Read our writer's views on this property below
The Old Bank Boutique Hotel, 83 Main Street Mittagong, NSW
This super stylish yet supremely comfortable escape is halfway between Sydney and Canberra in the restaurant-antique-book filled Southern Highlands. It's an easy 80-minute drive from Sydney. No car? Take the train and the owners will pick you up from the station.
From the moment you step foot inside this beautiful hotel you bear witness to two great love affairs. The first is between this 1892 building and local farmer Warwick Wainberg, who became so bewitched by this Victorian-Romanesque styled property that he became compelled to save it. The second is between Warwick and his wife of a couple of years, Barbara, who is equally besotted with the building and who helped him transform his folly – "I wasn't even intending to buy it but when I thought it might go to developers I had to do something" – into stunning accommodation. When Warwick bought the Old Bank in 2009 it was a boarded-up pigeon coop. After seven years of painstaking restoration that was almost strangled by red tape and other problems along the way, the Old Bank finally opened to guests in August. The results are spectacular. Hand-carved wood panelling, rich fabrics and wallpaper and individually designed rugs set off the high ceilings and polished floorboards to stunning effect. A dramatic lounge and library dominate the front of the building where guests can relax and read or enjoy a complimentary afternoon tea on leather Chesterfields in front of open fires. But this is not purely a winter escape, with a rose-scented terrace perfect for summer dining. It adjoins a cosy dining room complete with probably the safest wine cellar in the country, ensconced as it is in the old bank vault. There's also a gobsmacking cedar staircase, which was once subject of a bizarre demolition order after a council boffin deemed it solid but five millimetres too narrow.
There are five individually themed rooms with the same rich furnishings and detailing on display. Comfort is key here, with Egyptian cotton sheets and marble and granite en suites with heated flooring and towel racks. There is a desk with a discreet recharging station, a coffee maker, Foxtel and free Wi-Fi. There is also a small balcony with mountain views. Framed historic photos of local gatherings early last century are mesmerising. A jar of home-made biscuits is a nice touch. There is also separate and self-contained studio and cottage accommodation in the old stables at the rear of the property. No detail has been spared here either with parquetry jarrah flooring, convict-made bricks and hand cut marble tiles in the bathrooms.
We eat in and are not disappointed. Barbara – who once cooked for a home-grown tycoon – seems to be expert at everything she touches. We feast on pate, rack of lamb and a chocolate and ice cream confection. Breakfast is a highlight. There's local smoked bacon and free-range eggs fresh from the Wainbergs' farm, freshly-squeezed juice, friands straight from the oven and a delicious stewed pear with berries, yoghurt and a taste of Grand Marnier. Still dreaming about that one...
Lake Alexandra with abundant bird life and turtles is a pleasant five-minute walk away. But all of the Southern Highlands' best attractions won't take much longer by car, with historic Berrima and Bowral just down the road. Don't miss spectacular views and food at nearby McVitty Grove Winery, see mcvittygrove.com.au. Our tip? The moreish arancini. Or if you are bookish and peckish at the same time, try a table at the popular Bendooley Estate/Berkelouw Book Barn in Berrima, see bendooleyestate.com.au.
The Sunday markets at Berrima offer quality rugs, leather goods and foodstuffs.
From the offer of a bottle of elderflower water to take with us on our walk, to the jam and home-grown lemons each guest is presented with as they leave: this hotel manages to marry the warmest of welcomes with the most luxurious of surrounds. And speaking of marriages, the Old Bank would be a perfect venue for nuptials – with a romantic terrace for a ceremony and plenty of guest accommodation all in the one spot. But for those just wanting a quick escape from Sydney or Canberra, the Old Bank Boutique Hotel offers a great weekend retreat. Mittagong now has a restored treasure that will hopefully see out at least another century.
Suites from $295 per night per room (midweek), including breakfast. Includes a country breakfast.
Self-contained accommodation: The Studio from $335 (midweek) The Cottage from $425. Secure onsite parking available. A 30 per cent discount for guests staying three nights is available until February 28. Cream teas and light lunches have also been introduced for daytime visitors and overnight guests, bookings essential. See oldbankhotel.com.au
The rich, comfortable surrounds, craftsmanship and attention to detail.
The inevitable realisation during your stay at just how many similar irreplaceable buildings have been lost.
Jane Richards was a guest of the Old Bank Boutique Hotel.