A Luxury Weekend Guide to the Southern Highlands
The Southern Highlands has exploded onto the luxury tourism map in 2022. The influx of treechangers and Sydneysiders looking for a convenient weekend getaway is transforming this quiet rural hinterland into New South Wales’ most in-demand destination. Whether it’s the cool-climate wines, the laid-back country living, or the green space that draws you in, the Southern Highlands has oodles to offer, and we’ve rounded up the best experiences for you to enjoy.
Only a short hour and a half drive or train ride from Sydney or Canberra, the Southern Highlands region stretches from Yerrinbool in the north to Wingello in the south with miles of lush fields and meandering streams in between. Visitors from the cities will be struck first by the space, punctuated every few minutes by heritage villages and country estates. The Southern Highlands was one of the first inland regions settled by Europeans in the 19th century and the area is proud of its heritage, working hard to maintain an old-world charm.
Come to the Southern Highlands with an empty stomach because down here the food is an attraction all of its own. Whether you’re eating at a fine dining restaurant or a Scandi-chic café, you’ll be treated to the best local flavours and farm-to-table produce. Alongside grapes, the Southern Highlands region produces truffles, potatoes, and dairy, all of which can be enjoyed under the care of a master chef at one of the Highlands’ hatted restaurants.
Breakfast, Lunch, Coffee Or Cake
For breakfast, lunch, or just coffee and cake, you can’t go past The Press Shop in Bowral. Bright and spacious with pale wood furnishings and a corner site overlooking Bowral’s main street, it’s the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. Serving up Acai Bowls and flat whites, this café would be at home in Melbourne or Sydney if it wasn’t for the heritage building and the Southern Highlands-sourced ingredients like eggs from nearby Exeter, olive oil from Colo Vale, and meats from Burrawang.
For a more formal, and even more photo-worthy affair, there’s neighbouring Harry’s on Green Lane. Nestled amidst the Southern Highlands first, and growing, laneway precinct, every inch of the restaurant is decked out in framed antique art, books, and, unsurprisingly, greenery. Once a bustling café, it has shifted to a set menu only lunch and dinner venue in a successful strategy for containing the Instagram crowds. Harry’s menu embraces the country environment, dishing up English classics like confit chicken and bread and butter pudding and delivering with aplomb. Their crème anglaise is a revelation.
If your visit coincides with the first Sunday of the month (and it’s worth it to time your trip for this), then there’s no better table in the Southern Highlands than Birch Restaurant’s monthly Lazy Long Lunch. Showcasing the very best of the Moss Vale restaurant’s grower’s menu, the three-course degustation effortlessly blends Asian and European fusion with local produce. Expect expert wine matchings and personal service. But while there might be white table clothes at Birch, there’s no mistaking that you’re in the country, the whole ambiance is smooth laidback luxury.
When your appetite is entirely replete, there’s an array of manor houses come luxury hotels to rest up for the night. Two of the hottest new openings are Bundanoon’s Osborn House and Bowral’s Berida Hotel.
Billed as Australia’s answer to Soho House, and with the same designer on board, Osborn House (https://osbornhouse.com.au) is a true retreat, within walking distance of Bundanoon’s main thoroughfare (such as it is) but secluded down tree-lined avenues with bucolic vistas. The experience is personalised right from the Spotify playlist in your welcome email. It’s also very private with only 22 rooms on the estate, a mixture of suites and secluded cabins. If you can tear yourself away from your cabin’s private outdoor bathtub, there are two restaurants to choose from onsite. Named George’s and Dinah’s for Osbourn House’s first owners, the restaurants offer casual dining or theatrical fire cooking, as you prefer. And with Moreton National Park on the hotel’s doorstep, there’s no end to the activities that can be arranged, from guided hikes to horse rides.
Berida Hotel (https://beridahotel.com.au) is another manor house tenderly restored to its full glory. It sets itself apart in its flawless attention to detail. From décor to drinks, every finishing is consistent and nods to the estate’s history. In each wing, you’ll find nooks crammed with velveted armchairs and marbled coffee tables, books, and flowers. There’s no shortage of spots to relax with a drink either, curl up in front of the fireplace with a locally-distilled bespoke Joadja martini in Berida’s Gin Club or pop down to the Aspinall Whiskey Lounge for a Smokey Nail cocktail or single malt on the rocks. You don’t need to close your eyes to be transported to an 1800s manor house party. That’s even before you’ve taken your seat at Bistro Sociale, the in-house restaurant where a corner table gives views over the grounds, complete with fountains, a curved driveway, and manicured hedges.
While you could easily while away days in either of these hotels, floating away in the spa or indulging at the bar, there’s no shortage of activities in the Southern Highlands. The region is known for its wineries above all, and you can’t miss stopping into a few. Close to Bowral, there’s Tractorless Vineyard where, despite not being entirely tractorless just yet, their viticulture practices are cutting-edge when it comes to sustainability. You can design your own tasting flight of Tractorless Vineyard wines with options ranging from Zero Dosage Sparkling to Nebbiolo and pair these with smoked meats in their alfresco space. Less than half an hour down the road in Berrima is Bendooley Estate, a booklover’s dream with wine tastings offered in their Book Barn, surrounded by shelves of new and second-hand tomes. The Estate’s extensive grounds host weddings and hide cottages for rent, as well as the Bendooley Estate Larder, which churns out ready-to-eat meals, jams, and sauces deli-style.
Places To Shop
The best shopping in the area, however, is found in the many boutiques scattering the Southern Highlands towns. There is a smattering of clothing stores, both chain outlets and local stores (unsurprisingly specialising in cottage-chic), however, the real drawcard in these parts is the homewares. You could easily spend hours trawling through the treasures in Nest & Burrow or Made by Others in Moss Vale. Come home laden with the perfect gift for foodies from Two Bears Honey or readers from Mittagong’s Booktown Bookshop. You might need to arrange a trailer for your antique furniture finds at motley emporium Dirty Janes Bowral. Worlds away from the chaos of city malls, these are the kind of mom-and-pop stores (or mostly mom it seems) where locals linger with a coffee and friendly expertise is proffered at the slightest invitation. Venturing down any one of Bowral’s arcades, you’ll be sure to find delicious distractions whether it be a creamy brie from Cheese Etc or locally made truffles from Pure Chocolates.
Explore The Nature
But the Southern Highlands is the country and there’s no excuse for not getting out in nature when it’s so spectacular in this area. You’re spoilt for choice amidst numerous botanic gardens and national parks. Each town has its own botanical masterpiece, stop off at Leighton Gardens in Moss Vale or Belmore Park in Goulburn (not technically in the Highlands but deserving of a detour) if you have time to spare. In tulip season, typically mid-September, the Corbett Gardens in Bowral are unsurpassable, carpeted with fiery floristry.
Off the well-trodden paths, waterfalls abound, particularly around Robertson where you can chase down Belmore Falls and Carrington Falls. In summer months the swimming holes around these falls are swamped with families seeking respite from the relentless Australian sun. The Southern Highlands might be lacking in high-octane entertainment but there’s an array of more languorous pastimes on offer from fishing to golf to cycling. All of these can be arranged by the obliging hosts at Osbourn House or Berida Hotel or by inquiry at the Southern Highlands Welcome Centre in Mittagong.
Yet the beauty of the Southern Highlands lies not in any one of its many pretty towns or dramatic waterfalls, it’s the combination: the country charm and the laidback living, now with the polish of luxury hotels and fine dining restaurants. From the home base of an elegantly restored manor house, you can live the country life with all the finest touches. The Southern Highlands combines the best of the Australian wine regions with a dose of the Cotswolds. Cottagecore and antipodean wilderness. Whether you’re making a country escape from Sydney or adding to your Australia trip, the Southern Highlands will be a getaway to remember.