Newcastle makes the Top Ten list

Newcastle, or Newie as it is known to the locals, has been in the news lately --  Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011 has included it in the Top Ten of the hottest Australian cities to visit this year.

The guide describes Newcastle as a ‘unique blend of imagination, sophistication and laid-back surf culture.’ Let’s add that its location, a 160-kilometre drive north of Sydney, makes it a great base for visiting the Hunter Valley wine region as well as a first overnight on a Sydney-Brisbane self-drive holiday.

Formerly known as ''Steel City', Newcastle has undergone a transformation over the past ten years, changing it from an industrial town to a buzzing destination that boasts a vibrant culture of cafes, food and wine, art, music – and, of course, some great surfing opportunities.

Along Newcastle's stunning stretch of surfing beaches are million-dollar homes, historical sea baths (including the largest in the southern hemisphere, at Merewether), and a string of trendy cafes. It's become a place to see and be seen. 

The most significant recent change has been the redevelopment of the old Royal Newcastle Hospital site fronting Newcastle beach. Part of the project is Mirvac’s stylish 88-room Sebel Newcastle Beach.  It's the first Sebel to be built from the ground up and the first full-service 4½-star hotel to open in Newcastle in several years

The rooms are contemporary and comfortable and most  have views of either the ocean or Newcastle Harbour, Nobbys Lighthouse and Stockton Beach. The hotel is steps away from the beaches, the harbour and the populat Hunter Street Mall. 

A tip for foodies: dinner at the hotel's Bistro Dalby is a ‘must’. The food, by chef Justin Rose, formerly of the Hunter Valley's Chez Pok, Molines and Sydney's Quay Restaurant, is getting rave reviews. And there are more great restaurants just over a kilometre's stroll from the hotel on Darby Street in the leafy Cooks Hill precinct. This is the city's most exciting strip, with busy cafes, pubs and restaurants --  and great boutique shopping.

Top tip: to meet and buy from trendy new fashion designers, visitors should plan to be at the Olive Tree Market at The Junction, a few kilometres from the Sebel, on the first Saturday of the month. The market features Newcastle's contemporary art, craft, design and fashion directly from the artists; every item on sale is handmade.

* For visitors more interested in the Hunter Valley’s wines than the buzz of Newcastle, The Sebel Kirkton Park Hunter Valley is less than two hours drive from downtown Sydney in the magnificent  Pokolbin countryside. 

Set within 75 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and gently rolling grounds with views over vineyards and the wineries of the Hunter Valley, this Pokolbin hotel offers an array of activities for leisure guests.