Bed, Breakfast and Bolero
By Dave Underwood
"Harried, hurried, take thy rest; Weary, worried, with peace be blest."
"Romantic, secluded and peaceful. Look, you even get fluffy bathrobes. And we might see koalas!"
Karen was reading about Hillgrove House, our Bed and Breakfast destination for the next two days. We passed the Norton Summit Hotel on our way to Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills and, although less than 30 minutes from the city, the landscape had changed dramatically. It was cooler – welcome relief on a 35-degree (celsius) summer’s day and the craziness of the city gave way to deserted roads and a patchwork of vines, forests and orchards.
We toasted our escape from reality on the patio at Hillgrove House, admiring 180-degree views of the Piccadilly Valley. In the garden tiny wrens foraged while we scanned the tourist literature. Basket Range is central to many attractions in the Adelaide Hills and plans were made, careful to leave time to relax and indulge in our surroundings.
The landscape of relaxation
Rising 727 metres above the plains and only a short drive away is Mount Lofty, known as Urebilla to its indigenous caretakers. Aboriginal and European history is presented in the Visitor Centre along with informative displays about conservation activities around South Australia.
Bushwalks through stringybark forests to nearby waterfalls give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the wildlife and views, even if time is limited. We settled for the view, a crisp white wine and a light snack in the café.
Being nature-lovers we couldn’t resist a visit to Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. It’s stunning in any season and a couple of hours spent here is good soul food. Opened in 1977, the park now covers 97 hectares and is dedicated to cool-temperate region plants from around the world. A range of graded trails makes exploring easy and on Sundays in spring and autumn there’s a bus service through the grounds.
"Can you feel that?" Karen said, as we meandered through the back-roads on our return to the B&B.
"Huh?" I thought there must be something wrong with the car.
"The tension. It’s gone already," she said, making big circles with her head.
She was right. I don’t know if it was the combination of the sun, wine, bruschetta and exercise, or whether we were just happy to be somewhere else for a while. But we were both feeling more relaxed than we’d been for months.
"Was that the road to Basket Range or the Basket Range road?"
I recalled that gem of an Australian film called The Road to Nhill that poked fun at the Australian psyche. We had just crossed the Basket Range road on our way to Basket Range, if that makes any sense. Try explaining that to a visiting European tourist already driving on the wrong side of the road.
Back at Hillgrove we rifled through the CD collection, fired up the spa bath and pampered ourselves with bubbles, Bolero and Irish Cream. Tonight we would enjoy a bush tucker feast at Warrawong Sanctuary and a guided dusk walk through the grounds.
Over 14 hectares of rehabilitated bushland provides a natural habitat for the cutest (and most endangered) wildlife. Warrawong was the inaugural member of the award-winning Earth Sanctuaries Group and boasts Australia’s only successful platypus-breeding programme. Much of the wildlife is nocturnal and a guided dusk walk is a memorable experience.
A cultural and culinary palette
The next morning was bright and warm, but brought an unexpected problem: what to have for breakfast. Meg Burdett, proprietress of Hillgrove, wasn’t kidding about the "many thoughtful extras".
The kitchen was stocked with a selection of fruit, meat, vegetables, cereal, condiments, tea and coffee that would satisfy the fussiest gourmand. Then there was the comprehensive cellar, chocolates, port and Irish Cream. Well, maybe not for breakfast. Refuelled and recharged we opted for a cultural morning, deciding to visit The Cedars, home to the famous Heysen family since 1912.
Inspiration was never far away for Hans Heysen. 60 hectares of bushland surround the 1860s farm house, a landscape dominated by the gum trees featured in many of his paintings. His studio remains undisturbed since his death in 1968, and the hour-long tour reveals much about this great Australian and his family.
Not far from The Cedars the work of other South Australians, many still undiscovered, line the walls of the Hahndorf Academy in the town’s main street. It’s one of the state’s finest showcases of local talent. A walk along the shady tree-lined streets of this German-style village is a popular pastime and an opportunity to shop for mementos.
Our memento was a selection of local produce for a barbecue on the terrace at Hillgrove tonight. This would go well with a nice red. But what about dessert?
Summer and autumn is the time for fresh berries. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries – berries you’ve probably never heard of. The district is crammed with farms growing them by the hectare. Some let you pick your own. But the best tip? Smother them in luscious ‘berry syrup (Meg usually puts some in the Hillgrove pantry) before you serve them. And don’t forget the cream!
The barbecue was, of course, a big success. A capable support cast that included black cockatoos, kookaburras, a pink sunset and a Basket Range Red all performed well. And the berries? I think you know.
Bolero got an encore as chocolate wrappers flew and the Irish Cream flowed. From the spa we watched in silence, hypnotised by views of the darkening valley and emerging stars. Flames from candles made shadow-pictures on the walls. It was hard to believe how stressed we were just two days ago.
Every now and again – but not often – you get that perfect marriage. The Adelaide Hills and Hillgrove House will celebrate many anniversaries.
"For indulgent lovers and those who love to indulge," says the brochure for Hillgrove House. Right on the money.