A short train ride away from bustling Sydney uncovers a charming country escape
It came as a surprise that Sydney’s City Centre could be so very jarring. It was dirtier than I remember and there was an edge in the air that made me perfectly happy to stay ensconced in the confines of my hotel. This was not what I had planned. I had a list of places to visit and revisit in hand and was going to commit two days to exploring and taking photographs.
After checking in and doing the requisite refamiliarization (I had lived in Sydney for two and a half years), all I wanted to do was grab a bite to eat and return my hotel. And this even though we hadn’t shacked up in the grandest of hotels. It had all the amenities but wasn’t the type of place I would label a sanctuary, which what it was for me during our stay.
Escape to the Country
I decided to escape the inner city and head to the Southern Highlands after hearing Tahnya sing of its graces – and I will say that the trip provided much relief. The Southern Highlands is an area not far away from Sydney’s City Centre (all of two hours by train), but far, far removed from the gritty edge of urban life. If you are familiar with The Gilmore Girls, I’d say a larger version of Stars Hollow. The area consists of several small towns that they refer to collectively as the “Shire.”
A great sense of peace washes over me whenever I leave the urban city and head into the countryside. This is great to experience by train. If you leave from the Central Station in Sydney, at each stop the landscape changes from underground stations, to commercial outskirts, to suburban and industrial towns, and then once you hit the countryside all you see are trees. Verdant green. Living quietly, looking on with curiosity, waving lightly in the breeze. I don’t know what it is, but it does make life seem a lot lighter.
My first stop in the Southern Highlands was Bowral, and I was fortunate enough to spend the morning with Jill Dyson who ran the popular food tour company, On the Foodpath. Jill is a fountain of knowledge about Southern Highland produce, its farmers, chefs and culinary talent, and continues to be actively involved in the local food community. Even though I had a short time with Jill, she did manage to whisk me to some highlight places in Bowral and we had some interesting conversations about the marketing of food authenticity.
I can see why Bowral would be a favourite weekend getaway for city folk, with its small-town charm and big city sophistication. If your schedule is really tight (a couple of hours in my case), here are some places to check out.
Dirty Jane’s Antiques Emporium
Even though I heard that Dirty Jane’s was an antiques emporium, it did not prepare me for what it really is: An Aladdin’s Cave for collectors and decorators. Just the sheer number of items in this warehouse makes you wonder where people stash these items in their homes. A wonder. It really is.
A table-setting at Dirty Jane’s Antiques Emporium, where every item on display is for sale.
Ten Thousand Paces
A unique shop that aims to promote arts and crafts from the local region. You’ll find paintings and photographs, food products and odds and ends. The wine selection is worth looking at, and if I were living in the area, I would have bought a few bottles for novelties sake.
A good stop for those hunting for local vintages available exclusively in the Southern Highlands.
Rush Roasting Co.
Shop 4, The Grand Arcade
293 – 295 Bong Bong St
Bowral NSW 2576
Rush Roasting Company
Watching a pint of Guinness being poured is mesmerizing, and at Rush, you can watch it done with Nitrogen Coffee. The brew itself is surprisingly light, which makes it an ideal summer coffee, but don’t be fooled by its refreshing taste. The caffeine is intense, so you do get a kick after.
The nitrogen coffee will cool you down on a summer’s day and give you that kick to keep going.
A Touch of Tea
Unless you’re aiming for a high-end experience, tea specialist shops are pretty much the same the world over, and the selection at this local outfit doesn’t stand out in any particular way. Why visit? The homey atmosphere. There is a warmth in this shop that doesn’t come from tea, but maybe from the passion they have for leaves. That and the collection of cups, teapots, and strainers are beautiful and whimsical.
There’s a teapot in this store for everyone.
The Mill Café
I was impressed by the food from this cafe/restaurant. Though all we had was a casual lunch, the dishes presented were full of flavour, and cooked with care. Local produce is used whenever able, but it is really the attention to taste and texture that makes it unique. Note that the portions are large for someone with my appetite. We had fish cakes and duck confit, and the chef served pork belly as a complementary – which is probably why I felt very full at the end of it.
Generous portions and ample seating makes The Mill ideal for groups.