Recently I did a piece for Where Magazine on the Southern Highlands booktrail. As it is now published, here it is in its entirety.
If you like nothing better than curling up with a good book, then why not explore the Southern Highlands Booktrail. Just a two hour drive south of Sydney, the Booktrail is a journey to the many book-related stores and literary spots in the villages of the cool-climate Southern Highlands. Add a splash of organic coffee, eclectic cafes and hatted restaurants and the Booktrail is a novel way to discover the Southern Highlands, for bookworms and coffee aficionados alike.
Bowral’s Mary Poppins connection
Bowral, the region’s main town, is the centrepiece of the booktrail. Start with a Fair Trade coffee at The Elephant Boy Café in Bong Bong Street, the fabulously-named main street. With its clubby British Raj décor and floor-to-ceiling bookcases, it’s a great place for a browse and a caffeine hit. While you are there, pick up a bottle of their famous Rangoon Racquet Club sauces.
Further down Bong Bong Street is a Bowral fixture, The Brown Bookshop. This independent bookstore has been operating for more than 30 years, and has a bookish atmosphere in spades with creaking floorboards and background music. It specialises in art and children’s classics and has an in-house art gallery featuring local photography. Right next door is The Bookshop Bowral, another popular independent bookstore, which regularly hosts author events.
Stretch your legs with a visit to the newly crafted bronze statue of P.L. Travers at Glebe Park. P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, grew up in Bowral from 1907 to 1917. Bowral celebrated Mary Poppins in 2011 with a Guinness Book of Records entry for the most people carrying umbrellas forming the shape of Mary Poppins.
For a quick bite head to Palate Pleasure Café (their trout blinis are divine) or try a sweet treat at Café des Artistes, part of the Milk Factory Gallery, an arts space. If you have time for a long lunch don’t miss Biota Dining, a hatted restaurant with locavore principles or indulge in a Bubbles High Tea at Centennial Vineyards Restaurant, in the picturesque countryside a few minutes’ drive from Bowral.
Book barns and fine dining
In the heart of the Southern Highlands, Berrima is one of Australia’s best preserved Georgian colonial villages, and home to Berkelouw Book Barn. This renovated historic barn on The Bendooley Estate & Vineyard is a large, airy space, literally crammed to the rafters with volumes. There are comfy reading chairs and a roaring fire in winter and a separate Rare Books Barn to explore. Chow down on local produce from the brasserie or stay the night in the Book Barn Cottage.
Also in Berrima is a unique shop, The Art of Bookbinding. Owner Hugo van Willigen, who learned his trade in Holland, painstakingly repairs old and rare books and specialises in family bibles. It is worth a visit for its beautiful giftware, including quills, inkpads and notebooks, almost too lovely to write in.
If you time your visit for lunch, Eschalot restaurant offers hatted fine dining in a heritage building or for something more casual enjoy pub fare at the Surveyor General Inn, one of Australia’s oldest inns.
Coffee & country life
From Berrima it is a lovely drive through the Southern Highlands finest scenery. Its English-style vistas are sprigged with cool climate wineries, charming villages and excellent cafes. If rockabilly is your thing, check out popular Bernie’s Diner at Moss Vale, a fifties throwback with snazzy red booths, sodas and cheesy cheddar dogs.
The hamlet of Exeter may not have a bookstore but it looks lifted straight from an Agatha Christie thriller, with ever-so-quaint St Aidan’s Church surrounded by elms and oaks. Coffee vultures will love Eling Forest Winery & Cafe at Sutton Forest, which roasts its own coffee from worldwide estates. Don’t be surprised if you spy Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban – they own a getaway nearby.
If time allows, Mittagong, on the edge of the Highlands, is awash with antiques and does a nice line in cool climate wineries. Art and book lovers should look no further than The Station Masters House, an eclectic emporium with second-hand books, a free-range café and lovely gardens, an ideal place to relax before returning to Sydney.
The Southern Highlands is a two-hour drive south of Sydney. Take the M5 from Sydney until you reach the Mittagong exit. Follow signs to Bowral, Moss Vale then Berrima.