Aros' resident executive chef, Nigel Marriage.
Too pooped after a long drive, we soon retire - but not until we've forced down fresh fig and vanilla icecream at the insistence of our hosts.
The next morning we wake a little later than planned thanks to super- comfortable beds. Nigel is patiently waiting in the kitchen. Homemade muesli with poached white peaches off a nearby tree? Or a cooked breakfast with local organic bacon?
This is as tough as decisions get at Glen Aros - in the end it's irrelevant: the food standard never drops below melt-in-the-mouth.
Originally part of the Maraekakaho Station run by Sir Donald McLean, the property got its name after being split between two station managers who bought it. One named his half Glen Aros after a valley in Scotland.
The land was eventually sold to Hilton Glavish and his wife Barbara in 2002. Hilton, a nuclear physicist, studied at Auckland University before moving overseas. After settling in the United States and raising a family, he decided he wanted something special for his children and grandchildren to come back to in New Zealand.
The couple spent a year rebuilding much of the house. It was re-piled, re- roofed and re-wired, with the entire inside stripped and replaced. Bathrooms were added to each room, air conditioning and heating system installed, and a billiards room added.
Also installed was one of the most impressive features of the property - a luxurious spa and infinity swimming pool that usually hovers around 28C.
The Glavishes opened the house to the public in 2008, and engaged Meg and her husband Rob, who were looking for an opportunity to move to Hawke's Bay.
The couple soon realised that to compete at the top end of the market they'd need a top-end chef. On the other side of the world, such a chef just happened to be browsing.
Englishman Nigel had spent several years living in New Zealand previously and was after a change.
"I was working in West Wales in a 100-year-old cold slate cottage and it was cold and I was dead bored."
He'd worked at several two-star Michelin restaurants, including Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, the only English restaurant to open with two stars. He was a perfect fit.
Since arriving at Glen Aros, Nigel has focused his culinary attention on creating a food experience that is as local as possible.
Many of the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs come from Glen Aros' garden and there is oil created from the Glen Aros olive grove. Seafood and meat is sourced locally and from the farmers market; hand-harvested gourmet snails are even available from neighbour Silver Trail Snails.
The goal of Glen Aros is to provide a "destination in itself", somewhere guests can completely unwind, so after breakfast it's a tough choice between the spa and pool, some billiards or a game of petanque. The sun comes out, so water activities win out.
Mid afternoon brings a platter of gourmet cheeses and wine that we devour poolside, and before we know it, it's time for pre-dinner drinks and canapes in the sitting room, and another astounding dinner.
"What we're trying to do here is let the guest have a real experience, taste some really good food, try local produce and enjoy a high standard stay," Meg says the next morning.
The writer stayed courtesy of Glen Aros.
Located in the Raukawa Valley, about 20 minutes from Hastings. Glen Aros boasts six separate suites - book individually or book the entire lodge. Classically trained chef Nigel Marriage is on hand to prepare meals; many dining options available in Havelock North, Napier and Hawke's Bay. Helicopter access is available. Prices start at $580 per night for a double occupancy. To book, phone 06 874 8885 or visit glenaros.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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