The Southern Highlands is reinventing its long-held appeal for a new generation of visitors and locals alike. Here are 10 reasons to head south from Sydney today.
A new kind of cool change is sweeping the NSW Southern Highlands. The bucolic, grand-estate-and-hedge-heavy region has long been a favoured weekend escape for Sydneysiders and Canberrans; yet while the Highlands’ traditional appeal remains (and for good reason), the last year or two has brought a breath of fresh air. Innovative chefs and producers, energetic entrepreneurs and creatives, and young families seeking a tree-change have ushered in a new take on highlands life, combining the best of the old with the thrill of the new.
Here’s a starter guide for your next Southern Highlands visit.
1. Diversified dining
Moss Vale’s Birch is a beautifully conceived offering with chef Lachlan Houghton (Vue de Monde, Three Blue Ducks) helming the kitchen. Expect modern Australian dishes like kangaroo, smoked fig, blackberry and watercress; or pavlova, coconut, kaffir lime, rum, lemongrass and pineapple sage, plus a series of special events such as a floral vegetarian dinner (16 February) and a dessert degustation (May).
In Bowral, Grand Bistro’s pop-up restaurant, the modern-Asian Umami takes over on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, dishing up flavour-bombs like mini Korean fried chicken burgers with kimchi slaw and ginger soy glaze under a canopy of paper lanterns (a Mexican pop-up is slated post-February). Meanwhile, Bistro Officina’s inventive, fire-cooked fare earned it a hat from the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in its first year. The team also recently opened a street food stall at The Mill (see #6), dishing up Italian flatbread filled with combos such as mortadella, blue cheese, spinach and smoked nuts.
2. Cool new cafes
Bowral’s Ludo is an Instagram-beacon of beautiful blues and Parisian-chic fittings, dishing up crowd favourites from French toast with citrus ricotta and coconut parfait; to steamed buns with Chinese five-spice duck, pickled cucumber and hot sauce. And don’t miss Moss Vale’s exceedingly pretty Highlands Merchant, where nourishing, beautiful plates of food hit home with an expert balance of flavours, textures and colour.
3. Moss Vale: the new mecca for homewares
Along Argyle Street, Suzie Anderson Home showcases sophisticated yet rustic country chic: ornate oversized mirrors; crockery in delicate eggshell colour palettes; and all manner of wicker, linen and leather furnishings. Nest & Burrow boasts a well-curated selection of keepsakes, homewares, and gifts; while Bowerbird on Argyle is an eclectic marketplace offering modern art and furnishing sthrough to lovingly restored retro and vintage furniture and fashion.
A visit to Rabbit Trap Timber could yield anything from a stylish fedora to a beautifully hand-crafted piece of solid recycled timber furniture; Mossy Store delights with beautifully crafted pieces made to last; and Highlands Handmade’s name says it all (not to mention the already-established faves along this strip).
4. Plenty of bars
Harry’s On Green Lane wine bar and bistro is an idyllic slice of Parisian-salon-meets-Raffles style, located in Bowral’s fantastic new Green Lane precinct adjacent to Dirty Janes Vintage Emporium. In Moss Vale, the new Southern Highlands Brewing Co’s Taphouse is part beer-hall, part bistro; its ‘beer cuisine’ is designed to complement SHBC’s craft brews, poured from customised gold fonts. Mittagong’s Eden Brewery serves up its handcrafted beers using green energy; and the historic Burrawang Village Hotel welcomed new owners in 2017, who’ve set about refreshing the local stalwart.
5. Wine time, redefined
There are some interesting new ways to taste the highlands’ top cool-climate drops. Artemis offers Yoga in the Vines, and vinyl nights where you can bring along LPs to play on 1970s Marantz speakers whilst enjoying smoked fish and meats. A Grand Day Out also offers nicely tailored tours of local foodie destinations and wineries.
6. Bowral’s new developments
Two new developments top and tail Bowral’s main street. The Mill encompasses a fantastic cafe with a kids’ play area, Ms Peacock Fine Chocolates, Zoe Georgiou designs, food stalls (think steaming pho, freshly-made dumplings, decadent cupcakes…) and small-but-perfectly-formed cheese shop, Cheese Etc.. On the third Friday each month, a Street Feast takes over the central open-air courtyard. You’ll also find Carousel Lifestyle’s signature range of on-trend, infinitely wearable essentials.
A second Carousel outpost – this one showcasing resort and home collections – lies at the other end of town in the new The Acre complex, which also boasts the ultra-pretty Press Shop cafe and Bespoke Letterpress around the corner from Green Lane’s verdant surrounds. Other newcomers include Few & Far’s exotic and eclectic homewares, and cool kids’ fashion at Masuki Store.
7. Cooking classes
Foodies can book into Bowral’s new Cook’s Cooking School, the brainchild of well-connected local Anna Phillips. It boasts an enviable line-up of guest teachers (including Michelle Southan, food director at taste.com.au and Kirsten Jenkins, style editor at Delicious magazine) who’ll talk, demonstrate and taste-test you through various classes – from how to platter like a pro and master Mexican street food, Spanish tapas or Easter seafood.
8. Explore the food and wine clusters
Get to grips with the region’s amazing bounty of produce via the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Clusters initiative. Simply pick a cluster, download the map and get exploring: the Sutton Forest Cluster could see you tasting local olives and berries, and sampling wines from Banjo’s Run, Cherry Tree Hill or St Maur, for starters. A driving force behind these clusters, foodie Brigid Kennedy also runs The Loch, where they host bountiful Sunday lunches and tea.
9. New stays to lay your head
The just-opened Bendooley Estate Cottages add another beautiful element to this stunning vineyard, cellar door, book barn, restaurant and wedding locale. Clad in Aussie hardwood, overlooking a tree-lined river and rolling golden hills, the individually-designed havens boast bespoke wallpaper and textile bedheads; and enormous tiled bathrooms featuring deep tubs and dream views. Glass doors open from generous living spaces onto private verandahs, providing ample opportunity for countryside daydreaming.
Bowral’s newly refurbished Berida Hotel offers a modern yet still-unique vibe within the historic, ivy-clad building, with a new Endota Spa plus Bistro Officina on-site. Meanwhile, Mittagong’s The Old Bank Boutique Hotel combines Highlands history with modern comforts.
10. Entertainment for the kids
Farm Club’s leisurely Sunday farm walks allow kids to meet the horses, pigs, chooks and alpacas. There’s also a great cafe, bountiful farm shop, and onsite accommodation. Meanwhile, two-hatted Biota’s new ‘parklands’ area, complete with rolling green lawn, umbrella-shaded tables, play gym and sandpit, allows parents to relax and enjoy their botanical-inspired cocktails or local wines with insanely moreish bites, all while keeping an eye on the kids.