Clontarf Bed and Breakfast, Exeter review: Asian hints in the highlands

Read our writer's views on this property below

Among 12 hectares of superb gardens and orchards sits a stylish new B&B, writes David Sygall.

TO ME, cherry blossoms are those elegant trees found only in Japan that display their striking pink flowers for just a few weeks each year, filling people with optimism about the summer ahead.

So imagine my surprise as we hit the road from our accommodation at Clontarf Bed and Breakfast in the tiny southern highlands town of Exeter to find the streets lined with budding pink trees.

This is the best time of year to head to the highlands, 90 minutes' drive south-west of Sydney, as the rolling hills are dotted with the spectacular colours of cherry blossoms, flame trees and yellow highland flowers.

The charming sights on our drive were just the entree. Past the Fitzroy Falls and through the quaint old town of Robertson - with its array of local produce and, of course, the "Big Potato" - we took the Jamberoo Mountain Road to the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, a 500-metre canopy walk above sweet-scented sub-tropical rainforest.

It's not cheap, at $24 an adult, but the walk over the treetops gave us a unique perspective of landscapes and views north towards Stanwell Tops and east to the coastal towns of Shellharbour, Kiama and Wollongong.

Kiama looked so inviting we dropped in for a seafood lunch by the harbour before taking the challenging but pretty one-hour drive back along the Kangaroo Valley Road, through Berry, Moss Vale and, finally, Exeter.

There was more beauty to take in. At Clontarf, owners Mary and Sean Quigley have made a vast timber deck overlooking the 12-hectare property the centrepiece of their spacious and beautifully renovated house. As there is only one guest room at Clontarf, and as it has direct deck access, the outdoor space was entirely ours - a lovely place to eat, read or just sit, listen and look.

It's a common theme at the Quigleys' property. They are new to the B&B business and are keen to ensure visitors get maximum enjoyment. They have closed off a wing of the house for guests, which includes a big homely sitting room with plush lounges placed beside by a large fireplace.

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The room is completed tastefully with pieces the Quigleys have acquired, including a large European tapestry that enhances the room's warm feel. Flowers from the garden decorate the room and there's a bookshelf-worth of reading available if you've forgotten to bring your own.

It's here the couple serve breakfast, which can include fresh squeezed orange juice, great coffee, egg variations and sausages which, judging by guests' comments in a visitors' book, are a hit. The Quigleys give guests their space but are lovely to chat with and have great stories to tell.

They are particularly proud of their gardens of ornamental pear trees, apple, cherry and peach orchards, rose garden and, to top it off, a 200-tree trufferie, which they hope will produce French-style black truffles within a year.

Through the sitting room is the bedroom, dining area with a basic kitchen and large, immaculate bathroom with a spa bath, heat lamp and Dermalogica bath products. There's a queen-size bed with electric blankets, robes to relax in and ample CDs, DVDs and pay TV.

The Quigleys describe the decor as "stylish, contemporary" but we couldn't help feeling there was an Asian theme, which allowed us to coin the slightly clumsy description "country chic with modern Asian flair". Certainly, the sleek bedside lamps, neat bathroom cabinets and wardrobe could be construed as Asia-themed.

It wasn't until we were leaving that it dawned on me that the tree just outside our bedroom was another hint of Asian influence, its pink buds announcing a cherry blossom about to bloom.

The writer was a guest of Clontarf Bed and Breakfast and Tourism NSW.

Trip notes

Where Clontarf Bed and Breakfast, 159 Ringwood Road, Exeter. (02) 4883 4503, clontarfbnb.com.au.

Getting there Turn off the Hume Highway towards Mittagong. Continue along Argyle Street through Bowral and Moss Vale and then turn left at Exeter Road, just past Sutton Forest. Turn left under the railway bridge at Exeter and continue along Ringwood Road to the property.

How much A two-night weekend stay costs $350. The midweek rate is $160 a night. The weekly rate is $1100.

Style statement Clean, modern country, with hints of Asian finishes.

Perfect for A couple looking for warmth, peace and proximity to southern highlands attractions.

Don't forget Outdoor clothes to wear while trekking nearby walking tracks or bike-riding in Morton National Park.

Kudos The house is designed in such a clever way that, even though guest areas adjoin the owners' living area, there is privacy and no noise travels between the living areas.

A shame There is a guest kitchen but it isn't sufficient to make a stay-at-home meal. However, there is a barbecue for guests to use when the weather is warmer.

Take the kids The room is big enough for a child's bed and the property's gardens and acreage are great for a youngster to explore.