Deux Belettes Country Guesthouse, Alstonville review: That charming je ne sais quoi

Read our writer's views on this property below

In a 'chateau on the plateau', Bruce Elder finds the conversation as winning as the French-style surrounds.

Fancy spending a weekend in the south of France for $275 a night? Deux Belettes is not just a good imitation, it's as close in style to a 16th-century French chateau as anyone could reasonably expect. Near the town of Alstonville, on a plateau just west of Ballina, there's a beautiful piece of land surrounded by rainforest, where European plane trees grow as though this were their natural habitat.

It has a lily-filled lake that would not be out of place in a Monet painting and a long, straight, tree-lined driveway that crosses a stone bridge and is flanked at intervals by large earthen pots.

The house, with wooden shutters, a wooden shingle roof and a stone turret, bears the hallmarks of a Francophile interior designer with impeccable taste (although she will concede that some of the rooms have "moments" of English and other influences) and an engineer so committed to detail, even to the patina on weathered walls, that this remarkable house looks as though it was built in the Dordogne hundreds of years ago.

There are unique touches, too. The front porch, for example, has walls rendered with seashells collected from beaches near Lennox Head before such collection was illegal.

This "chateau on the plateau" is the work of a lifetime. Sharon and Ross Christian, with their son, Sven, have created a unique bed-and-breakfast experience. Rather than being at odds with the landscape and, some might say, the gaudiness of the north coast, Deux Belettes is hidden in the rainforest, like a Shangri-La of European charm.

There are two accommodation options. In the main two-storey building, which is also the owners' home, the larger Tower Suite is upstairs. The Granary Suite, with views across the garden, is on the ground floor with a separate, private entrance.

We opt for the Granary Suite. There's a large and comfortable lounge room with a couch, two leather chairs, a fireplace ready to be lit if ever the far north coast turns cold, a plasma television and a bookcase holding various oddments, including a portrait of Napoleon and an 1875 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Above the fireplace, in large handwritten script on the wall, is this quotation from Oscar Wilde:

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Yet be silent, my heart!
do not count it a profitless thing
To have seen the splendour of sun,
and of grass, and of flower!

To have lived and loved!
For I hold that to love for an hour
Is better for man and for woman
than cycles of blossoming spring.

Each rendered wall of the lounge room bears a quotation from Wilde, D.H. Lawrence and others, which lends a literary ambience.

There is a separate kitchen (which could get oppressively hot in summer) with a two-plate stove, a microwave oven and a fridge stocked with cheese, biscuits and a range of drinks, including a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

The bedroom is decorated simply, with a gloriously comfortable four-poster queen-size bed, a large armoire, two fluffy bathrobes and two small side tables. There is a spacious bathroom with a large shower, a bath and, of course, a bidet. All the fittings are gold-plated and the bathroom accessories are L'Occitane en Provence, including a "bonnet de douche" - that's a shower cap to you.

Guests are served breakfast (and other meals on request) in the outdoor family conservatory or lounge room, according to the weather. Meals are cooked in the delightfully French-style family kitchen, which has a central bench, plus pots, pans, cutlery and utensils hanging from a huge central beam.

Fresh orange juice, fruit, muesli and yoghurt precede a substantial English breakfast of free-range eggs, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and bacon, followed by croissants, cumquat jam and plunger coffee.

The second morning we're served smoked trout, two free-range eggs and tomatoes. The other guests who stayed for dinner raved about Sven's pizzas and the night of conversation with the hosts.

Deux Belettes is a rarity and not just because it's a little piece of France in the Byron Bay hinterland. It's a bed and breakfast where conversation and a relaxed "welcome to my remarkable home" ambience are the essence of the experience - unforgettable and luxurious.

The name "Deux Belettes" is a family joke. It translates as "two weasels". Sharon demonstrates by calling out "Weasel". In the distance, Ross answers: "Yes. Can I help?"

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Deux Belettes Country Guesthouse

Address 104 Victoria Park Road, Dalwood, via Alstonville.

The verdict A sublime, get-away-from-it-all retreat surrounded by water and bushland.

Price The Tower Suite costs $300 a night; the Granary Suite is $275, both including breakfast and requiring a minimum two-night stay.

Bookings Phone 6629 5377, see deuxbelettes.com.

Getting there Alstonville is 755 kilometres from Sydney via the Pacific Highway, about a 10-hour drive. There are daily flights to Ballina, then a 25-minute drive to Alstonville. Deux Belettes is about 8 kilometres from Alstonville.

Perfect for A weekend in the hinterland. Un jour a la campagne.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Wander the gardens and think of France; bushwalk and swim at the nearby Dalwood Falls; dine at Il Postino and 561 Alphadale, both in Alstonville.