Long the go-to easy getaway for Sydneysiders, the Southern Highlands made its name with bed-and-breakfast stays, bakery cafés, antique stores and cheerful gardens. Charming, yes. But cool? Now, with its growing community of big-city expats and a spate of recent openings – from Barn, chef James Viles’s eatery, to Bendooley Estate’s luxurious cottage suites – this misty mountain region is redefining country comforts.
Just 90 minutes south of Sydney, quaint neighbouring towns like Bowral, Burrawang and Berrima are attracting a new breed of gourmands with impressive fine-diners, a covetable café culture and an emerging boutique wine industry. This arcadian region may be small but there’s plenty going on. Here’s our pick of the best places to start.
Where to eat
For breakfast: The Press Shop
Of course, there’s avocado smash and eggs any way but it pays to go beyond the obvious at this light and bright café. Treat yourself to seasonal fare such as dairy-free waffles with coconut sorbet and peach or order the breakfast salad, which eschews the virtuous bowl in favour of a generous helping of zucchini, hummus and pangrattato. Don’t forget to pick up beautifully designed and embossed stationery from the attached Bespoke Letterpress store.
Shop 5, 391-397 Bong Bong Street, Bowral
For lunch: Birch
Expect inventive plating at Birch, a sleek new addition to the region’s eateries, where the beetroot comes eight ways (as carpaccio, sorbet and crisps, to name a few) and traditionally meaty mains share glory with locally produced vegies. The two- or three-course lunches are excellent value.
Shop 2, 249 Argyle Street, Moss Vale
For dinner: Biota Dining
Eight years after it opened, this two-hatted restaurant remains the Southern Highlands’ biggest gourmet drawcard. Nab a spot by the fire and order something casual yet gourmet – octopus in XO sauce, say, or potato scallops with taramasalata. Or go the whole way in the dining room proper with genius chef James Viles’s seven-course tasting menu with matched local wines.
18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral
For taking home: Mrs Oldbucks Pantry
You’ll discover practically any flavour of jam you can think of at Mrs Oldbucks – standalone berries as well as delicious combinations such as peach and date or rhubarb and ginger. There’s also a large range of other goodies, including salad dressings, loose-leaf tea and pasta sauces from small-batch producers.
Shop 4, 15-17 Old Hume Highway, Berrima
Where to stay
The five bungalows on this sprawling estate (a mix of studios, two- and three-bedrooms) might look rustic from the outside but inside they’re all country flair. The beds are grand, each finished with a towering upholstered bedhead, and the bathrooms are spacious with generous tubs. Despite Bendooley Estate being a popular wedding and long-lunch venue the cottages are private – hidden down a driveway and separated by grasses almost as tall as the buildings themselves. The only sounds are bird calls from the dewy paddocks beyond.
3020 Old Hume Highway, Berrima
An abundance of cosy common areas makes a stay at the Berida Hotel special. There’s a library nook, a games room, a store selling local produce and even an indoor pool. The highlight, though, is the sumptuously decorated guest lounge, a bistro-style space perfect for fireside drinks. Its country-manor décor hints at the building’s almost 100-year history, including its time as a stately home, repatriation hospital and health retreat, but the 43-room hotel’s recent renovation has refreshed the property.
6 David Street, Bowral
If you don’t want to drive: The Grape Escape
Scott and Mira Barton have been at the helm of The Grape Escape wine tours for a year, following a long-held passion for food and wine. They’ll tailor the trip to your preferences, stopping at two wineries on a half-day excursion and up to four on a full day. They even offer a dog-friendly option if your pooch is a serious wine (region) lover.