Bishop's Court Estate, Bathurst review: Judge, jury and caught halfway

Read our writer's views on this property below

One-time Orange girl Lisa Carty puts rivalry aside, opening her mind to the joys of Bathurst.

It seemed a weird choice. Why would someone who was originally from Orange choose Bathurst for a weekend break? My logic was simple: to get to or from Sydney, I'd driven through Australia's oldest inland city hundreds of times. On each trip, it was either 56 kilometres from my destination or 56 kilometres into my journey – not the sort of place you'd stop for a break, let alone look around.

The rivalry between the two Central West cities is legendary. Bathurst reckons Orange is a bit up itself and a little too blue-rinse; Orange thinks Bathurst is full of hairy-legged leftie academics and car hoons. It was time to explore Bathurst for myself, to see whether my born-and-bred notions were correct.

Plus, there was a chance to savour the charm and history of Bishop's Court Estate, built as the residence of the Anglican Bishop Samuel Marsden in 1870 and home to a long line of clergy until it was sold into private ownership in 1961.

A former Sydney-based interior designer, Christine Le Fevre, bought Bishop's Court seven years ago, even though, like many city slickers, her initial response was: "Bathurst? Why on earth would you go to Bathurst?"

But, like me, she was hooked as soon as she saw the building, with its magnificent architecture, soaring ceilings, cedar finishes and, of course, its own chapel.

On our weekend stay, the chapel is being used to dry the gear of 10 middle-aged bikers who have chosen Bishop's Court as their base for two days of riding, wining and dining. But at other times – such as the night Le Fevre, a talented cook and slow-food advocate, organised a 50th birthday dinner with 30 guests – the chapel is transformed by 150 candles into an ethereal eatery.

"The first time I came to Bathurst, I went to a cocktail party with bottles of Minchinbury and processed cheese on Jatz," Le Fevre confesses as we drive south from the city along Cow Flat Road to Vale Creek, a vineyard about 15 minutes away that specialises in Italian varietals: sangiovese, barbera, pinot grigio and vermentino.

Food and wine are integral to any Central West weekend. The lamb chops and three veg of my childhood have been replaced at Bishop's Court by slow-cooked Moroccan lamb with couscous. Bathurst's 9inety 2wo restaurant serves stuffed mushrooms with tomato tapenade and parmesan bechamel and a pot of braised venison shank with caramel eschalot, parsnip and beetroot.

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This is the restaurant that reputedly caused a grumpy, cynical Sydney television exec to stand up and clap in appreciation.

Le Fevre runs cooking schools at Bishop's Court, where a $70,000 kitchen makeover has provided facilities that would bring a tear to the eye of any aspiring master chef.

The cooking classes are a popular component of girls' weekends away and a part of Le Fevre's business that she is keen to expand by working with local retailers, hairdressers, beauticians and masseurs.

Happily, the rain and bitter cold of our first day is replaced by sunshine, a perfect accompaniment to a trip to nearby Rockley, where a local artist, Tim Miller, is one of four working on a major project to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Miller is painting parts of the Central West as they would have been in 1810, assisted by extensive botanical and Aboriginal research.

He sells from his studio (open Sundays, other times by appointment) and his sunsets (he is painting the sunset every day this year, even if he is on a plane) alone make the trip worthwhile.

But Rockley is freezing – it's even colder than Bathurst – and the fire and mulled wine at Bishop's Court beckons. I have taken my book, which I have almost finished, but I can't get into it. Every time I sit down I feel too relaxed to read. I swear I can feel my blood pressure dropping.

Suddenly it's time to leave. I take a look in the visitors' book to see if Bishop's Court Estate has the same sedative effect on all its guests.

"Now I know how it feels to go to heaven and be surrounded by gastronomic angels and French hospitality," one guest wrote.

As for that Orange-Bathurst thing? I'm too relaxed to pick a winner.

The writer was a guest of Bishop's Court Estate and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

WHERE 226 Seymour Street, Bathurst. Phone 6332 4447, see bishopscourtbathurst.com.au

HOW MUCH From $250 a night at weekends, including breakfast; packages available.

BEST THING Check the serenity — your cares really do dissipate as soon as you walk in the door.

WORST THING If you want your own bathroom; only one room has an ensuite.

PERFECT FOR A group birthday or celebration — owner Christine Le Fevre will tailor a program to suit the event.

LOCAL SECRET Throw back an apple schnapps at Stone Pine Distillery, established by Ian Glen and his wife, Bev, last year. The Bathurst Dry Gin, with juniper berries, lemon myrtle, finger limes, river mint, ironbark and wattle seeds, is a sensation.