You’ve got your Christmas plans all sewn up, but you know you’ll need somewhere else to recover afterwards. These low-key places around Australia personify laidback luxury: the perfect getaways to stop, drop and stretch out on a beach nearby, without worrying about shopping for gifts or cooking. And for those who prefer a bit of greenery to sea and sand, we’ve got you covered too.
If you feel like you’ve ticked off all the big guns on your go-to list, these places across regional Australia may be just what your travel list has been looking for. Bookmark then book.
Tasmania’s Swansea is known for its crystalline water, a ruggedly beautiful coastline and romantic historic cottages such as The Burrows (pictured above). Built in the 1860s and sensitively renovated by a couple of wedding stylists, this holiday home offers sublime isolation overlooking Great Oyster Bay. Nominated for “Best Nature Stay” in the 2022 Airbnb Awards, the garden is frequented by warbling birds, ambling echidnas and an extended family of wallabies. Try not to spend all day drinking wine in the claw-foot bath overlooking the ocean – get out and indulge in freshly shucked oysters at Melshell, taste cool-climate wines at Gala Estate and beachcomb the picturesque sandy bays. Or, sure, just stay in the bath.
When hospitality honcho Justin Hemmes, the man behind restaurants like Bert’s, Mimi’s and Mr. Wong, sets his sights on a town, you know it’s having a moment. Hemmes has recently transformed The Quarterdeck in Narooma into a waterfront, tiki-inspired restaurant and bar, still with those gorgeous views out across the Wagonga Inlet (which, incidentally, produces some of the best oysters in the state – pick some up from Narooma Bridge Seafoods and take them back to where you’re staying). He’s also behind the transformation of The Whale Inn, which houses the third outpost of Hemmes’ popular Queen Chow eateries, serving sophisticated Cantonese classics, and will soon host a refurbished and revamped hotel. If you’re in town in early May, the Narooma Oyster Festival is the spiritual home of the Sydney Rock and definitely worth a visit.
The Rutherglen region, on the banks of the Murray River, is the home of muscat and other fortifieds, but that doesn’t mean it’s stuffy or old-fashioned. De Bortoli is the biggest name and a visit to its cellar door is a must. Or head to the cellar door at Scion for a contemporary spin on the region’s classic grapes (call ahead to pre-order a picnic hamper). Food is huge here, too. Book a table at Footsteps at Cofields, where they forage their own vineyard for kangaroo and rabbit, or stop in at the Thousand Pound Wine Bar & Store for a porterhouse and glass of All Saints merlot. For a place to stay, Mt Orphir Estate hides slick, monochrome interiors behind the façade of a grand French Provincial-style tower.
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It’s unlikely Noosa will ever lose its title as the holiday and honeymoon capital of the Sunshine Coast but Maroochydore, its neighbour a few clicks south, is starting to offer a laid-back and less-crowded alternative. It’s got the hip, breezy beach motels (check in to the Loea) and a buzzy food scene (make a dinner booking at Rice Boi in nearby Mooloolaba then brunch at The Rooftop Bar). And there’s plenty to keep you busy on land and sea, from stand-up paddleboarding and kite-surfing lessons with Ocean Addicts to browsing for Moroccan and Spanish-style homewares at Hello Trader.
Just one hour south of Sydney’s CBD, the seaside village of Otford offers all the barefoot luxury of the big guns, such ase Mollymook and Jervis Bay, without the crowds. Take a leisurely drive (or a roughly 30-minute walk) along the scenic Sea Cliff Bridge, an iconic highlight of the Grand Pacific Drive, and the NSW equivalent of the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California. There are plenty of places to stop and take unforgettable photos along the way. Take a dip in nearby Stanwell Park Beach. Afterwards, pick up an apple pie or house-made gelato at the Otford Pantry. Then settle in at the best Airbnb in town from Spicer’s Private Collection. With a pool terrace overlooking the ocean (where whale-watching is the easiest game you’ll play) and a tennis court to boot, it’s hard to believe this spacious, four-bedroom luxury property is just an hour away from the city. Architecturally designed, with a gourmet kitchen, free wi-fi and a barbecue, the home comfortably sleeps eight. But if you get tired of paddling in the pool, or playing tennis, you can always wander down to Otford Farm for a pony ride, or for more adventurous types, a horse ride through the rainforest.
Huon Valley, Tas
If you want to wander into everyday Tassie village life – and sample the glorious produce and cooking that goes with it – the bountiful Huon Valley, a 30-minute drive from Hobart, is where you should head. Chef Lachlan Colwill is doing magical things with wood fire at Port Cygnet Cannery, you’ll find incredibly good börek at the Cinnamon and Cherry cafe and there’s roadside stalls packed with apples, cherries, eggs (and even a fridge full of baked goods) round every corner. And you can still get a bit of on-water action with a kayak tour along the sparkling Huon River with Esperance Adventures. Base your trip at the luxurious Villa Talia, perched high on a hill with wide views over the river and to the mountains.
McLaren Vale, SA
The Adelaide Hills have always held the mantle as the home of South Australia’s young and experimental wine scene, while the older regions held down the fort for the traditionalists. But while you were being dazzled by the thrills in the hills, McLaren Vale – one of the oldest wine regions in the country – has been quietly shoring up its cool cred with a bunch of progressive businesses doing bright new things. You can grab bikes from Hither & Yon and do a lazy wine tour round the countryside. Try Taiwanese-inspired cuisine at the tiny Muni in Willunga. If you’re keen to shake things up a bit, Mitolo Wines’ recently opened Frankie Italo Dining & Disco Lounge has the best boogie in the Vale. And wine country doesn’t have to mean sprawling homesteads: book the Sierra or Avalon pod at The Vineyard for compact but luxurious accommodation.
The Blue Mountains, NSW
Many Sydneysiders associate the Blue Mountains with tour buses and fussy high teas. But a wealth of exciting, energetic restaurants and accommodation have appeared recently in this historic region, bringing new life with them. The Kyah Boutique Motel in Blackheath has fresh, Palm Springs decor, while Ates Blackheath and Tempus Katoomba are plating up contemporary, local-focused food that’s a world away from the more traditional stews and roasts you might expect in these parts. Admittedly you won’t find the ski slopes of the Snowies but that doesn’t mean there’s no action: book a walking or canyoning tour with the Blue Mountains Adventure Company and you’ll realise that mountains don’t need to be covered with powder to be exhilarating.
Image credits: Abbie Melle (The Burrows); Destination NSW (Wagonga Inlet); Honey Atkinson (Quarterdeck); Georgie James (Mt Orphir Estate); Mark Fitz/Tourism and Events Queensland (Loea); Steven Woodburn (Kyah Boutique Hotel).