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DESTINATION: NSW Southern Highlands

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 23 MARCH 2017

JOHN ROZENTALS reports that he is well used to quality in the NSW Southern Highlands

When I first visited the NSW Southern Highlands as ‘serious traveller’ armed with a pen about a decade ago, I wrote that I had been quite surprised by the sophistication and quality of its dining-and-wining scene — and the diversity of its general tourism appeal.

I guess I’ve been back nearly 10 times since and I still find plenty there to be surprised at, though I might even have become slightly blasé about the extremely high standards its travel industry sets for itself — and seems to achieve just so easily.

My last visit included staying and dining at Peppers Craigieburn, a gracious more-than-century-old estate set among beautiful gardens and golf course on the outskirts of Bowral.

To wander the charming public areas and hallways is to take a step back in time, and the suites are elegantly appointed, with many having direct access to the old mansion’s broad balconies.

Hickory’s Restaurant and Bar offers a small, but extremely well put together menu featuring a range of traditional dishes with a decidedly modern touch.

Among the starters is a serving of Mittagong tunnel mushrooms, an item featured of quite a few local menus.

Noel Arrold’s venture in a disused 1862 railway tunnel has grown into one of Australia’s major producers of exotic mushrooms, and is an integral part of the booming and exciting Southern Highlands food scene.

Less than kilometre up the road from Craigieburn is Centennial Vineyard, established by John Large some 15 years ago.

It’s one of the biggest and longest-established vineyard/winery operations in this decidedly cool and a now burgeoning region that is becoming increasingly well known for the quality of what it presents in the glass.

Winemaker Tony Cosgriff designed the winery and has basically been involved with the vineyard from its inception.

Spending a couple of hours with him to taste Centennial’s substantial range, made from a combination of estate-grown fruit and grapes, especially red, purchased from around Orange, another decidedly cool-climate area, is a pleasure that’s all too quickly over.

Picking a favourite wine from a quality line-up like Tony’s is difficult, but I kept going back to the 2014 Old Block Chardonnay, a complex dry white with lots of flavours in the stonefruit spectrum.

It’s the wine we’d had earlier with lunch in the well established restaurant, which, like many vineyard restaurants offers a quite stunning outlook.

And fortunately the food is certainly up to the location, beginning with a tasting slate of six daily items accompanied by a glass of bubbly — tasty morsels such as a creamy paté, cumin soup and bruschetta drizzled with the finest olive oil.

Main courses include merlot-braised beef cheek and an absolutely delicious serving of confit duck. Both are seriously recommended.

I’ve eaten at Centennial when the weather has demanded a table by the huge open fire, and on a terrific day when it’s definitely worth a window seat in the sunny side annex.

Either way, it’s something you should include on your Southern Highlands itinerary.

Not that the Southern Highlands is all about food and wine. Far from it.

There’s certainly plenty for nature lovers to do as well, including exploring nearby Morton National Park.

Even on a sullen, drizzly day, the short trek from the car park to Fitzroy Falls is worthwhile, with the swirling mist adding an eerie touch to the dripping foliage and offering tantalising glimpses of the falls and the chasm below.

The visitor centre at the Falls is an excellent one and provides not just ample evidence of the appeal of the huge park but also fascinating insights into the lives and work of the district’s pioneering conservationists — people such as Janet Cosh, after whom the herbarium at the University of Wollongong was named.

IF YOU GO

Peppers Craigieburn, Centennial Road, Bowral (phone 02 4862 2576, or visit http://www.pepperscraigieburn.com.au)

Centennial Vineyards, Centennial Road, Bowral (phone 02 4861 8722 for cellar door and 02 4861 8777 for restaurant, or visit http://www.centennial.net.au)

Disclosure: John Rozentals travelled as a guest of Peppers, Centennial Vineyard and Destination NSW.

Above: Peppers Craigieburn … a gracious more-than-century-old estate.

Below: Even on a misty day the walk to Fitzroy Falls is rewarding. Image: Sandra Burn White.

Centennial winemaker Tony Cosgriff … has basically been involved with the vineyard from its inception.

The main restaurant area at Centennial Vineyard … complete with delightful fireplace for winter comfort.

Above and below: Craigieburn is set among splendid gardens.