Escape Southern Highlands stays at a majestic hotel being lovingly restored to a new life.
When Hotel Robertson opened in 1924 on six hectares of land looking out over the Jamberoo Escarpment, the press deemed it ‘one of the most luxurious in the Commonwealth’.
It was the time of the Charleston, women in flapper dresses, champagne cocktails, art deco design and decadence. Days when the well-heeled Sydney crowd escaped to the Highlands to partake of the fresh air and let their hair down. The hotel’s golf course swept all the way to where the Robertson Pie Shop stands today. Golfers were issued with a whistle when venturing out to play, so a rescue team could locate them when the famous Robbo mists rolled in.
Still operating 75 years later, and now called The Robertson Hotel, this Gatsby-esque establishment still has the power to impress. Hotelier Con Kotis fell for the hotel’s charm the moment he visited in 2011. Owner of apartment accommodation in Sydney, Con’s first thought was ‘It’s crying out for attention’. He and wife Lisa are committed to an ongoing multimillion-dollar renovation of the fully functional hotel, which will see 40 rooms become 60 guestrooms and suites.
‘I guess I fell in love with the hotel’s bones and its history but I could see it needed a lot of work,’ says Con. ‘It is still a work in progress but I feel every day we are getting closer to restoring it to its former glory.’
Escape Southern Highlands arrives at dusk at the grand front entrance. We are greeted gracefully by staff, and a roaring open fire that warms the vast hallway. A huge central staircase takes us to our rooms. My colleague is shown to the Grand Manor Suite, which is the bridal suite. Overlooking the main front lawn, where marriage ceremonies often occur, it has two bedrooms, a large bathroom and a sitting room plus a birdseye view of arriving guests. The hotel often attracts wedding parties, with many families taking over the entire premises for several days.
My room down the hall has a king-size bed with a goose feather duvet, in-period furniture decked with cosy throws and hydronic heating. The room is fetching in its simplicity. The ensuite bathroom has original fittings, with tiles covering floor and walls and plumbing on the outside complemented by a huge rain shower head. Organic toiletries and fine cotton towels are most welcome. The one thing missing is a hairdryer.
We enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the bar area, handsome with art deco design. The dining room has been refurbed and is dressed with ceiling to floor drapery and white linen, perhaps harking back to the days when people ate more formally. Chef Michael White serves dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and is holding Christmas in July dinners, with bookings also open to non-hotel guests (see On Your Plate page 44 for more details). Continuing in the decadent vein, we choose the a la carte menu – homemade duck liver pate followed by the beef fillet that is served with mash, asparagus, broccolini and red wine sauce. I finish with the cheese and fruit platter. The food is rich and delicious, with an emphasis on local producers and suppliers. At $60 a head it strikes me as extremely good value.
In the morning, a lavish continental and hot breakfast is served in the grand ballroom. This room can hold 100 dancing guests with a DJ or band. Or the Australian World Orchestra, who played here in 2015.
‘Because of the high ceilings, I am told the acoustics here are fabulous,’ says Con. ‘We are delighted the World Orchestra are booked again to return to play here on November 25 although we are not sure at this stage what they will be performing.’
If that isn’t enough to get bums on seats, Con is also keen for locals and visitors to see his hotel’s new improved lease on life.
‘Everybody who stays or comes for a drink or a meal tells me they can feel the love that we have put into this building. To me it is a magic place with such an interesting history that is so much part of the Highlands.’
1 Fountaindale Road, Robertson