Luxurious surroundings, a sumptuous spa experience, and a cheeky cocktail or two make for a memorable overnight Highlands escape.
IT’s a Thursday evening and the carpark is full as we pull into the grounds of the Gibraltar Hotel in Bowral. After a long day shooting, photographer Elise Hassey and I are ready for a mini break. We head inside, greeted by a seeming oasis of calm. It’s East meets West in here, with Eastern styled decor, Buddhist inspired sculpture, and long cool halls with high ceilings and polished marbled floors.
Ree and Rahil at reception greet us like old friends and waste no time in taking us to our rooms. I am in 210, and after a day of rushing about, the feeling of space and serenity is fabulous. There is a giant king size bed, a great armchair, bathroom with double walk in shower and jet powered bath in the same vestibule, a mini bar and, for a night, thankfully only me. No dirty clothes on the floor, no Lego scattered underfoot, no one to pull the doona off during the night. This is bliss. I make a cup of tea (without being interrupted once), switch on the enormous TV (no-one playing on the Xbox) and open the balcony door. If I was happy before, I am delighted now. On the balcony, overlooking Gibraltar’s 18 hole Country Club golf course, I enjoy my tea as twilight falls and the sun sets over Mount Gibraltar in the distance.
I’ve stayed in quite a few Highlands accommodation options. Many are historic beauties with ancient bones that gurgle and rattle during the night, but Gibraltar Hotel in contrast is a new build. This is a room for an exec with a capsule wardrobe and lots of frequent flyer points. It’s a five star location five minutes from Bowral but is also incredibly rural.
My room is well designed with a modern black and grey colour scheme. There are lush toiletries in the large bathroom. Near the fully stocked mini bar, the complimentary bottle of Cherry Tree Hill Shiraz from the local vineyard is a nice touch but I have a date with a Day Spa.
Therapist Ianna is waiting for me, and directs me to a bathroom where a fluffy robe and slippers await. After some peppermint tea, it’s an hour of unadulterated bliss. As I sink my tired toes into the footbath, I remind myself to the Gibraltar Day Spa as a non guest. This desire is reinforced during the back, neck, leg and neck massage with botanic oils. I try to stay awake to savour every moment but Ianna’s hands are deft, and before I know it she is waking me from a deep massaged sleep.
Like many top accommodation venues in the Highlands, the Day Spa is a big sell for wedding parties, and Ianna and her fellow therapists have been kept busy all day massaging and preening a wedding party with a range of body treatments, alternative treatments, organic facials and spa rituals.
I hightail it back to my room. I have a zing in my step and it’s time for a cocktail in Gibraltar’s Harvey’s Bar. The bar is named after local and pianist Geoff Harvey, famous for his role as band leader on Ray Martin’s Midday TV show. But tonight as Elise and I take a seat, someone else is playing and he’s got the bar jumping.
This is one of the late night hotspots in the Highlands. Often kept open for wedding guests or events, it is licensed until 3am. Tomorrow’s wedding party is already here. The bride and her maids are surrounded by enormous white boxes tied with enticing pink ribbons. We hypothesise about what’s in the boxes as we wait for our cocktails. Shoes? Corsets? Lingerie?
As we order our shared platter for dinner, the groom is singing karaoke with the pianist. Weddings are big business in the Highlands and the Gibraltar has three in the next three days, with presumably most finishing up here with joyous renditions of Khe Sanh and other Cold Chisel classics.
Our shared platter is a good option if you don’t want to eat more formally next door in licensed restaurant San Fior, and I’m delighted to see that local maker, Mrs Bucket’s pate is part of the spread. Tired but relaxed we leave the groom’s party to it. Tucking myself into bed, I hope they find the Berroca Performance Drink in their mini bar. I think they will need it. My king sized bed has the most comfortable pillows I have ever slept on away from home in the Highlands, and I fall asleep to the croaking lullaby of the frogs outside.
I wake as clear as a whistle and fill up on an extensive hot and cold breakfast buffet., and watch as the now not so sprightly groom and his mates also come for breakfast. With wedding ceremonies often held on the lawns outside, you can do the whole kit and kaboodle here, from putting up your guests (76 rooms in total) then celebrating into the wee hours.
The Gibraltar Hotel offers five star service, great facilities and an easy elegance. As I say goodbye to my room, I glance at the welcome folder, which says, ‘Welcome to the best kept secret in the Southern Highlands’. Time to talk it up guys. This is five star accommodation that holds its own in any town.
7 Boronia Street, Bowral
SUITS: Urbane travellers who expect top service and mod-cons; couples in search of a one stop wedding venue with accommodation; locals looking for a grown up couples staycation on our doorstep
DON’T MISS: A treatment in the Day Spa, a walk up the hill to nearby Gibbergunyah Reserve; a cocktail in Harvey’s Bar.