Peppers Manor House, Sutton House review: A touch of tartan

Read our writer's views on this property below

This southern highlands retreat has plenty of settler charm, writes Nicola Walker.

It's odd being the "handbag", albeit a tattered one. We're at Peppers Manor House in Sutton Forest for a conference; my husband is giving a presentation on Friday afternoon and there's a dinner that night. Other partners are arriving the following morning to make a weekend of it in the amiable southern highlands, but for now the only tag-alongs are the kids and me.

After lugging our gear up the stairs to room 40 in the Garden Wing, we three set ourselves up on the sunny terrace with the tinkling fountain behind us. It's a lovely sheltered, leafy spot, perfect on a warm early spring day. Iris, 6, is delighted with her pink lemonade, a concoction the friendly barmaid gave her. Nine-month-old Banjo is less enamoured of his mushed avocado and starts to yell about it.

I whisk him off to our room, which is really a generous suite with period furniture. There is a double bedroom, a spa bath and a separate lounge area with thick drapes, perfect for cutting out the light. The baby passes out in his cot, leaving Iris and I to explore.

If I was golf-minded, I'd have booked a game at the adjacent Mount Broughton Golf and Country Club and dragged Iris around its 18 holes in the style of the Scottish Highlands, which means rye grass and few trees. There's a dinky club house with a terrace for drinks and for a second I think longingly of gin and tonics and newspapers but, no, we must check out the swimming pool. It's small and protected from the wind by tall shrubs, and presumably lovely in summer.

We collect several balls from the games cupboard to toss over the volleyball net, bypassing the tennis court because I have brought only boots.

The grass near the hotel is lush but the surrounding hills are that ripe wheaty yellow that turns golden in late-afternoon sun. After a frisbee session, we lie on our backs on the nearby knoll and look at the sky. How was the Earth made? Well, there was a big bang, I say. Not the same one as in Nanny McPhee, no.

Without the children, I might have booked a massage at the Endota Spa, or curled up on a sofa in one of the lounges, all toasty in front of the fire. The Manor House has that kind of languid old-world charm, because it is old, in terms of Australian settler history.

The original property was built in 1822 on 283 hectares, and was inherited by Charles Throsby jnr. He married Elizabeth Broughton, who, as a two-year-old en route to England from Australia with her mother, was one of only four survivors of a Maori attack on the ship when it docked in New Zealand.

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According to the hotel's fact sheet, the orphaned child was "rescued 12 months later by a Scottish timber merchant and taken to Lima where a Peruvian family cared for her". She was 17 when she married Charles, and she went on to bear 17 children, the mere thought of which is exhausting.

The restaurant is called Katers, after Henry Edward Kater, who bought the property in 1878. It received one chef's hat in last year's Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide but has been demoted to a mention in the 2012 edition. The dining room is certainly attractive and, at breakfast time, the rhubarb compote wins my heart. But the conference goers report average food at last night's dinner in the restaurant, always a hazard of group catering.

We'd chosen our tucker from the Katers "light menu", available only in the bar area or lounges. Our fish and chips and Thai chicken curry were acceptable, though not outstanding.

Henry Kater's son, a doctor turned pastoralist, modified the house into its present form. He is responsible for the "baronial hall" with its mullion bay window and stag's head over the huge fireplace. It might be faux but it's neither chintzy nor stark, and is a welcome change from minimalism. It feels as if we're visiting the home of someone posh.

Next morning I peek at the upstairs rooms of the Manor House proper. I like their odd angles and little discrete sitting areas in the eaves. It would be fun to stay in the Elizabeth Broughton Suite, the former nursery, which has its own fireplace.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning and after breakfast we loiter on the terrace. The magpies are warbling and Iris reads under a tree. If we could stay, it's likely we'd never make it to the local attractions.

There's the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures on Jamberoo Mountain Road off the Illawarra Highway, a 40-minute drive, which offers a vertiginous stroll through the rainforest, "500 metres of which is above the treetops". Every other Saturday, Illawarra Fly puts on a guided sunrise walk with a 6am start, a dawn chorus and a slap-up breakfast at the cafe.

The Illawarra Highway also takes you to the green uplands of Robertson, home of The Old Cheese Factory and twee shoppes such as Limited Edition Designs selling wool, scarves and lavender stuff. I'd like to try the Robertson Inn, which has had good reviews.

Cricket fans can spend hours in the Don Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral, and bushwalkers might want to strike out for the majestic Fitzroy Falls (known as Throsby's Falls until 1850), which has easy trails for kids, a great visitors' centre and a decent cafe. I've been four times and am always astonished by the beauty of Morton National Park

As we drive away from the Manor House, my husband has that beatific look that indicates he's swinging an imaginary golf club and Iris declares she's had the best stay ever.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Peppers Manor House

Address Kater Road, Sutton Forest.

The verdict A comfortable rather than flash hotel, with cosy fire-lit lounges and a variety of rooms in attractive gardens.

Price Saturday night stays must be combined with Friday or Sunday; prices fluctuate according to occupancy but a standard room with king bed in the cottage wings costs from $215.

Bookings Phone 4860 3111; 1300 737 444, see peppers.com.au/manor-house.

Getting there From Sydney it's a 90-minute drive south on the M5 through Bowral, Mittagong and Moss Vale.

Perfect for Meeting up with family or friends from Canberra.

Wheelchair access Two ground floor rooms with accessible bathrooms.

While you're there Horse-riding, fishing and golf are virtually on your doorstep and bush walks are not far away, from those in Bundanoon to Morton National Park.

Peppers Manor House is running a MasterChef long weekend this weekend, which coincides with the Tulip Time Festival; see southern-highlands.com.au for the line-up of events.