Read our writer's views on this property below
Sean Mooney wanders the leafy paths and grand hallways of a former cattle stud.
You can't help but notice the rivers of gold flowing down the cafe-studded streets and poplar-lined driveways of the Southern Highlands; the main street of Bowral wouldn't look out of place in Mosman or Double Bay. And if you follow one particularly rich vein running east of the town, you soon come to the mother lode.
The Milton Park Country House Hotel and Destination Spa rises out of a stand of towering eucalypts as you drive through the property's rather grand front gates. You get the distinct feeling you're about to discover how the other half lives. That is, of course, unless you are the other half.
Chances are you'll drive right by the entrance to the main building, your attention diverted by a pair of stately weeping beeches to your left and imported automotive exotica to your right. We squeeze our old station wagon into a row of top-of-the-range Audis, Mercs, Beemers and a Bentley. Later, we discover the property even has a heliport.
Entering the main house through an elegant carriage porch, we peer into a common room furnished with hardwood furniture, gold-framed mirrors and paintings of stern-faced settler types wielding riding crops. Several fireplaces have already been filled with paper-wrapped logs in anticipation of the evening chill.
We walk past the entrance to the hotel restaurant and come to a dark nook hiding a bowl of pet food. A little further down the hallway and we're starting to feel like we've wandered into a private manor when we discover a young woman sitting behind an antique desk. This is reception.
We check in and are introduced to Gordon, the owners' cat and presumably the beneficiary of the pet food, who is stretched out in the hallway in a sliver of sunlight. He has the run of the place and adores human company, we're told, as he lifts his head and blinks languidly in our general direction. It's not the last we'll see of Gordon.
Our "garden courtyard" room may be the cheapest of the hotel's 40 rooms and seven suites but it is bright and airy with a comfortable bed and French country-style furnishings. At first we feel the Dordogne farmhouse vibe is a little incongruous when the rest of the hotel has been so faithfully restored to its early 20th-century glory. But after a while we warm to the distressed wood and heavy-handed paintings of fruit bowls and vases – at least the room doesn't have that heritage-listed sterility of many old guesthouses.
We're surprised to learn that Milton Park only started accepting guests in 1984. It feels like a place where the well-heeled have been cooling their heels for a century or so. It was, in fact, a cattle stud for most of its life, although the expansive gardens have been open to the public for more than 60 years. The present owners, the Dobler family, should be congratulated for restoring them to their former glory.
We start the afternoon strolling in Austenesque fashion past octogenarian elms and linden trees, a Japanese-style pond surrounded by tree ferns and a low pergola with wisteria planted along its length. It is as lovely as the brochure claims.
Later, kookaburras laugh at our serves as we play tennis on courts overlooking the property. The location is superb but the courts are in need of resurfacing, or at least the removal of the slippery moss on their edges. Afterwards we duck into the spa. It's a lovely space, with a huge hydrotherapy spa and well-equipped gym, stretch studio, plus an extensive (if expensive) treatment menu. There are some small irritations – no soap, shampoos or creams in the changing rooms and the steam room is closed. However, we have it almost all to ourselves and we leave relaxed and ready to join Gordon for a drink.
Sure enough, he's waiting for us in the Polo Bar, curled up by the fire studiously ignoring the popping corks of a 40th birthday party. Guests at this gathering are all staying in the former stables, which once boasted a temperature-controlled pigeon loft before being transformed into a seven-bedroom cottage. We settle next to Gordon and take in the old-school charms of the room – oak panelling, marble bar, travertine floors – while we sip our cocktails.
At Hordern's Restaurant, the dining area is intimate, the service efficient and the food superb. The hiramasa kingfish with watermelon, basil gel and Persian feta is a pleasing mix of tastes and textures, while the seared scallop with blood sausage, caramelised pear and crisp pork is an inspired dish. The grain-fed beef fillet is first class, while the lamb loin and slow-roasted neck is almost as good. The 25-minute wait needed to create the chocolate souffle is well worth it.
The next morning we find Gordon sprawled by our door; it seems we've been adopted. Breakfast is a decent buffet in the light-filled conservatory. We grab another cup of tea, move into a sunny spot and watch the cockatoos and lorikeets brawling in a birdfeeder outside. Gordon watches them, too, although one suspects his intentions are not exactly honourable.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Milton Park Country House Hotel and Destination Spa
Address Horderns Road, Bowral.
The verdict A decadent escape from the city with plenty to do, great food and beautiful surroundings.
Price A range of weekend and mid-week packages, from one night and breakfast (from $455 a room) to a two-night "Weekend Opulent Retreat" package with sparkling wine, a massage, two breakfasts and one dinner (from $1165 a room).
Bookings Phone 4861 8100 or see milton-park.com.au.
Getting there About 100 kilometres south of Sydney on the M5, via the Bowral turn-off.
Perfect for Couples in need of some old-world inspiration.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Walk through the fabulous gardens, explore the Southern Highlands, shop and eat in Bowral, swim, play tennis or have a spa treatment.