What a relief to escape the city and head for the hills. Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills, that is. After a regrettable two night stay at a brand new though seriously service-challenged city establishment (hint: it's attached to a cricket ground and it's where I was served a half-cooked burger and made to pay for it) the contrastingly professional and seemingly sincere welcome on check-in at the venerable, 36-room Mount Lofty House restores my confidence in South Australian hotels. But I should have expected no less since this hotel, which in its various manifestations dates to 1852, is beloved by generations of Croweaters. It may be near enough to the best hotel in Adelaide that's not actually in Adelaide.
Hard as it is to believe, it only takes 25 minutes from the city centre to reach Mount Lofty House. It's nestled in the Adelaide Hills at the village-cum-suburb of Crafers, close to the 727 metre peak from which the hotel borrows its name. From the Mount Lofty lookout there are arresting, must-see views of the city and sea. To reach the hotel, you can take a relatively inexpensive taxi from the city (try doing that to the Dandenongs or the Blue Mountains). By the same token, if you want to explore the Adelaide Hills, as you really must, you will require your own or a rental vehicle, though the hotel does offer rather pricey guided tours of this truly delightful region.
It's all charmingly labyrinthine and a tad Midsomer-like. You could get lost inside this place and never be found (not necessarily a bad thing) such is its excess of nooks and crannies. But it all adds to the experience. Be aware that Mount Lofty House no longer has its particular Adelaide hill in the Adelaide Hills all to itself as it now has company of its own choosing. It shares its site with an even more indulgent 14-room Sequoia Lodge, tucked away next to the main building and, at $1000 a night, with a much loftier price-tag than Mount Lofty House. Developed by the owner of Mount Lofty House, it's meant to officially open in April but management is allowing selected guests - (ahem) notably with the exception of your reviewer - to stay in the rooms. Not having visited Mount Lofty House previously, I'm pleased to remain settled in the rambling, original main building for my two night stay. And it'd be a pity for newcomers to stay at Sequoia, named after the species of tree planted on the site, before experiencing the grand old mothership.
I've been allocated a timber-clad, renovated Piccadilly Valley view room outfitted with a four-posted bed and a balcony (which, with unusually cold, misty and moody weather, I didn't venture on to). The 25 square metre room is pleasantly designed and decorated with period though not leaden furnishings with hints of sage and emerald on the bedding, armchairs and ornaments. A small though attractive bathroom, decked out in fashionable subway-style white tiles, completes an agreeable and relaxing space befitting a five-star hotel.
The Adelaide Hills, like Adelaide itself, is one of the nation's best food and wine destinations with Mount Lofty House home to one of South Australia's best restaurants in the form of HVR (no, not a hormone treatment but Hardy's Verandah Restaurant). Inside the main building, the restaurant with superb views of the surrounding rolling countryside all the way to Barossa Valley, apparently, is the beneficiary of Korean-born Jin Choi's skilled and inventive cooking, complemented by a suitably stellar wine list and assured service. Directly beneath the restaurant is a small subterranean stone-walled wine cellar, where special small groups can dine, which you're otherwise welcome to at least take a peek at.
Not only is the Adelaide Hills' proximity to Adelaide itself a major plus, this cool climate wine region is the closest to a major city in Australia. It's also one of the most respected.
During my two night stay at Mount Lofty there was much to keep me indoors (particularly the weather on my first day). But, with the weather clearing on day two, I take a tour of the hotel's favoured places which include a couple of leading wineries, Tapanappa and Deviation Road as well as Beerenberg Farm, home of the famous South Australian preserves, near touristic but likeable Hahndorf, the country's most Germanic town. On the other side of Hahndorf is Ambleside Distillers, one of the new breed of Australian artisan gin makers. If you have your own vehicle you can easily visit these places, and more, with distances between the main attractions pleasingly manageable.
If only Mount Lofty House could be somehow packed up and transported to the Dandenongs or the Blue Mountains, both beautiful parts of our shrunken world that have nothing nearly as good as this iconic South Australian establishment.
Doubles at Mount Lofty House start from $349 a night. Mount Lofty House, 1 Mawson Drive, Crafers. South Australia. Phone (08) 8339 6777;
Mount Lofty House is small enough for a nightly gathering of house-guests over drinks followed by a "history tour" of the hotel by management.
The unexpectedly cold South Australian late spring weather could have proved a turnoff for some but Mount Lofty House is the sort of place that's built for cosiness.
Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of Mount Lofty House.