Bells at Killcare, review: Unwind. Relax. Enjoy. Now

Read our writer's views on this property below

Helen Anderson checks into one of the finest boutique hotels in the state.

We pull up with a satisfying crunch of raked gravel under tyre beside a Noah's ark of European cars (two Audis, two Beemers, two Mercs) and check in at the Manor House. There's a sign at reception saying "Unwind. Relax. Enjoy" in lettering so large it constitutes more of a command than a suggestion.

Along more crunchy gravel, past a lone red Ferrari, is our studio-style cottage (the entry-level king suite), which cleverly transforms into a one- or two-bedroom cottage beyond doors. It's so new there's a faint whiff of fresh paint and showroom-fresh furniture. On the bed, among a Noah's ark of cushions and pillows (two by two by two) is a bolster bearing the word "Unwind". Perhaps those drawn to Bells at Killcare need more than one reminder of what a weekend away is meant for.

There's a spa onsite and free (albeit intermittent) wi-fi for those who can't relax just yet. But I'd be surprised if the prevailing peace, the smart-casual interiors and the abundant shrubbery haven't already triggered behavioural change. There are mixed gardens of native and exotic plants around Bells' 25 rooms arranged as freestanding steel-grey weatherboard cottages in one- and two-storey variations. The so-called Manor House, where the reception, lounge, conservatory and Manfredi at Bells restaurant are located, is surrounded by lawn and gardens as perfectly manicured as many of the guests. Even the neatness of Stefano Manfredi's vegetable patch, protected by a scarecrow from central casting, suggests boutique rather than backyard.

The king suite isn't large but it's well designed and opens to a big balcony through french doors. More New York Hamptons-style than Australian beach, there's bold blue-and-white stripes on roller blinds, bleached linen and sandy shades inside on a well-dressed bed and on the feathered upholstery of a sofa and ottoman facing a gas fireplace, and dazzling white trim: white shuttered windows, white tongue-and-groove interior panelling, white bathrobes. Beyond a narrow entrance is a mini kitchen with sink and bar fridge, opposite a white bathroom with marble-topped twin basins and a splendid deep free-standing bath. A shower with open front ensures half the room's floor gets wet.

The closest of seven beaches on the lovely Bouddi Peninsula is a short drive away rather than a stroll. The next best thing to hearing the ocean is the sound of wind in casuarinas from the day bed on the balcony. A scrub turkey is scratching up a nest next door. A deputation of ducks patrols the perimeter. Yes, I think I'm unwinding.

One of the joys of staying here is proximity to Manfredi's one-hatted restaurant, known for inspired seasonal menus of local produce - some of it grown around us - and an Italian-French-dominated wine list named the best regional list in the 2012 Good Food Guide. At dusk, we frock up and stroll past hedgerows two by two, for we are all couples here - Bells is an "exclusive retreat for adults" and doesn't cater for children. The restaurant, open to hotel guests and visitors (and children), is full tonight - on the verandah and inside, a buzzy room lit by chandeliers and bearing the property's hallmark palette of bold blue, white and blond wood, bookended between fireplaces. My choice is indicative of the menu: mushroom tart, seafood stew and a lovely dessert of caramelised figs, ricotta cream and honey from hives somewhere in the garden.

Next morning, we stroll back to the restaurant for breakfast, a rare case where the continental version (home-made muesli, pastries, fresh juice and fruit and Manfredi's coffee) is so well executed and generous there's scarcely any need to reach for the hot-breakfast menu. From the verandah, I can see the neat vegie garden beside a billiard green of lawn. Two by two, we're about to enjoy a perfect Sunday.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

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VISITORS' BOOK

Bells at Killcare

Address 107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights.

The verdict Stylish, well-run and among the best boutique stays in the state.

Price From $350 a night midweek and $450 a weekend night for a king spa suite; from $550 a weekend night for a two-storey cottage. Minimum two-night weekend stays; tariff includes continental breakfast.

Bookings Phone 4349 7000, see bellsatkillcare.com.au.

Getting there Killcare Heights is about 90 minutes' drive (on a good day) on the F3 Freeway from Sydney's CBD. It's easy to get lost once you reach the central coast, so keep your eye on a GPS or follow directions supplied by Bells. There's a complimentary transfer from Wagstaffe wharf if you arrive on the Palm Beach Ferry.

Perfect for A luxe, adults-only treat.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Dine at Manfredi at Bells. Swim at any of seven beaches nearby. Walk in Bouddi National Park, particularly the Maitland Bay circuit. Look longingly in real estate windows in Hardys Bay before tapas at L'Anxaneta Cafe.