Here’s how to best spend 36 hours in the Southern Highlands.
Southern Highlands Day 1
The Highlands Merchant in Moss Vale may as well be an advertisement for a tree change. The pretty little café is a proud purveyor of local products such as Noble Handcrafted Maple Syrup, Bulwarra Bees Liquid Gold Honey and pickles from the Apple Cart. After stocking your esky with locally sourced goods, settle in for an Allpress espresso and bowl of coconut rice and fresh fruit.
Robertson Nature Reserve is only a short drive away from Moss Vale and it’s a bewitching place for a bush walk. The reserve is near to the edge of the Illawarra Escarpment and is a rare remant of Yarrawa Brush rainforest, which once carpeted the entire region.
Chef Ben Bamford’s menu at Birch reflects the best of what’s in season in the Southern Highlands. He’s like an artist in residence, with the focus on original compositions such as sage and lemon-infused chicken with scorched onion, beetroot and sweet potato. The dining space in the charming building, built circa 1890l, reads like a warm, inviting bistro but with white tablecloths. Score!
Shopping is a pedestrianised affair in the Southern Highlands. Overtake the locals with chihuahuas in their handbags to get to Bowerbird on Argyle, the Mossy Store, Made by Others and Suzie Anderson Home in the market hall at Dirty Janes.
Everything at Bistro Officina is cooked over fire. The name of the restaurant nods to Mussolini’s Italy when the lack of freedom inspired Italian nonnas to cook pasta in their garages to sell to poor people. These little ‘garages’ were called officinas and chef, Nicola Coccia, honours those nonnas with his honest approach to cooking. Order nonna’s meatballs for dinner and an autographed copy of Farm to Flame.
You don’t need to go easy on the cocktails at Digby’s Bar when you’ve booked into the elegantly restored room at the Berida Hotel, which also houses Bistro Officina. The boutique hotel was originally built in 1925 as a private manor and gives guests a taste of the history and heritage of the Southern Highlands.
Southern Highlands Day 2
Fitzroy Falls drops more than 80 metres over the side of an escarpment in Morton National Park. It’s worth setting the alarm to enjoy uninterrupted vistas of gorges and waterfalls before the selfie-obsessed Instagrammers descend.
Those beetling around the Southern Highlands should factor in a visit to The Loch, which is a working farm, garden and guest house in Berrima. Indulge in paddock-to-plate breakfast of farm-fresh eggs while overlooking the chooks grubbing around in the garden. Stock up at the Farm Shop for your weekly veg.
The Southern Highlands is like a constellation full of wonderful places to eat, drink, play and stay. Biota is one of them, with chef James Viles instrumental in putting Bowral on the map for destination dining. Trust the chef and enjoy celery with soured creme from local milks and the freshest green peas and brined pork loin with endive cooked in elder vinegar.
Download a copy of the Southern Highlands Food & Wine Clusters and follow the Hume Highway toward the revamped remnants of Joadja town. Enjoy a ghost tour of the national heritage site followed by a few wee drams at the distillery to settle the nerves.
Sample classic varietals such as Riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir produced under the Bendooley Vineyard Label while ogling the custom artwork by John Olsen that dominates the cellar door at Bendooley Estate. When you’ve finished swishing and sipping, curl up with a book at the Berkelouw Book Barn.
Burrawang Hotel is a distinguished old pub that underwent a makeover in 2017. Enjoy old-school Sunday roast for dinner while enjoying a thoughtful discourse with a local tree-changer. This pub is also a local favourite over lunch because of its views of the lacquered green landscape.
Extend your getaway and invite all your new mates from the Southern Highlands to stay on and play at The Pill Factory, which can accommodate up to 36 guests. The multi-faceted space is a great place for a ‘gatho’: roast marshmallows over an open fire; prepare a Henry VIII-style feast in the banquet room and go all old-school on the retro video game machine.