Land of 19th century country estates, mighty waterfalls, and NSW's beloved, hatted, eco-friendly restaurant.
Pinot Noir by crackling fireplaces, misty mountaintops and landscaped gardens that look straight out of Downton Abbey — Bowral is your go-to weekender when you don't have the time or cash for a mid-year trip to Europe.
You'll find the 12,000-person town an easy, 90-minute drive southwest of Sydney, among the string of villages known as the Southern Highlands. Spend your stay cosying up in a 19th century hotel room staring at rolling hillsides, or get out and about, tasting wines, visiting waterfalls and feasting at hatted restaurants. However you play it, here are our tips for a couple of days in Bowral.
EAT AND DRINK
Let's get coffee out of the way first. One of the best caffeine-hits in town is at boutique roastery Rush. Go for the house blend or take your pick of a single origin from Brazil, Sumatra or Nicaragua. Alternatively, slip into pint-sized Flour Water Salt and match your coffee with a freshly-baked, organic-flour pastry. This mini-chain is a big hit with people south of Sydney and now has three outlets — in Bowral, Milton and Kiama. Their trick, as the name suggests, is to keep things simple.
Come lunch, hide away from the main street in the quiet, leafy courtyard of The Red Tree Café. Here, the agenda is classics with tasty twists. Setting yourself up for an action-packed day? Dig into the Big Red Tree Breakfast: free-range eggs, roasted tomato, mushrooms, pancetta, chipolatas and potato rosti on organic sourdough.
Another option is to jump in the car and make tracks to Bendooley Estate. Not only will you land yourself a fireplace and idyllic farmlands with your meal, you're also in for a read. Bendooley is home to the Berkelouw Book Barn — Berkelouw's official headquarters — so tables are interspersed with shelves of beautifully-kept, second-hand titles. Also worth a drive is McVitty Grove, a restaurant set on an acreage, just 20 minutes from Bowral, with an emphasis on sustainability and local produce. Tuck into the chef's own beef sliders or the organic Portuguese chicken with Dauphinoise potatoes and roasted tomato.
Up for a fancier adventure? Reserve a table at Biota Dining. Chef James Vile's two-hatted restaurant is another champion of eco-friendly eating. Should time be on your side, settle into a tasting menu. Otherwise, there are loads of seasonally-driven, al carte choices. And do say yes to a cocktail based on handcrafted botanicals, like the 'Autumn Leaves' (jammy persimmon, cinnamon, calvados and citrus). If you're not able to commit to a meal, you're welcome to stick to drinks and snacks in the bar (which is where you'll find the fire).
Eling Forest Estate.
Although we did give you permission to do absolutely nothing, we recommend a bit of an adventure. Winos should be sure to hop on the Southern Highlands wine trail. For the most part, the region is 600 metres above sea level, so cool climate varieties, like Pinot Noir and Riesling, fare well. At Tertini (one of NSW's best cellar doors), you'll be sampling a consistently excellent bunch of small-batch, boutique, multi-award winning drops. And, if you like to know your wine habit isn't killing the environment, swing by Eling Forest Estate, where the Tractorless Vineyard wines are made biodynamically. A Hampshire Down sheep breed, imported from England, takes the place of machines and pesticides, by eating the weeds around the grape vines.
With a bottle or three under your arm, it could well be time for a waterfall-side picnic. The area's three biggest falls are Fitzroy, Belmore and Carrington, and visiting all of them makes for a fun, circular road trip. If you're keen to combine your falls with a walk, conquer the steep, two-kilometre Erith Coal Mine track in Morton National Park, which combines a disused coalmine with cascades you can stand under.
Epic views of Bowral and Mittagong are on offer at the Mount Gibraltar Reserve. At 863 metres, it's the highest point between Sydney and Canberra, and there are three lookouts, each giving you unique perspectives: Bowral, Mittagong and Jellore.
In need of an art fix? In the vast spaces of The Milk Factory, you'll find changing contemporary exhibitions, as well as a cute gallery shop, selling resin jewellery and blown glass. And, within the Springetts Arcade, is Ten Thousand Paces, a self-described 'hybrid shop, gallery, art projects and regional wine hub'.
There aren't many places in this world where you can rent out an entire 19th century former coach house, but Bowral is one of them. And you'll find it on Airbnb (where else?). This six-bedroom Italianate mansion, which was once a home for some wealthy estate owner's coachman and horses, sleeps up to 13 people, and is situated on Bowral's outskirts — within walking distance of both town and wild places.
Not travelling with a big party? Leaving your Clydesdales at home? A cosier option is the Woodland Retreat Guest Studio, also an Airbnb offering. Splashed with art and run by two warm, friendly locals, it sleeps up to four and a locally-sourced breakfast is included.
If you're in the market for a hotel, there's Peppers Craigieburn. For those not planning on going anywhere, there are plenty of rooms with views of the 36-hectare surrounding garden, as well as guest lounges with open fires, a billiards room, tennis courts, a restaurant and an onsite spa. Yep, pretty much everything you need to stay put.
Another lush, albeit pricier option, is the Milton Park Country House and Spa. Here, you'll be lolling about in five-star decadence on the property's tucked away, forest-covered hilltop. Just how luxe you go is your call. There are rooms overlooking gardens and fountains, and suites with their very own fireplaces and jacuzzis. Meanwhile, among the grounds, you'll stumble across a heated indoor pool, floodlit tennis courts and a wellness spa. Should you ever have wondered what it's like to be an English duke or duchess, this is your chance to experiment.