The Retreat @ Froog-Moore Park, Tamworth review: Dreams in theme

Read our writer's views on this property below

Bruce Elder indulges in pure escapism, flitting across the globe without leaving Tamworth.

There is only one way you can respond when you are booked into the themed Moroccan room and your partner finds the belly dancer's outfit in the cupboard. Laugh out loud. That's the whole point of The Retreat @ Froog-Moore Park - it's fun.

The first fun decision is to choose your room: the verdant Succulent Suite; the elegant, olive-green Henderson Tribal Room; the dark and amusingly kinky Dungeon; the Moroccan Fantasy; or the Japanese room.

We decide to stay in the Japanese room but, fascinated by the entire building, we insist Peter Moore, who owns and runs the retreat with his wife, Sandy, shows us all the rooms. He shows us the Dungeon; dimly lit, with a riding crop on the black vinyl pillow. Peter proudly informs us that an 80-year-old woman and her 90-year-old husband had recently booked it because "there are still a few things I want to experience before I die".

The Succulent Suite is the largest room, reminiscent of Edwardian elegance, with its screened verandah, views over the gardens, four-metre glass panels, peaked ceiling with an internal gold dome, private library and private breakfast room.

The most modest room is the Henderson, which has been designed for wheelchair access (the Moores have a wheelchair-bound friend and this room was designed with his needs in mind). The room is tastefully decorated with olive-green velvet throws lined with silk burgundy saris, antique crushed green curtains and bamboo blinds.

But back to the Japanese room. A huge golden paper fan bearing images of storks, cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums decorates the wall above the bed. There's a collection of images of costumes from a production of Madama Butterfly, liberal use of black and red glazing, wood panelling that evokes a traditional Japanese timber house, a Japanese tea set, a carefully lit geisha doll in a glass case on the wall, black glazed bedside tables and Japanese music on CD.

There's an immediate impulse to declare this pure kitsch, but it isn't. The Moores have a finely honed and good-humoured design aesthetic. They know when to stop and they know precisely which details will be evocative. Both have been designers, shopfitters and cabinetmakers for more than 20 years.

It almost seems irrelevant to point out that the king-sized bed is deliciously comfortable. The shower recess is large, with no curtain or glass door (Peter believes a little water on the floor is more pleasing than a drab enclosure). A door opens on to a substantial and exquisite garden with native frogs, more than 100 rose bushes, garden seats and an enclosed Japanese garden.

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This is a purpose-built "retreat" constructed in 1990 and featuring a spa room that's notable for the size of its tub and, when you turn off the lights, for the luminous, glow-in-the-dark fish that turn the room into a slightly surreal romantic venue. You can request champagne and chocolates to enjoy while splashing about in the hot, bubbling water.

Upstairs there's a spacious dining room with soft lighting, dark walls and a large couch on which to sip pre-dinner drinks.

Sandy Moore is a good and adventurous cook, whose specialty is Moroccan lamb tagine with roasted pumpkin, chickpea salad and spiced couscous. We decide to test the limits of the kitchen with the $60-a-head "degustation grazing platter", which might, more accurately, be described as a 10-course mezze. It provides enough food to last the entire weekend.

We start with savoury muffins, then proceed to prawns with chilli and lime, salmon with rose gai sauce, Thai garlic pork, steamed rice, turkey cakes with cashew pesto, baked lemon chicken legs - pause for breath and digestion - the Moroccan lamb tagine with roasted pumpkin and chickpea salad and leaves with pear and parmesan, dressed with local olive oil. To finish, there's a cheese platter with Sandy's homemade quince paste and seasonal fresh fruit. The meal is a celebration of the fine produce of the Tamworth area.

How we manage to line up in the morning for minted spinach and feta pancakes with leg ham, fresh juice, excellent coffee, a fruit platter and Sandy's honey toasted muesli, I'm not quite sure. Certainly, we make it back to Sydney feeling absolutely no desire to stop for a top-up.

At a time when too many guest houses are moving towards the banal and perfunctory, Froog-Moore is a reminder that a great retreat was once an excuse for excess - and that is not a bad thing.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

The Retreat @ Froog-Moore Park

Address 78 Bligh Street, Tamworth.

The verdict A unique experience full of fun and quirkiness.

Price Rates range from $195 for the Henderson Room, with breakfast, to $375 for a Succulent Suite package, with dinner and breakfast.

Bookings Phone 6766 3353, www.froogmoorepark.com.au.

Getting there Tamworth is 400 kilometres north-west of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway and New England Highway. When you arrive in Tamworth, turn right at the first set of traffic lights then left at the next set of traffic lights (Peel Street), proceed for five blocks, turn right in Bligh Street and continue for 1.4 kilometres.

Perfect for Couples looking for a different and amusing weekend away.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Explore the town's country-music attractions, including the Hands of Fame Park and the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame (www.countrymusichalloffame.com.au).

And make sure you leave time for quiet contemplation in Froog-Moore's glorious garden.