The Loch, Berrima
The Loch, a relatively new four-bedroom guesthouse-cum-bed and breakfast with boutique hotel touches, is perched on a hill a short drive from the historic village of Berrima, one of NSW's oldest, best preserved and most charming colonial-era townships. An hour and a quarter's driving time from Sydney, Berrima, and The Loch itself for that matter, is part of a renaissance of sorts in the Southern Highlands that has recently seen the belated creation of two major food and wine "clusters", or food trails, in the region.
The creation of Brigid Kennedy, an indefatigable New Zealand-born, Sydney-based leading caterer and cook, and Kevin Nott, her antique-restoring and purveying partner, The Loch is housed in imaginatively converted horse stables. A second floor, or mezzanine level, has been added for accommodation with the downstairs stables converted into a kitchen, office and owners' quarters. The stalls have been turned into display spaces for the sale of Kevin's "bespoke, farm-restored" antiques. Upstairs is one of The Loch's most appealing features: a large open-plan living room replete with views of the surrounding farmland and countryside, as well as The Loch's property where the couple's beloved horses reside. There are the essential open-fireplace, comfy sofas and armchairs as well as books and board games. Happily, unlike a typical bed and breakfast, the space is large enough so you don't feel intruded upon by other guests.
The Loch's commodious and attractive rooms are each named in honour of a Scottish town or city, namely Argyle, Aberdeen, Arran and Ayr. They all feature rustic antique furnishings, timber flooring, mod cons such as TVs and luxurious en suite bathrooms, with a few interesting rustic touches, such as hand basins, fashioned by the canny Kevin. The rooms also feature views of the gorgeous gardens and countryside.
A large fully equipped kitchen, which includes an all-important espresso machine, forms part of that expansive living room, and is available for full use by guests. Pre-ordered prepared meals can be arranged, with guests greeted on arrival with a lavish cheese and local produce board as well as a "self-cater" breakfast hamper, including farm fresh eggs, bacon, tomatoes and artisan bread. Each Sunday, between 10am and 4pm, the enterprising Brigid and Kevin welcome house guests and visitors alike to their ambitious farm gate. It's a mini-festival of fine food and the best available local produce, including beer and lamb, with the stables' stalls festooned with rustic furniture and superior bric-a-brac for purchase. Outdoors, there is an impressive al fresco fireplace, surrounded by fruit trees, with barbecue facilities.
Berrima, with its wealth of heritage sandstone buildings, is home to The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide-rated restaurants such as the one-hatted Eschalot as well as the popular Josh's Cafe and Bendooley Estate. Elsewhere in Bowral there's the fashionable, two-hatted Biota Dining while at Sutton Forest you'll find the promising Katers. A former Good Food Guide-rated chef when he was last in the kitchen there, John Shelly has returned to Peppers Manor House for a second tenure. If you fancy breakfast out, head to the excellent Exeter General Store, at the eponymous Southern Highlands village. Twenty kilometres from The Loch is the fascinating ghost town of Joadja, now home to a well-regarded whisky distillery while Bowral, the Southern Highlands main town, with its array of restaurants, cafes, shops and museums, is a short and scenic drive over the hill from Berrima.
The Loch is a handsomely decorated, smartly conceived and enormously comfortable country escape option for a few days or longer. A perfect base from which to explore a resurgent Southern Highlands, it's a welcome non-chintz addition to a region of NSW that has been for too long lacking in distinctive accommodation of this quality.
The Loch, 581 Greenhills Rd, Berrima, NSW. Doubles start from $210 mid-week with a minimum stay of two nights, including a breakfast hamper. Phone 0427 403 187 or 0411 511244 See theloch.net.au