Things to do in Berry: Midweek getaway at Mt Hay adults-only retreat

We turn off the main road, a wide way along open green fields and pass a mob of kangaroos before we make the steep ascent to our destination, a luxury, adults-only retreat in the hills of New South Wales' South Coast. At the top, tall shady trees give way to a clear view of the mountains. Here, high above the village centre, sits one of Berry's most private retreats, Mt Hay.

Mt Hay, run by Louise and her husband Anthony, was originally a farm owned by Anthony's parents, but when Anthony and his wife Louise took over the 145-hectare property, they had grander ideas, adding in a luxury five-suite retreat with 33-metre indoor pool. They are extending it with their first two-room suite that looks out toward the coast which will be completed later this year. The premise being to help city folks like moi, escape the fast-pace lifestyle for a couple of days or week if we choose. Something I warmly encourage.

UK-born Louise met Anthony while he was working in London, both know the pace of corporate life well, and their touches on this secluded accommodation shows a lot of sensibility, which my friend Sophie and I were able to properly appreciate once we dusted off our work-focused minds and settled into our girls' trip.

Sophie and I arrived the evening before from Sydney, hitting the road straight from work, the trip taking an easy two-and-a-half hours. We've come on a mid-week getaway, a bit of sneaky trip to avoid the weekend traffic and crowds. What a grand idea it was because we spotted no other guests when we arrived at the property. And the fact that the entrance to our suite is tucked away, we might actually not see anyone else the entire time.

The next morning we wake to perfect Berry weather, sunny clear-blue skies. Even from bed, I can see the lush mountains and valleys through the floor to ceiling windows which opens onto a spacious private deck and garden. The suite comes with remote control blind, a nifty feature that allows me to get maximum views with minimal movement.

We spend the morning on the sunny deck in our bathrobes, sipping our teas, catching up and taking in the bluey hues of the mountain ranges. Berry is nestled between the Southern Highlands and the coast, making it one of the most visually beautiful spots to visit outside of Sydney, and its proximity to the coast means there's plenty of fresh seafood.

We head into Berry village and grab a pie and pastry at Milkwood Bakery. The coffee is great, the pastries are flaky and the long weekend queues are nowhere in sight. We burn off the calories by exploring quaint Queen Street, Berry's main street. I restrain myself from buying yet another candle; instead I get some scones with fresh cream and jam and some tea to go from The Berry Tea Shop. A little treat for after our in-room massage, which Louise has arranged for us. 

It is late afternoon by the time we return to Mt Hay. Our private masseuse has set up the table in the middle of our suite in perfect view for sunset. She runs through her remedial technique, a mix of Lomi Lomi, Swedish, Balinese and others that I can't recall because I've already entered a state of relaxation. The pressure is firm and how I like it. She gets into my sore spots, around the neck and shoulder, tightness I get from being desk-based. By the time I wake, the sun is setting. Colours of dark orange and purple light the sky through the large glass doors. 

We head to South on Albany for dinner. It's a lively local restaurant by chef John Evans and his wife Sonia Greig that is all about fresh local produce. It's the haunt for locals and buzzing even on a Wednesday night, so it's good to book even when dining midweek. The restaurant was recently named as one of the best regional places to dine in the Good Food Guide 2020, a recognition it has received in the past couple of years. 

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The menu with its modern European flare is compact and without too many options, making my decision easy and simple. We start with oysters which the restaurant is famous for. They are divine, briny, soft and sweet, maybe the best I've had along the east coast. Sonia and her team are gracefully running around as the dishes fly out of the kitchen. We have the snapper and trout croquette with fennel and watercress dressing and the potato leek soup with chive and sour cream for entree.

For mains, we share a perfectly cooked pork chop with cauliflower puree and caramelised brussel sprouts and also the fish of the day, which is one of the most popular things on their menu. Tonight, it's a local kingfish with crispy skin and it melts in your mouth. And because we're completely delighted by the food and the wines, we order desert, a moist orange and almond cake with sweet candied orange, perfect with the lavender cream. By god, it's the best and also the worst idea. We give our compliments to John and thank Sonia before rolling out of the restaurant and back to Mt Hay where I change into my stretchy pyjamas pants. I'm so glad I packed them.

We catch Louise and Anthony as we check out the next day and we make sure to tell them we had the best remedial massage we could remember and ask if we could book in another one next time we visit. We then take a slow drive down the hill from Mt Hay, soaking up the spectacular views one last time. We give a long sigh, knowing that our little midweek trip is over. But we relish in the thought we got to experience Mt Hay, and Berry, to ourselves away from the crowds. And we still have the weekend to look forward to.

WHERE TO EAT

Milkwood Bakery

Situated on the main street in Berry, Milkwood Bakery is a great spot for coffee and to people-watch. Try one of their pies or go for a pastry. They also have a list of warm, hearty daily specials. See berrysourdoughcafe.com.au/milkwood-bakery

Salmon & Co Eatery

If your midweek stay includes a Monday or Friday, then visit Salmon & Co Eatery. Robert Salmon and his wife have created a menu with fresh local produce in a cosy space that was originally a blacksmith's. The cafe features antiques and historical pictures, a nod to the history of Berry.  Go for the smoked trout if it's on the menu. Rob smokes the trout on the premises. See salmonandco.com.au

South on Albany

Chef John Evans and his wife Sonia Greig serves some of the freshest regional produce at this local restaurant, which has been named one of the best regional restaurants in NSW in the 2020 Good Food Guide. The restaurant is famous for its local oysters and its modern European dishes. It's best to book even if you are there midweek and especially if you dine on weekends. See southonalbany.com.au

Annie Dang was a guest of Mt Hay, South on Albany and Salmon & Co Eatery, and otherwise paid for her own travels.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/berry

STAY

Mt Hay has five suites that come with a king-sized bed, a private deck, kitchenette and a walk-in shower that looks out into an enclosed garden. The suites are fitted with remote-control blinds and guests have access to a 33-metre indoor heated pool. Suites start from $335 per night, with a two-night minimum stay. Each suite accommodates two people. 260 Mt Hay Private Road, Berry NSW 2535. See mthay.com.au

DRIVE

Mt Hay is about a 2.5 hour drive from Sydney. Take the Princess Highway pass Kiama towards Berry. Turn onto Woodhill Mountain Road and follow it onto Bong Bong Road, then make a left onto Mount Hay Road. Parking is available at the property.

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