Immersed in history and surrounded by sumptuousness, my night at Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa was a welcome taste of the very good life.
Situated at the end of a long winding driveway that allows time for anticipation, the five star Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa never fails to impress at first sight.
To the left, one of the oldest, most precious cool climate gardens in the Southern Highlands comes into breathtaking view. Designed with a nod to the 18th century English School of Landscape, which swept away strict geometric features for a more natural look, the gardens are home to 10,000 trees. These include octogenarian elms and weeping beeches, 400 rose bushes, 2000 metres of hedges and a bluebell wood. There are also traditionally designed elements such as a sunken garden, rose parterre, Japanese style ponds and pergola draped in wisteria.
To the right is a likewise impressive grand old country mansion. The original home, which is now the hotel, was built in the Edwardian period by one of Australia’s wealthiest founding families, the retailing and pastoral Horderns. It was the dwelling of their third son, Anthony, who (before he married Viola Bingham) was known in the Sydney press in 1910 as one of Australia’s most eligible bachelors.
More on the dashing Hordern boys later, but for now I cheerfully wave off the valet’s offer and happily self park in the carpark lined with radiata pine, and note the McLarens, Porsches and Lamborghinis that have already arrived.
Along a sandstone garden path is the indoor swimming pool, housed in a vine laced stone building with arched windows. It brings to mind images of 1950s Hollywood yet, like the house, the pool dates back to 1910 and was actually the country’s first heated and filtered one.
Milton Park was built by Sydney architects Morrow and De Putron for Anthony Hordern, whose older brothers Sam and Lebbeus also made their mark in the Highlands through ownership of Retford Park and Hopewood House. (Sam also became President of the Royal Agricultural Society, his namesake the famous Hordern Pavilion at the old Sydney Showground.) Anthony was 21 when he bought the 1200 acre Mansfield Farm, as it was known then. He renamed it Milton Park and the property became one of the top Poll Hereford cattle studs in Australia. Back in Sydney, his father and uncle Lebbeus had established the Anthony Hordern & Sons Department Store in 1844. It went on to become the Palace Emporium, a six storey building between the corners of George, Pitt and Goulburn streets, which at one time was recognised as the largest department store in the world.
Milton Park doesn’t scrimp on space either. Anthony Hordern lived here with Viola until her death in 1929, and in 1932 he married Mary Bullmore, the great great aunt of casino magnate James Packer. It’s the kind of place where money and breeding talks, with its ballroom, cocktail and champagne bar, billiards room, private dining room and three restaurants, including fine dining Horderns Restaurant, as well as 34 deluxe rooms and eight suites. This is a historical house that saw some serious glamour in its 1920s heyday.
The Horderns lived here until 1960, when it was bought by King Ranch of Texas. In 1984 Milton Park became a hotel and in 1993 a member of the Relais et Chateaux group, at one time recognised as one of the top 50 guesthouses in the world.
Music to my ears! I am ready to relax, and Milton Park does understated luxury expertly. Fittings and furnishings are effortlessly sumptuous and top end. Artwork is original and spaces are expansive yet welcoming.
I am deftly checked in and ushered to my lavish Forest Suite, one of four with spa, fireplace and private terrace. It is tastefully decorated with French influenced furniture and plantation shutters. I am on the second floor, with a terrace that looks out onto Milton’s Park’s woodlands. I can almost hear the laughter of the Horderns’ stylish house party guests of years gone by. An evening stroll around the gardens is a further delight.
A favourite venue for weddings, Milton Park also does a mean High Tea and since 1948 has opened its gardens to the public. Look out for details and dates on the hotel’s website.
Back to the room where my fire has been lit, I relax in the massive spa in my marble bathroom and then slip into a fluffy white robe to enjoy excellent in room dinner service. I sleep like an heiress in my four poster bed with fine cotton bedding, and awake to sounds of birdlife.
Breakfast in the morning is a delight too. Served with charming attention in the Orangerie, it is a complete smorgasbord of anything you’d want. I watch over coffee as a soon to be bride and her maids, decked active wear P.E Nation (beloved by Hollywood celebs) make their way to Milton Park’s beautiful Wellness Spa for treatments before a wedding on the lawns later in the day. Lucky girl. I get the feeling Anthony Hordern and his dashing brothers would definitely approve.
Suit: On-trend brides; garden lovers; anyone looking to relax and indulge; frazzled marrieds looking to reconnect.
Don’t miss: A swim in the indoor pool; a walk in the gardens; a spa treatment; a champagne cocktail in the Polo Bar.
Details: Keep an eye on Milton Park’s website for Escape packages, retreats and garden open days.
200 Horderns Road, Bowral; miltonpark.com.au