Peppers Coorabell Retreat, review: Retreat has the right recipe

Read our writer's views on this property below

A top-notch restaurant puts this hideaway in the spotlight, writes Bruce Elder.

The template is Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest and the formula is simple: find a large piece of undisturbed rainforest where birds sing, platypus swim in a creek, quiet walks are available across open, carefully-mowed areas and the overwhelming ambience is one of calm and peacefulness.

With such a sure-fire model, all a resort designer has to do is build a swimming pool and spa hut (because the creek is muddy and prone to flooding), set up suitably flat locations for weddings, build a huge restaurant-lounge area with views across the rainforest and place 18 cabins strategically along the ridge above the creek. Hey, presto!

Peppers Coorabell Retreat fits the bill, an idyllic place where busy folk can wind down, eat well, be pampered and enjoy the rainforest in the hills to the west of Byron Bay.

The retreat's cabins, called "suites" to give them a certain linguistic elegance, are designed to be simple and functional, with a verandah hosting a timber table and chairs; main lounge room with timber floors and a comfortable two-seater couch; a large flat-screen television; minibar and a cupboard full of local nibbles. Our cabin's lounge area is separated from the bedroom by a toilet and small bathroom. The airconditioned bedroom is the essence of simplicity with a bed, wardrobe and wicker blanket box. Doors open to a spacious balcony with reclining timber chairs, a small table and glorious rainforest valley views.

What separates Coorabell from similar destinations is the quality of cuisine; the retreat's restaurant, Wilson's by the Creek, offers locally sourced delicacies such as crisp Bangalow pork belly, roast Northern Rivers beef tenderloin and, a meal we gorge on, crisp confit of Bangalow duck leg with a silky smooth parsnip puree, bok choy and small duck-neck dumplings in a cherry-star anise duck stock reduction.

For starters we have seared black-sesame scallops with finger-lime salsa, watercress, sweet pea emulsion and red-pepper essence. The dessert - oh, the shame of it - is vanilla panna cotta and chocolate, which, attempting to curb the excess, we share.

The restaurant's verandah overlooks the rainforest and as meals arrive, diners watch as evening light slowly fades and animals start to appear on the edges of the lawn below. When it gets reviewed for the 2013 Good Food Guide, Wilson's by the Creek should confidently score at least 13 out of 20.

Equally impressive is the breakfast (included in the room price). The home-made mango yoghurt is outstanding, granola and bircher muesli is offered as well as percolated coffee, croissants with home-made fig or apricot jam, toasts and frittata with bacon, aubergines, tomatoes and mushrooms. Who needs a full English breakfast when frittata is such a seductively tasty alternative?

Again we sit on the restaurant verandah listening to an early-morning rainforest alive with twittering and squawking birds.

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Coorabell is a short drive from Crystal Castle, which, while having lots of crystals for sale in its gift shop, is primarily a Buddhist garden. The grounds include a huge stone statue of the Blessing Buddha in his lotus pond, a one-kilometre rainforest walk and plenty of shady and leafy places where visitors can pause or meditate. It might sound a bit "Byron Bay hippie" but the grounds are so well designed and peaceful that it is impossible for a visitor not to be seduced by the ambience. The castle also has a busy cafe offering light meals, statues of Ganesh, Lakshmi, Garuda and Vishnu and, when in season, jacaranda trees in full bloom at the edge of the rainforest. Crystal Castle is, in many ways, a perfect complement to the retreat so it's not surprising that one of the packages available at Coorabell includes entry to the castle grounds.

VISITORS' BOOK

Peppers Coorabell Retreat

Address 139 Newes Road, Coorabell.

The verdict An idyllic rainforest retreat designed to help guests relax and recharge.

Price Rainforest Suites are from $200 to $280 a night; Hinterland View Suites from $250 to $330 a night). Prices include breakfast. Packages that include dinner, yoga sessions, massage and entry to Crystal Castle are available.

Bookings Phone 6684 7348; see peppers.com.au/coorabell.

Getting there The retreat is about an hour's drive from Gold Coast Airport (70 kilometres) or 30 minutes' drive (37 kilometres) from Ballina Airport. It is about 770 kilometres via the Pacific Highway from Sydney. Turn left beyond Bangalow at Coolamon Scenic Drive, continue on for seven kilometres and turn right into Newes Road. Coorabell is 800 metres beyond the end of the road.

Perfect for A relaxing getaway with easy access to Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and Lennox Head.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Visit Crystal Castle; go to the farmers' markets in Bangalow and Mullumbimby; wait at dawn and dusk for the playpus to appear; go cafe-hopping in Mullumbimby.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller