In winter, golden hour at Mona Farm is about 4pm. You know that time just before the sun sets, when the light is a soft, warm glow making everything – and everyone – look dreamy? It’s when you should be either wandering the 124-acre historic property and checking out the sculptures dotted around the grounds, or on a rug beside the lake, drinking vino and snacking on fromage.
The picture-perfect scene at the lake, with the reflection of blue sky and the Palladian stone bridge (aptly titled Monet’s Bridge) upon it, is only interrupted by ducks gliding on the water – or by the need to divert your eyes and pour another glass of wine.
Once it gets a bit chilly – and it will; Braidwood is a three-hour drive south of Sydney and not too far from notoriously icy Canberra – you can retreat to one of the historic buildings on the property, which have been beautifully converted into stylish, well-appointed accommodation. We bunker down in the Old Stables, which has just been completed. Built in 1859, this was the farm’s original stables – now transformed into a luxe two-person, self-contained house with a stunning fit-out (designed by Louise Nettleton of Nettleton Architects).
Walk through the original wide timber doors to find a large open-plan space with exposed brick walls and timber beams. There’s a kitchen with enough gear to make any feast you might desire, and a fireplace stacked high with wood that’ll make your stay toasty. There’s also a dining table, lounge, TV and a striking Guy Maestri artwork as distracting as the fire. The bespoke rolled-steel staircase (finished with a matte micaceous iron oxide paint) was made locally by Tom Clarke of Braidwood Fabrication, and, along with the bold custom lighting, it’ll vie for your attention. (I know, it’s just a staircase, but it’s a beauty.)
Upstairs, at one end of the room is the master bathroom – with two showerheads for dual bathing. At the other end, a large, comfortable bed. Copper piping runs along the walls, becoming a design feature – like the timber work on the high ceiling. (There’s a skylight, so pack an eye mask if you want to snooze late.)
Chef Josh Tyler has recently come on board, and you can call on him for meals during your stay. Just after we arrive on Friday afternoon, he delivers beef bourguignon with Paris mash, which we pop in the oven to heat up when we’re ready to eat. To finish we warm a tarte Tatin and top it with vanilla-bean ice-cream – the perfect winter getaway dinner. In the morning we eat his homemade buttery croissants with jam, as well as some still-warm-from-the-oven Dojo Bread sourdough, which operations manager Julien Besnard brought from town for us to try.
Tyler was previously in Bali, at luxury resort Ungasan, but started his career with respected chef Serge Dansereau of Sydney’s Bathers’ Pavillion, and has run his own kitchens in Australia and Europe. He can prepare any meal you want – from a hearty dinner such as ours, to a spit roast for a group of friends, or canapes to have with drinks.
The New Stables, along with the Homestead, are often booked out by groups coming to celebrate a milestone. Up to 51 people can stay on Mona Farm across six standalone buildings of differing sizes and layouts, which is why it’s a good group getaway or destination-wedding choice (Mona Farm also owns a motor-inn-style hotel in town for extra people, and, in normal times, the original woolshed and adjoining marquee welcome up to 150 wedding or party guests ).
And you can see why people might choose Mona Farm – it’s a grand property with everything you need.
It was bought in 2018 by Belinda and Bill Pulver (former CEO of the Australian Rugby Union), who have renovated extremely well. They have one of the most significant contemporary art collections in regional NSW. As well as the sculptures on the property, they have hung more than 40 pieces on the walls by the likes of Darren Sylvester, Bill Henson, Isaac Julien, Janet Laurence and Adam Cullen.
The property was once named Braidwood Farm after Thomas Braidwood Wilson, a Royal Navy surgeon who settled in the district and was granted acreage in return for his service. He relinquished some of it to create the township of Braidwood, which is Australia’s first heritage-listed town.
Mona Farm is less than five minutes’ drive from Braidwood’s high street – a pretty spot to check out, with its historic buildings, cafes and antiques shop. Of course you don’t really need to leave the property. You can play a spot of tennis, jump on a bike, or take a turn around the grounds. It’s got elm woodlands, poplar-lined carriageways, manicured lawns and gardens crafted in the style of Lancelot “Capability” Brown (one of England’s most famous landscape gardeners, who did away with formality in favour of natural-looking landscapes).
Cosy but sophisticated, a self-contained retreat with acres of green space, Mona Farm feels like the antidote to big-city life.