As anyone who’s searched for a decent and modern hotel within a stress-free weekend-getaway distance from Sydney will tell you, there’s a surprising lack of options. Especially if you also want an on-site restaurant offering a decent feed.
There are the two Rick Stein hotels (Mollymook and Port Stephens), Bells at Killcare, the ultra-luxe Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley and a few others. But for a city of more than five million people, it’s not exactly a goldmine.
That’s why this newbie (relatively speaking – it opened in October 2018) in sleepy Shoalhaven Heads, two hours south of the city, is a welcome arrival for those on the hunt for stylish accommodation.
The award-winning Bangalay Luxury Villas has 16 private villas with either views of the grounds or the neighbouring golf course. The one we stayed in had a bright north-facing deck with a couple of comfortable chairs for taking in the sun and the (quiet) action of the players.
The villas are spacious – in fact they might be bigger than some Sydney homes. The one-bedroom apartments come with a king-size bed, a kitchen with oven and microwave to whip up a meal, as well as a laundry if you’re planning to stay a while. There’s wi-fi, a smart TV and a very soothing gas “log fire” to laze in front of, plus some bottles of vino for in-room imbibing. There’s a mix of one- and two-bedroom spaces, and even a four-room apartment if you’re rolling with a crew (or family).
Bangalay has a contemporary coastal luxe feel thanks in part to owner Michelle Bishop, who did the interior design. The private bungalows are all connected via timber walkways, which lead to a very good-looking swimming pool and a restaurant.
Palm trees and Australian natives filter speckled sunlight over inviting recliners that could easily occupy most of your stay. Near the pool there’s some lawn for kids to muck about on, or they can break loose on the seemingly endless sand of Seven Mile Beach, which is just a minute’s walk away.
Bangalay head chef Brent Strong has been slowly building a name for himself. Like Bishop, he’s a big advocate of the New South Wales South Coast and tries to incorporate native Australian ingredients in his cooking where he can. His love for natives began on a scholarship placement at Adelaide’s Restaurant Orana, where he started to build a knowledge of what works and doesn’t. He honed his cooking skills at Restaurant Relae in Copenhagen, which was the first certified organic Michelin-starred restaurant, and took out the reputable World’s 50 Best Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2015 and 2016.
Strong runs afternoon talks on native ingredients, serving canapés with wattleseed, strawberry gum and pepperberry. You’ll also get a couple of tasty cocktails to go with them.
At weekend dinners the restaurant is delightfully buzzy, with guests and locals tucking into dishes of kingfish with native grains; spanner crab with apple fennel and blackened blood lime; and roast pork with pumpkin, persimmon and muntries.
Strong can also prepare a gourmet picnic for you to take on an afternoon exploring the area. Culburra and Hyams Beach aren’t too far away. Not that you need to leave your serene and cosy villa at all. There’s an option to dine in, which in our books means you can also experience Bangalay in your comfy, I’m-on-a-holiday laze-around clothing.