Peppers Manor House, Southern Highlands review: History and high spirits

Read our writer's views on this property below

Things that go bump in the night fail to disturb the peace for Angie Schiavone.

Had I read about the rumoured ghosts of Peppers Manor House before I stayed here, the figure lurching around my room in the dark would have been infinitely more alarming. As it turns out, it's not the spirit of a long-gone, eternally dutiful manor maid but my insomniac mother going for a 3am stroll.

We had driven from Sydney to Sutton Forest, in the Southern Highlands, to spend some "quality time" together and to take advantage of the terrific last-minute accommodation deals.

Despite the near 40-degree heat, the drive is an easy one and as we roll through the narrow gateway and along a driveway surrounded by tall trees and pretty flowers, we turn to each other, grinning like lottery winners.

At reception, we're greeted by a smiling young woman with a charming Irish accent, who guides us through the manor. There's the music room, the Broughton lounge, the games room, bar and nookery, all thoughtfully decorated and peaceful. But what really takes our breath away is the Great Hall. With a soaring nine-metre ceiling, enormous fireplace and towering paneled window - heavy curtains tethered on either side to frame the neat courtyard garden outside - the room evokes another world and time.

After explaining where our suite is, the sincere Irish lass encourages us to make ourselves at home. We've pre-booked some time with the in-house beautician, so we take our bags upstairs to a spacious suite - floral wallpapered bedroom and living room, spa bathroom, all air-conditioned to a glorious 20 degrees - and then head downstairs to be pampered.

Two hours later we have mollycoddled feet and a few hours to kill before dinner. Croquet? Badminton? Swimming? Tennis? These are all options at Peppers Manor House, as well as a round at the 18-hole Mount Broughton Golf Course adjacent to the house. Instead, we park ourselves in the Great Hall with cold drinks and light reading material. There's a cool breeze picking up, drifting through the hall and out the front door. What more could we want?

Dinner is at the house's Katers Restaurant, a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide one-hatter, named for the Kater family who owned the property for about 90 years, beginning with pastoralist Henry Edward Kater in 1878. An early dinner is a good idea, as there's still plenty of sunshine to light up the garden views. The menu, by Frenchman Francois Razavet, includes oddities (such as marshmallows and popcorn in one savoury dish) and old favourites. Our waitress explains that the irresistible "flamiche" - a buttery leek tart - is based on a recipe by the chef's grandmother.

Seared scallops come with pork crackling, apple and micro herb salad, presented on a tile we're told was once part of the manor roof.

Advertisement

We retire, utterly satisfied, to our room. The king-size bed is one of the most comfortable I have encountered. We had planned to watch a chick flick from the extensive list of movies on offer but instead fall asleep. This lasts until 3am, when Mum's walkabout wakes me. "What are you doing?" I ask. "Can't you sleep?"

I don't stay awake long enough to hear her answer but the next morning she explains over an extravagant buffet breakfast at Katers that she never sleeps through the night and enjoys walking through the house when everything is still and quiet. In hindsight - having now read about the house's ghosts - it makes me wonder: is there a ghostly maid working away alongside the rooms above the Great Hall? Or a phantom pianist playing Beethoven in the music room? Perhaps it is it simply a bunch of sleepless guests, like my mother, enjoying the serenity.

VISITORS' BOOK

Peppers Manor House

Address Kater Road, Sutton Forest.

The verdict A memorable escape with terrific service.

Price Rooms from $229, minimum two-night booking Friday and Saturday. (My room was $198, reduced from $481.)

Bookings Phone 4860 3111 or see peppers.com.au/Manor-House.

Getting there Just under two hours' drive from Sydney's CBD.

Wheelchair access Yes (available in some of the rooms).

Perfect for An indulgent step back in time in beautiful surrounds.

While you're there Browse the area's numerous antique and bookshops, go bushwalking or stop off at the Bradman Museum at nearby Bowral.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.