Hidden Vale the jewel in Ipswich s crown
Hidden Vale the jewel in Ipswich's crown

Ipswich probably isn't the first destination that jumps to mind when you're after a luxurious retreat for a weekend getaway.

But after spending several days here, I have realised how few people - even locals - are privy to what Ipswich has to offer.

Helicopter food tours, historic manors, hot air balloon rides, ritzy little restaurants and some great bushwalks are just a few hidden gems in this south Queenland town. However, the crowning jewel among these has to be Spicers Hidden Vale.

The luxury resort is nestled upon a hill in the midst of the Lockyer Valley, just 40 minutes from town.

My best friend Caitlin and I arrive by air after a flying food safari with Pterodactyl Helicopters and are greeted with a glass of champagne before being driven down to reception. It's a blazing 37 degrees Celsius and after some time in a tiny, airless chopper, all we can think about is cooling off in one of Hidden Vale's two swimming pools.

The hotel offers five different sorts of accommodation, from standalone suites to six-room cottages, all dotted around the resort. Everything encourages luxury and relaxation. You're encouraged to leave your shoes at the door (this is the country, after all) and give in to the peaceful surroundings.

As I arrive at my suite - a sweet, little heritage cottage with a verandah overlooking the valley - soft jazz music fills the air. I exchange my sweat-stained clothes for a swimsuit and dipping into the pool, feeling all the stresses and tensions melt away. Before long a few curious wallabies come to visit. The afternoon seems to evaporate and before long it's time for dinner.

Everyone has been talking up the restaurant at Spicers, called Homage. Eating there isn't just about good food, we've been told; it's "an experience". As the name suggests, Homage only serves local produce, either grown or reared on-site in Spicers' market garden or animal pens, or sourced from the surrounding region.

But unlike many other restaurants that serve only local produce, Homage makes an art of its craft.

We're advised to order the degustation or "tasting menu", a series of courses under a list of different categories.

Our first course, under the title "forage", is a dozen scrumptious hors d'oeuvres served on a gnarled piece of driftwood.

Another is a plate of yabbies served on a bed of hot coals that turn out to be charcoaled vegetables. A delicious beetroot-inspired dessert, meanwhile, features the stunning vegetable cooked or prepared in a variety of different ways.

Homage, under head chef Ash Martin, has won three Chef Hat awards and Trip Advisor's certificate of excellence.

Hidden Vale is a beautiful place for a stroll, especially through the market garden and animal pens. There are also mountain bike trails and guided hiking tours for those wishing to stretch their legs - something we ponder before opting instead for a trip to the in-house masseuse.

The hotel also offers property and four-wheel-drive tours, with optional picnic lunches and drinks options. Weddings, corporate events and even festivals can be booked at the resort, with a variety of packages available.

HIdden Vale truly is the hidden gem in the emerald Lockyer Valley. I'm surprised more people aren't aware of it. But perhaps that adds to its charm.

IF YOU GO

STAYING THERE: Room rates at Hidden Vale start at $349 per night for two people (breakfast included). A dinner, bed and breakfast package costs $469 per night per room.

Romantic getaway packages are $859 for one night and $589 for two nights (including luxury suite, three-course dinner and massage).

EATING THERE: Homage Restaurant's tasting menu is $110; A la carte meals cost $70 for two courses, $80 for three. Picnic hampers cost $40 per person

PLAYING THERE: Hidden Vale has four function rooms to choose from for corporate or other events (prices vary). Wedding packages start at $145 pp, (including ceremony and reception); a two-day wedding package costs $345 pp.

For more information, call 1300 179 340 or visit spicersretreats.com/spicers-hidden-vale

* The writer travelled as a guest of Ipswich City Council.

AAP

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