A drive to the country is a reminder of the power of leaving familiar surrounds for a fresh comfort zone.
When you spend most of your days in a city office block, in front of a computer, the best thing about driving out of town towards a holiday destination you'll reach in a couple of hours is a matter of perspective. It's looking out the window as you pass the city limits – at green grass rather than bitumen, at trees rather than skyscrapers, and at cows and sheep rather than pedestrians with their eyes glued to their iPhones.
It's as if such images enter a depleted primal memory bank that, once topped up again, will help fortify you for a return to frenetic city life.
At least, that's how I feel as we drive out of Sydney in a loaned Mercedes-Benz E-Class towards NSW's Southern Highlands – a place with plenty of rolling green hills, fern-lined, windy roads and animals out to pasture.
Our first stop is the picturesque town of Berry, primarily to visit the Berry Sourdough Cafe, which is located in a historic home a short way down a side street off the main drag.
The croissants, bread and other baked goods are worth the stop alone, but the cafe also does an excellent cooked breakfast and lunch. It's so popular you might have to wait for a table – we do, picking up provisions for the evening meal at the providores in town while we wait.
Caffeine and carbohydrates imbibed, it's on to our evening pit stop, The Cottage in Kangaroo Valley. This place is the definition of shabby chic – a quaint white wooden cottage with a style that makes sense when you discover that the owner is artist Lisa Madigan. Think old wicker rocking chairs, shelves with arrangements of bird's nests and shells, twigs artfully hanging on the walls, a claw-foot bath with Aesop products and big white fluffy towels, and an easel and canvas set up in an alcove.
It's a cool night, so we light a fire in the open fireplace, hook our iPhones up to the old-style Marshall speaker and sit back with our books, waiting for our roast chook to cook. The only downside is the lack of Wi-Fi; then again, being forced not to look at your phone while on holiday is no bad thing.
The next morning we drive over the beautiful Hampden Bridge towards Bowral, about an hour away, where we stop in for brunch at the Grand Bistro, which talented chef Damien Monley and wife Justine set up when opting for a tree-change after selling their popular Flat White cafe in Sydney's Woollahra. Scrambled eggs with fried haloumi, roasted sweet potato and other zesty things together with coffee from The Grounds suggests this is not your average regional town cafe.
By the time we arrive at Bendooley Estate we've no room left for food, which is a shame because the wood-fired pizzas at the recently revamped cellar door look terrific. We occupy ourselves instead with a browse through the Book Barn, one of the Berkelouw family's bigger bookshops, and a wine tasting underneath a fabulous big John Olsen painting.
The following evening is spent at The Loch in Berrima, where old stables have been converted into a spacious four-room guest house. Chef and owner Brigid Kennedy offers a delightful paddock-to-plate lunch every Sunday on the property's wide verandah. There's also a market with vegetables and flowers sourced from the property's two hectares of gardens, and an antiques stall.
Driving home early Monday morning, we see another sign of country life: a dead wombat in the middle of the road.
It enters my primal memory bank too; a reminder that life can be fleeting, and that memories like those created on weekends away should be held onto tightly.
ROAD TRIP: SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS
Getting away from it all in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé and Cabriolet in the Southern Highlands. Photo: Supplied
The Cottage Kangaroo Valley, 0415 138 909, from $330 a night
The Loch Berrima, 0411 511 244, from $210 a night, two-night minimum
The food and wine
Katrina Strickland stayed as a guest of The Cottage Kangaroo Valley and The Loch Berrima.