This thriving country town south of Sydney is the perfect blend of old charm and new tricks, writes Vanessa Lawrence.
Pottering is to a relaxing weekend what a good swell is to surfing: essential. And there’s no more agreeable place to spend time in the slow lane than Berry, a charming town in the NSW South Coast’s Shoalhaven region, just two hours’ drive from Sydney’s CBD, with glimpses of ocean and lush dairy farms flashing past. Berry’s tree-lined streets are dotted with homewares stores bursting with treasures, buzzed-about dining options and old-school bakeries (“There are more pies around here than you can shake a sauce bottle at,” laughs a barefoot local outside popular haunt Milkwood Bakery). Ironically, the newly opened $580 million Foxground and Berry bypass has restored Berry’s unspoilt rural township atmosphere, a charm lost when the main drag, Queen Street, was the easiest route back to Sydney for holiday-makers. The deviation has also helped put neighbouring towns Gerringong and Gerroa on the tourist map. Here’s how to make the most of a weekend in Berry and its surroundings.
With the exception of self-contained homes, sophisticated accommodation in and around Berry was scarce until late last year, when Soul of Gerringong opened its doors. A farmhouse dating to the 1800s, it has been meticulously restored by interior designer Simone Mathews and her builder husband, Ben, mirroring the coastal luxe vibe of Byron Bay with natural linens, timbers and lots of chill-out zones (including a pool). The “soul” of the property is The Farmhouse, a whitewashed oasis with a huge stone fireplace and skylights that flood the living and dining spaces with natural light at all times of the day. Its four guestrooms sleep eight but the property can accommodate up to 16 guests, with the two-bedroom Cabana and one-bedroom (plus sofa bed) Barn out the back – both fully self-contained with ensuites, kitchenettes and private access. Rent the entire property for total privacy (ideal for family getaways or corporate retreats), take over The Cabana or The Barn or book a single room in The Farmhouse midweek. Soul is within walking distance of Gerringong’s cafés and a 12-minute drive to Berry but you may well decide to stay indoors.
Image: Citizens of Style
◖ South on Albany is a casually elegant restaurant that showcases the bounty of the region. Chef John Evans and his wife, Sonia, source as much as they can from local producers, including most of the wine list, which is long on drops from the Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven. Standouts on the seasonal menu include the Buena Vista Farm baby carrot salad with milk ricotta, zucchini, grains and cured yolk (“What you’re eating was in the ground yesterday,” enthuses John) and the duck, slow-cooked to a rosy blush and nestled on cauliflower purée with salsa verde and grilled peach.
◖ If you go to Berry and don’t stop at The Famous Berry Donut Van (73 Queen Street) for one of its piping-hot cinnamon-dunked classics, have you really been to Berry? A local institution that draws huge crowds depending on the time of day (visit late afternoon to avoid the worst of it), the old girl will soon share her patch of grass with the Berry Burger Bar, the owners’ new project. As of this month, you’ll be able to order burgers with names derived from the area – including The Berry Boss, Cheese on Queen and the vegan Green Fields – from this re-created 1950s diner.
◖ Little Rae General Store + Coffee Bar has reinvented itself as Queen St Eatery (1/65 Queen Street, Berry; 02 4464 2544), offering a menu inspired by French country fare, with an Australian twist. Enjoy a breakfast of pistou “buttered” toast with mushroom and a poached egg then go back after the sun sets, when the eatery turns into a wine bar.
◖ Learn how to shuck an oyster at Jim Wild’s Oyster Service (Lot 2, 170 Greens Road, Greenwell Point; 02 4447 1498), a small working oyster farm owned by champion oyster opener Jim Wild. The property is on the foreshore of the Crookhaven River at Greenwell Point, a scenic 30-minute drive from Berry. Eat the fruit of your labour – creamy Sydney rock oysters best enjoyed natural with just a squeeze of lemon – over a BYO bottle of wine.
◖ Book one of the hands-on workshops at Buena Vista Farm, a picturesque property in Gerringong that’s been in Fiona Weir Walmsley’s family since 1859. Under Fiona’s tutelage, master crusty sourdough bread, fermented pickles, nutritious bone broth and more. Morning tea and a two-course paddock-to-plate lunch are included in most workshops.
◖ Shop, shop, then shop some more. Head to Moss Nest for a mix of vintage and contemporary homewares, Haven & Space for designer-look furniture at fair prices, Cabana Jo’s (87 Queen Street, Berry; 02 4464 3490) for crisp linen sheets and Amara Home (83 Queen Street, Berry; 02 4464 2910) for jewellery, leather goods and stylish curios such as brass crab-claw bottle openers (you don’t need one until you do). ￼
Top image: Soul of Gerringong/Citizens of Style
SEE ALSO: A Weekend In... Mollymook, NSW