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Southern Highlands, NSW
377 Ellsmore Road, Exeter
Phone: (02) 4862 7100
The location The Southern Highlands, a few hours' drive south-west of Sydney, is a haunt of well-to-do retirees, a favourite area for the country estates of high-flying city types and an up-and-coming wine region, so it punches above its weight in the culinary stakes.
The place Lothlorien is a huge house, circa 1920 at a guess, that has enjoyed a recent spruce-up. Downstairs are a spacious living room with an impressive open fireplace, a TV room, a games room complete with pool table and (temperamental) jukebox, dining room, well-equipped kitchen and even a greenhouse you can raid for herbs. Upstairs are seven bedrooms sleeping up to 14 people (though that might be a bit cramped). The hallways are long and wide enough for a small child to scoot around on a tricycle. Outside are extensive gardens that include a pond and an area set aside for pétanque. There's also the (untested) option of full catering, including Devonshire teas.
The experience At about 700 metres above sea level, there is a crispness in the air that lends itself to gathering around an open fire in winter, while offering relief in summer from the mugginess of the big smoke. Exeter is a charming village in which not much happens, but it does so with a certain degree of rustic style.
Don't miss Organise pétanque and pool competitions and long dinners before retiring fireside with a snifter. If you must venture beyond the gates, there are interesting walks in the immediate vicinity, while Exeter has a great cafe/deli that's bursting with local produce (Exeter General Store; 02 4883 4289) and an antiques emporium for browsing. For those missing the bright lights, the fleshpots of Bowral are a mere 20 minutes away.
Need to know
Cost: $900-$1000 a night (two-night minimum stay).
Where: 145km (2 hours' drive) south-west of Sydney.
Wheelchair access: no.