A zest for life is regained by following a simple routine of good food, good friends and a little nature bathing, finds Paige Richardson.
There are a few core truths to the science of happiness: talking to people, eating good food and feeling connected to nature. It’s a simple enough formula, but one 2020 made difficult to adhere to.
This year, I’m determined to start out with my cup brimful so I’m headed for the Southern Highlands to indulge in all three.
Conversation will come from my travel companion – my sister and oldest friend; good food from farm-to-fork experiences between Berrima and Bowral; and nature from the landscaped gardens, deciduous trees and rolling hills that make up the Southern Highlands.
Indulgence (with a healthy dose of conversation) starts on the drive from Sydney in the new Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport, which drives us more than I drive it thanks to Intelligent Speed Control and Traffic Jam Assist features, making for a seamless journey to Peppers Craigieburn.
Craigieburn is one of the region’s original country houses, first built in the late 1800s as a private residence and opened to Sydney’s visiting ‘gentry’ in 1909. As we pull into the estate’s poplar-lined driveway, I notice not much has changed. The Giulia’s iconic Italian design is in good company parked next to the gamut of imported automotive exotica.
While Gatsby-style parties, horse riding, tennis and golf (the 36-hectare property is home to nine-hole golf course) were once the order of the day, we’re happy to wander the estate’s garden, curing our nature deficit by bathing under the cherry and almond blossom trees, and white magnolias coming into bloom. Of similar old-world inspiration is Milton Park, another of Bowral’s many elegant estates, but for something a little more modern book a night at the refurbished Berida Hotel.
While not officially noted in the still-nascent science of happiness, there’s still quite a lot to support retail therapy as a mood-booster. And what kind of girl’s weekend would this be without indulging in a little shopping. Start at Dirty Janes Emporium and Antique Market where hidden retro treasures abound – from hats to homewares, and books to boots. Once you’ve spent hours perusing the wares of more than 70 independent dealers and the appended antique market, pop into Your Vintage Occasion Tea Salon for tiers of sandwiches, cakes and fluffy homemade scones with clotted cream.
The much-loved Berkelouw Book Barn at Bendooley Estate is another must-do; it stocks thousands of new, second-hand and rare titles. The 80-hectare property doubles as a cafe and cellar door, so you can get stuck into the first few pages of your new purchase with a chardonnay in hand and views across the vineyard to boot.
Good food is found first at The Press Shop, where the produce needed for its (mainly) breakfast menu is sourced from all over the Southern Highlands – Exeter free-range eggs; Burrawang beef; and Thirlmere organic vegetables, to name a few. It’s exceeded, however, by lunch at The Loch, in nearby Berrima.
Brigid Kennedy – chef, caterer, farmer and author – and her antique-purveying partner Kevin Nott run the converted barn accommodation and Tasting Room, which opens its doors every Sunday for the ultimate paddock-to-plate experience.
The set menu changes fortnightly to take advantage of the farm’s own produce garden, but today features mini bug rolls with watercress and zingy native lime mayo, summer lamb swimming in just-picked sour plum sauce, and macadamia-and-mustard-crusted barramundi over satiny swirls of carrot cream. Visitors are invited to wander around the 40-hectare property, where six raised garden beds overflow with all manner of ready-to-eat fruits and heirloom veggies. It’s here we meander for the rest of the afternoon, marvelling at the flitting bees working hard to pollinate the produce next Sunday’s guests will be lucky enough to enjoy.
We end the weekend back where we started amid the bluebells and pansies in Craigieburn’s restorative gardens when I spot a bed of blooming purple coneflowers. Also known as Echinacea purpurea, the coneflower’s petals, leaves and roots are widely cultivated for medicinal purposes and taken in the form of tea, capsules or extract to fight the common cold or boost immunity.
The name didn’t come first though; the flower did. The word echinacea comes from the Greek word echinus, which means hedgehog, and is what the spiny red pistils of the coneflower look like. Turns out even the flowers in the Highlands have healing properties.
About the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport
The hot-off-the-press Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport combines Italian craftsmanship with enhanced technology features and a breathtaking driving experience. At home in city streets or cruising country lanes, the Sport variant sets a new standard for design and performance, and is available now with prices starting from $63,950.
The Italian style and sophistication, like the leather-hugging seats plus latest tech combined with a chic look and exhilarating driving experience, made it fun to drive in the city or cruising through the villages and wineries of the Southern Highlands. You will need to get used to all the attention you’ll get driving it. So, I guess you can call me an Alfisti now.