Just as you might painstakingly build a personal library over a period of years, the enterprising and visionary Paul Berkelouw, a sixth-generation member of the eponymous, remarkable Australian book-trading scion, along with his family and team, has been carefully adding complementary elements to his bucolic 80-hectare Bendooley Estate property in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Beginning nearly half-a-century ago, with father Leo Berkelouw's Book Barn, renowned for its new, rare, secondhand and antiquarian tomes, a world-class country lifestyle hub has emerged here. The latest addition to this burgeoning, yet not over-developed food, wine, books and accommodation complex are five stylish and discreet riverside cottages just beyond the cluster of main buildings.
Bendooley Estate is a landmark on the Old Hume Highway just outside the charming Georgian heritage village of Berrima, less than 90 minutes' drive (on a good day) south of Sydney. The larger townships of Bowral and Mittagong are situated nearby, with the up-and-coming Moss Vale 20-minutes or so away.
Bendooley Estate's new one-, two- and three-bedroom understated and timber-clad cottages are the epitome of rustic glamour, with the new accommodation adding to an existing, and oft booked-out, cottage just near the property's entrance. Influenced by cutting-edge British boutique hotel brands such as Firmdale and Soho House, each of the quintet of cottages is named in honour of a famous Australian literary figure: Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Patrick White, Norman Lindsay and May Gibbs. In a pleasing and considered touch, immaculately-framed and presented biographies of the writers adorn the walls of the cottages, alongside a variety of prints derived from the Berkelouw family's extensive collection. The interiors of these sunny cottages are individually-designed and feature upholstered furniture, bespoke wallpaper and artworks, and heated handmade tiles and deep freestanding tubs in the large and attractive bathrooms.
Even though it has slipped from the pages of the The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in recent years, the restaurant in the middle of the Book Barn, surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of titles remains an enjoyable place to eat, especially in the cooler months if you're able to secure a table close to the open-fire. You can also dine a little more casually at the Bendooley Estate cellar door, with its oversized centrepiece of a fireplace overlooked by a specially-commissioned John Olsen painting. An additional space is set to open this year. The Stables, situated in a paddock just beyond the cottages and the estate's main buildings, will be available for dining as well as private and corporate functions. If you feel like mooching in your cottage which, admittedly, are so comfortable they can be hard to leave, there's a "light dinner" selection available.
The Southern Highlands has emerged as an important wine region and one that's not only closer to Sydney than the Hunter Valley but also much less commercialised, with considerably more appealing towns and villages to explore and enjoy. Don't miss Brigid Kennedy's grand weekend farm-gate-style lunches and events at The Loch, another bed and breakfast-cum-boutique hotel style property in the Southern Highlands. The Exeter General Store is a lovely drive from Berrima and a top-notch breakfast spot, and if you're hungering for fine dining there are a couple of Good Food Guide standouts in Bowral in the form Biota Dining and Bistro Officina. One of the Southern Highlands' best-kept secrets is the abandoned 19th-century former shale oil town of Joadja, which features some fascinating ruins as well as the Joadja Distillery, run by the Spanish-Australian Jimenez family.
The Southern Highlands tends to suffer from a shortage of the sort of quality and stylish accommodation that you find in many of the regions of Victoria but with the recent opening of these new cottages, imbued with an all-too-rare attention to detail, the Berkelouw brood is at the forefront of the region's overdue evolution.
Doubles start from $295 per night for a midweek stay. Bendooley Estate, 3020 Old Hume Hwy, Berrima NSW. See bendooleyestate.com.au
It's hard to conceive of a more complete accommodation experience in regional NSW when you consider Bendooley's unique food, wine, art and books offering.
At the time of our visit, our cottage was a missing a few essential accoutrements that you'd expect with this style of accommodation, such as bathrobes and rugs for some too-bare flooring.