Summerlees Cottage, Sutton Forest review: Close your eyes, think of England

Read our writer's views on this property below

Peter Gearin finds a country cottage perfect for parlour games and walks.

Entering the long, wide driveway at Summerlees is like plunging into a deep, cool river at the end of a blazing day.

Lined with majestic elms, which allow the graded dirt boulevard to be dusted in soft dappled light, the driveway splits into a fork. Left to the cottage; right to the house.

Our weekend break is at the cottage, so we veer left but we can't take our eyes off the house - an imperious, two-storey mansion fringed by established trees and colourful shrubs. This house, built in 1875 and once owned by the David Jones family, has its own ballroom and was a nesting spot for the distinguished guests of the NSW governor, whose official country residence for 70 years, Hillview, sits grandly next door. Now the Summerlees big house is a popular spot for weddings.

A comfortable distance from the house is the cottage, our home for two nights. This former manager's residence was a plaything of the elements for many years before it was lovingly rebuilt by host Patty Mouhtouris and her husband, Roger Keyes. It took a year of solid restoration before it could be opened to guests in 2007.

The cottage has three bedrooms, each with a queen bed, and its own take on the Southern Highlands' bucolic charm. Classic old books sit in freshly painted nooks, period furnishings are full of homey smells and history and original oil paintings and timeless light fittings speak of taste and attention to detail. An upright piano is along one wall of a room that has two comfortable leather armchairs and a bookcase full of more literature and old board games.

The main lounge area is dominated by a period dining table that sits six in cushy carvers and balloon-back chairs. Between the large coffee table covered in lifestyle magazines and the country-style sideboard and hutch filled with knick-knacks and keepsakes are a generous sofa and lounge chair. The two large fireplaces remain cold for our stay, although the summer nights are cool enough for us to switch on the gas heater. The bright and airy bathrooms (one with an ensuite) and kitchen are a welcome and well-executed nod at modernity.

Like the film Babe, which was shot in nearby Robertson, the property is home to a number of animal stars. There are Oni and Lolly, two elderly white horses who chomp on visitors' apples. There's Andrew the peacock, who can be found in the house's private courtyard admiring himself in a mirror propped against a wall. The nameless chickens, who live in a five-star chookhouse, provide fresh eggs for guests. Nicole the echidna pokes her strange nose out occasionally; and deer stick their heads in to see who's staying this week. Guests are encouraged to pluck lettuces or tomatoes, whatever they need, from the vegie patch.

The house is full of fresh garden smells. Close your eyes and think of England - Jane Austen's England, that is, not the Austin Powers one. The lounge area has a small television and a DVD player with another tiny television and video in the sitting room but they don't even get warm. This is a place for playing charades, talking, reading, laughing and connecting.

My family's motives for heading to Summerlees are split along gender lines. The solitary female sees a weekend of antique and curio shops, country roads, nice walks and value-for-money cafes. The three males see one thing - the Bradman Museum at Bowral. We also visit Bundanoon, Fitzroy Falls, Robertson, Berrima and Moss Vale, all within an easy drive. Our affable host, Patty, tells us one family has stayed at Summerlees 11 times. Visit number 12 is set to begin soon; they know what they will get and it keeps bringing them back.

The writer was a guest of Summerlees Cottage and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

Address Summerlees Cottage, 219 Illawarra Highway, Sutton Forest.

Bookings Phone 4869 2550 or 0412 606 225; summerlees.com.au.

Rates From $220 a night weekdays; $840 for the weekend. Stay a week for $1400. Includes breakfast provisions.

VERDICT

Why you'd go Weddings, parties, anything - everyone will find something to push their buttons here.

Why you wouldn't You crave constant human contact, not peace.

FIND TIME TO

* Visit the Bradman Museum in Bowral and check out the turf wicket on Bradman Oval -it's a classic greentop that offers a lot for the seamers.

* Taste test the Southern Highlands' emerging cool-climate varieties at local vineyards.

* The Degas exhibition at the National Gallery ends on March 22. Canberra is an hour away by car.