The Southern Highlands region of New South Wales was first traversed by Europeans in 1798, and today the charming town of Bowral is an excellent option for a quiet weekend away from the bustling city, with plenty of gardens, lookouts, bushwalks, museums and galleries, shopping and history to keep you well occupied.
No matter the time of year, it’s always good to enjoy a glass of good wine next to a crackling fireplace (just do it in your singlet and shorts if you visit in summer) enjoying the views of landscaped gardens and historical mansions straight out of a Victorian-era drama. Get out and about on the wine trail, take a hike to one of the many waterfalls or dine in one of the hatted restaurants – whatever your style, Bowral caters to every taste, as our guide reveals.
By far the brightest star ever to come from this country town, Donald Bradman is a saint in eyes of the locals when it comes to Bowral’s claim to fame. The only cricketer ever to be knighted for his role in the game, he retired from Test cricket with a batting average of 99.94, making his achievements nearly twice that of the nearest Test batsman.
The Bradman Museum is also an excellent beginner’s introduction to the actual game of cricket, which, let’s face it, most people haven’t yet comprehended due to their preference to watch paint dry. It is, however, a significant part of Australian history and it’s recommended you at least take a feigned interest. The museum houses interactive exhibits, impressive collections and takes you through the history of cricket, starting with the origins of the game and travelling through all the significant eras through to the Big Bash League. If it’s still not your thing, there’s a pretty fun cricket-themed children’s playground next door.
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.
What began as a small reserve on the summit of Mount Gibraltar, popularly called ‘The Gib’, has now grown to an area of 130 hectares. It’s a stunning panoramic view of the highlands area, with an excellent insight into the kind of terrain required to make some of the local produce and wine we are sure you’ve taken to sampling. Three lookouts provide distant views; each is worth visiting and having a geeze. Near the Bowral Lookout there is parking, a picnic area and toilets. If you walk uphill on the track there’s the ‘Inner Bowl’, which is a lovely place for a picnic with a rich carpet of ferns and towering trees. The Reserve has plenty of walking trails for the avid hiker – if you’re too full of the local wine and cheese to put in much effort, the easiest of access is the Rim Track which links the Bowral Lookout Picnic Area to the Jellore and Mittagong Lookouts.
You really need to take a whole day to appreciate the beautiful vineyards in the area – and, of course, the delicious wine they produce. No matter the time of year, whether the sun be baking the fields or the frost rising slowly over the grapes, the wine is delicious and the views are amazing. The Southern Highlands region sits 600 metres above sea level so the cooler climate varieties (such as Pinot Noir and Riesling) are the picks here. Tertini is one of the state’s most famed cellar doors, so make sure you stop here to sample the multi-award-winning boutique brews. Heading in a different direction (metaphorically – they aren’t actually that far from one another) is the Tractorless Vineyard by Eling Forest Estate, where they make their wine biodynamically and, as their name suggests, tractorless. Hampshire Down Sheep, a breed imported all the way from England, replace the use of machines and pesticide, by eating the weeds around the grape vines.
With a motto like ‘life’s too short, eat dessert first’, you know you can’t go wrong visiting this delicious establishment. It’s not uncommon for Sydneysiders to make the drive to Bowral just to visit this quaint little bakery. The first thing to catch your eye will be the number of awards listed on their shopfront window – there can’t be much left for them to win. It’s a lovely little café to escape the cold weather and have some of their excellent coffee, and it would be a waste not to get two treats – one savory and one sweet. Try the ham and cheese croissant and for dessert, one of their fantastic lemon tarts (they’ve won awards, you know). If that hasn’t filled you up, keep ordering – you’ll most likely order more than is socially acceptable for one sitting.
Bendooley Estate gets its own section in this article, because if you visit the vineyard you’ll not only land yourself a fireplace and picturesque farmlands to go with your wine sampling, but a great restaurant that opens onto the Berkelouw Book Barn. The tables are interspersed with shelves of beautifully kept titles, from new releases to first editions to pre-loved reads. The scent of books really adds to the décor, and the food at the restaurant ranges from classic wood-fired pizza to grazing boards to top-tier filet mignon. If you’re really looking to splash out, you can stay in one of the boutique cottages attached to the estate, which are sure to fulfil all your snuggly fireplace fantasies.
If you’re partial to a spot of antiquing on your picturesque weekend away, your first stop should be Dirty Janes. Not as back-door as it sounds, it’s the only permanent antique market in the village, offering the best in vintage goods. With antique furniture, lighting, architectural, beautiful quality pre-loved home furnishings, and the something-for-everyone Recycled Rags clothing salon, it is the one-stop shop for style on a budget.
Next door to the physical store is the bi-monthly market, with over 50 antique dealers selling a variety of different pieces ranging from jewellery, paintings, knick-knacks and vintage books. The recently opened Tea Salon right next door provides the perfect place to unwind after an exhausting morning of shopping.
One of the oldest and most regent parks in the area and home to the annual Tulip Festival held every September, Corbett Gardens is the centre piece of the Spring Garden Festival with over 75,000 tulips on display, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year to admire the natural beauty. The gardens date back to 1911 when the local ‘tourist’ association purchased the dead, empty land in the middle of the village for a public park. The locals got to work, and within months the gardens were blooming with flowers, shrubs and blossoming trees.
Entry to the gardens is free, however during the Tulip Time Festival there is a small fee. Take a picnic and one of the many bottles of wine you most likely purchased from the wineries and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.