From a weatherboard cottage in the centre of town to an architectural icon and all manner of elegant country estates.
A trip to the NSW Southern Highlands makes for the ideal country retreat – if your ideal country retreat involves a distinctly English flavour and a croquet lawn. Bowral, its main hub, is the place to base yourself to soak up all the region has to offer in terms of cafe culture, antique trawling, wine tasting, nature and history.
By the 1880s Bowral, had become a fashionable summer retreat for Sydney’s gentry and a volume of great estates were constructed as a result – well over a century later, many of them are operating as unique hotel stays.
Here’s our pick of the region’s elegant manors with a sprinkling of cottages, coach houses and other unique stays thrown in for good measure.
For the quintessential Southern Highlands country retreat experience, check into Peppers Manor House. A 15-minute drive from Bowral in Sutton Forest, this elegant old pile was built in 1926 and has been fashionably repurposed while retaining its heritage charm and old-world appeal. It has 43 rooms and suites plus a range of inviting common spaces you’ll want to linger in.
During the cooler months, make yourself at home next to the roaring open fireplace in the Great Hall. And in summer, station yourself beside the pool with a drink or in the leafy courtyard for lunch or dinner – the hotel is home to hatted restaurant Katers. While you’re there, you can also indulge in such gentile pursuits as billiards, badminton, croquet or simply the fine art of drinking tea.
Another elegant old country estate that’s now part of the Peppers portfolio, Craigieburn is a breezy five-minute drive from the centre of Bowral. It has 72 guest rooms across the arboreally named Elms and Morton wings, some with gorgeous French doors that open onto a shaded balcony and some with views of the golf course – which is a star attraction in its own right.
The nine-hole Craigieburn Hickory Golf Course is over 100 years old and guests can look to resident golfing pro Roger Podmore for help perfecting their swing. You can also try the hybrid game of foot golf out for size, have a round of tennis or play a game of billiards. And, when you’ve worked up an appetite, dine in Hickory’s Restaurant and Bar or enjoy a laid-back picnic on the gracious grounds.
This one is for the architecture buffs: built into rock face, this is the most iconic private home built by the late Harry Seidler – Australia’s great modernist architect. Seidler House is located in the old Southern Highlands ghost town of Joadja, once a thriving mining town, 30 minutes’ drive west of Bowral.
Accommodating up to eight people, this sculptural accommodation masters the art of indoor/outdoor living. It has open-plan interiors with floor-to-ceiling windows affording dramatic views to the gorge below, open fireplaces, expansive decks and gardens and a swimming pool.
Stay in an old bank reimagined as a boutique hotel in the historic town of Mittagong, a few minutes’ drive from Bowral. With character and charm in spades, The Old Bank Hotel has six heritage-styled suites in the main, circa 1892, building.
Two come complete with balconies and each has a unique design, en suite, underfloor heating and individually designed woollen floor rugs. At the back of the property are further digs in the shape of self-contained Cottages and Stables.
And while there’s plenty to explore on your doorstep in Mittagong by way of boutique stores and cafes, The Old Bank’s inviting chill-out spaces and dining room might just stop you in your tracks – filled to the brim as they are with plump chesterfield couches and armchairs, cosy fireplaces and eclectic rugs and furnishings.
On the leafy fringes of town, Links House was built in 1928 as a country guesthouse and was the first in Australia to have en suite bathrooms. In its latter-day incarnation as a small boutique hotel, it still offers the same relaxing experience today – albeit with updated facilities.
Links House has a range of rooms and suites, from king to family to accessible, with clean contemporary styling, decor by local designers and supremely comfortable, Australian-made mattresses.
There’s also a standalone, bird-themed Garden Retreat out back plus lots of lovely nooks to relax in: from the rose garden to secluded courtyards and comfy sitting rooms.
In-house restaurant Ethos serves a seasonal menu, plus yoga sessions are held on Monday and Saturday mornings.
You’ve probably heard of the Book Barn, Berkelouw’s iconic home located on the geographically blessed Bendooley Estate – with its sweeping Southern Highlands views. Here, an atmospheric cafe and restaurant resides among shelves of tomes old, new, rare and antiquarian with a big stone fireplace to boot.
But did you know you can also stay on site? There’s a clutch of accommodation available to book: four individually designed studio cottages, a two-bedroom Book Barn Cottage – originally the gatekeeper’s lodge of the 1839 Bendooley Homestead – and the three-bedroom May Gibbs Cottage, which channels a contemporary style via its bespoke wallpaper and artwork, heated handmade tiles and deep free-standing bathtubs.
For a luxurious stay that blends heritage with modern country chic, check into The Coach House at The Rift Estate – the former stables of a grand Victorian Italianate mansion set at the base of Mt Gibraltar in Bowral.
Accommodating 13 people across six bedrooms and with four bathrooms, this is the ultimate spot for special celebrations with family or friends. It has a fully equipped chef’s kitchen, an al fresco entertaining area with barbecue and cosy fireplaces. Bathrooms boast claw-foot baths and underfloor heating.
Spend your days – when you’re not exploring Bowral – playing bocce and croquet on the lawn and wandering gardens ripe with fruit and veggies, herbs and flowers against a backdrop of rambling countryside.
With 43 rooms, this ivy-clad boutique hotel was built as a generously proportioned home in 1925 and is located a short walking distance to Bowral’s main street.
Among the usual hallmarks of a great Bowral stay – luxe guest rooms with a heritage flavour, elegant gardens to wander, open fireplaces, a library to curl up in with a good book and a tennis court and games room – Berida Hotel also has an indoor heated pool, spa and sauna.
Sculptress at Berida Day Spa offers a wide range of traditional pampering treatments as well as some state-of-the-art technology. Also at Berida, you’ll find the European-style restaurant and bar Bistro Sociale and the Produce Shop, which sells local Southern Highlands fare to take home as a souvenir.
The Book Shed At Elouera is a four-bedroom house available to rent via Airbnb that offers a point of difference from the region’s gentile country piles. While set on a hillside on the 2.5-hectare Elouera Estate, this property offers modern, industrial-eclectic vibes.
True to its name, this funky home away from home is packed to the rafters with books and magazines. Peruse them on the daybed piled high with squishy cushions or in any of the other inviting spots – not least its huge sunny deck with remarkable views over Bowral. The town itself is within short walking distance if you’re happy to take on the steep hill.
This delightful little weatherboard cottage right in the centre of Bowral will steal your heart with its chocolate-box-cute blue and red facade before you even cross the threshold.
A century old and beautifully updated, it has one main bedroom with a king bed and a smaller second bedroom with a queen bed – all dressed with sumptuous linen.
Its sister property, The Hidden Door Bowral Villa, can be booked alongside the cottage to accommodate groups of up to eight and is just as cosy and divinely appointed.