Download some podcasts and pack your favourite snacks: it’s the perfect time for a road trip. New South Wales's southern coastal areas are not far from the city and rich with boutique accommodation, experimental eating and a variety of flora-themed events to celebrate the start of spring. Here are four weekend-away options.
Mittagong (one hour, 15 minutes from Sydney)
Throughout the Southern Highlands from September through to November, gardens will come to life with the Spring Garden Festival. In the waterside town of Mittagong events will be held at Chinoiserie and Perennial Hill gardens.
Mollymook (three hours from Sydney)
On September 25 and 26, at recently opened Bannisters Pavilion, as part of The Experience Series, chef Paul West (of River Cottage Australia) will host “a celebration of … the south coast, featuring ingredients from around Mollymook and Batemans Bay and native ingredients”, West says. As part of the accommodation package spend two nights in one of the 33 suites at the Mollymook Beach-based hotel and spend your days revelling in the region's food. Take part in a Clyde River punting for oysters with oyster farmer Ben Ralston and drinking white wine. Spend the other half of the day with Noel Butler, a local Indigenous elder, on a coastal bush walk to fossick for ingredients, and then share a bush-food afternoon tea. At day's end reconvene to enjoy a three-course dinner inspired by the ingredients of the day, and to talk about food and provenance. Guests can also purchase tickets for each individual experience – oysters, foraging or dinner.
“Food so often is taken out of the context in which it was produced,” says West. “We often learn so much about fine-quality ingredients over a white-clothed table. To see the environmental conditions in which that produce is made, and to experience it as fresh as possible, is at the core of this dinner.”
Kangaroo Valley (2 hours, 10 minutes from Sydney)
In the Kangaroo Valley there’s a cottage. Owned, renovated and designed by Lisa Madigan, The Cottage Kangaroo Valley is an original 1880 cottage which formerly housed The Kangaroo Valley Times newspaper. Artist Madigan and her husband Rob launched the space as holiday accommodation two years ago, and now host couples and families (up to five guests). It’s one for the design-inclined; original floorboards and cedar walling has been maintained to reflect the cottage’s heritage.
“In spring, it’s almost like a little beach house in the country,” says Madigan. “The interior is quite fresh and white, with gorgeous natural textures. It lends itself to being opened up and experiencing breakfast in the garden.”
Two-night weekend packages include a breakfast hamper with local sourdough, locally made jam, free-range eggs and seasonal produce. From this base (which is a 100-metre walk to the village), enjoy the Kangaroo Valley Spring Garden events or the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival. It features more than 40 acts over six venues. Drawing Room Rocks and Fitzroy Falls are also local attractions. Madigan recommends “a great little potato stand”, which can be found on a drive through the Highlands. “He has great varietal potatoes and a little honesty box.”
Tickets for the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival are available here.
Bowral (one hour, 30 minutes from Sydney)
This year’s Southern Highlands Food Festival will be held in the Corbett Gardens in Bowral on the first weekend in October. Tickets include a wine-tasting glass, which can be used to taste wine from 60 vineyards and 16 cellar doors, and access to the produce of local brewers, cheese-makers, fishers and beekeepers. This year there will also be a night event with music and live performances as well as the signature food and drink.
While you’re in town for the festival make the most of the town’s boutique accommodation options. For a food-centric experience, James Viles’s Biota Dining and Rooms is a natural choice. There are 12 rooms and on the weekend there’s a designated brunch menu (featuring dishes such as hen’s eggs fried with pork mince or savoury porridge with confit duck yolk). Lunch and dinner are also held over a weekend, and weekend packages include one night’s accommodation plus a six-course tasting menu and hot brunch. Biota also hosts workshops throughout the year, including a garden-centric experience on September 22 and 23, at which guests can help chefs plant seeds, learn about crop rotation and create a dish – alongside the chefs. Or there’s a Robert Plumb “Bollyhood” tandoor oven workshop in late October where guests can learn how to play around with temperatures and about the influence of wood on flavour.
If you’re up for something a little less involved, Briars Country Lodge and Historic Inn has 31 suites, all with countryside views. There’s a tennis court on-site, and the inn has a variety of local ales on tap.