HIGHLIGHT: The meals. Hard to pick a favourite, but we'll go for the three-course dinner, just because there are three courses.
LOWLIGHT: Despite the promise of the name, this is definitely a bush retreat; the beach is a 20-minute walk away.
Set on 3.3 hectares of land overlooking Brisbane Waters and surrounded on three sides by national park, Pretty Beach House is just a 20-minute ferry ride from Palm Beach. Once you are ensconced in this secluded spot, however, you feel far removed from the wider world. The lodge, the sister property of Bells at Killcare, has just reopened after extensive rebuilding, necessitated after a fire swept through two years ago.
A white-knuckle drive up a super-steep track deposits you at the main house, where living, dining and drinking areas flow seamlessly into each other. Each space offers spectacular views through old-growth trees down to the water. Combined with the mud-brick walls supported by massive timber beams and Gosford Quarry sandstone pavers, the effect is a quintessentially Australian take on rustic luxury, a feeling enhanced by the paintings of by Olsen, Nolan and Boyd decorating the walls. A fire pit outside is the venue for a Welcome to Country ceremony on the first night, in which a local elder shares insights into indigenous culture.
Pretty Beach House accommodates four couples. In addition to the three individual pavilions, the lodge has just unveiled Treetops, a new penthouse suite above the main house, which enjoys the best views on the property. As well as the standard flat-screen TV and Blu-tooth set up with playlists, retro fans will be delighted by the Rega Planar turntable. Guests can listen to an eclectic range of vinyl platters from Neil Diamond, the Divinyls and The Sports and recordings of Benjamin Britten and Edith Piaf, all selected by the lodge's executive chef, and music buff, Stefano Manfredi.
Everything here is luxurious, from the leather armchairs to the cashmere blankets artfully draped over the back of them. However, two features stand out. The first is the in-room bar, which comes with full-size, complimentary bottles of vodka, gin and Glen Livet, plus a lemon and a lime for those who can't live without their garnish. The second surprising feature is the remote control for the bed. Yes, you read that right. The massage feature is underwhelming, but the ability to lift the mattress near the bedhead for more comfortable bedtime reading is great.
Treetops also has a copper tub in the spacious bathroom, and a private deck with both a daybed and a fire pit. Unlike the pavilions, it does not have a private plunge pool, but the resort's pool is just downstairs.
As at Bells at Killcare, one of the main drawcards for Pretty Beach House is Stefano Manfredi's food. Its importance is reflected in the positioning of the open kitchen at the heart of the house. Meals are served at set times – between 8am and 10.30am for breakfast, 12.30pm to 2.30pm for lunch, 7pm and 9.30pm for dinner. Snacks are available if you get peckish in between, although that is highly unlikely.
Breakfast is a hearty two-course affair, with pastries, home-made granola and fruit followed by a choice of hot dishes. A selection of dishes is served at lunch, of which the tender balsamic veal is the standout.
Dinner is a la carte. After a delicate spanner crab taster, I opt for superb seared scallops and a lovely Cape Grim sirloin. I find myself too full for dessert: something that happens only rarely
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
A five-minute walk takes you to the national park, where a number of trails wind through clifftop scrub down to deserted beaches.
For a lazy short break filled with creature comforts, Pretty Beach House is the one to beat.
HOW TO GET THERE
The drive from Sydney takes about 90 minutes; alternatively, the ferry from Palm Beach takes just 20 minutes, with the lodge providing a transfer from the local wharf.
Rooms at the Pretty Beach Lodge start from $1000 per person per night twin share. A two-night minimum applies. 83 High View Road, Pretty Beach. Phone 02 4360 1933, see www.prettybeachhouse.com
The writer was a guest of Pretty Beach House.