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STAY, PLAY, EAT, DRINK & EXPLORE

Escape SH checks into a monumental Highlands pad that sleeps up to two cricket sides, or five Davis Cup teams, and finds it does what it says, game, set and match.

Question. Does it follow that people with big sporting achievements go on to buy big houses? In the case of John Alexander, former pro tennis player, Australian Open doubles champion, and now federal member for Bennelong, the answer is yes.

Alexander, or ‘JA’ as he has long been known, bought Iona Park, an imposing six-bedroom mansion, and its 37 hectares, in 2017. Alexander’s plan, according to news reports, was to use the property, a former boutique horse stud, as a weekender for short-term holiday lets, and horse agistment. JA is known to frequent on occasion, too. So, just what does a former sporting star’s grand getaway look like, and where exactly does it fit all those 22 bodies it professes to house?

It’s a question my kids and I discuss as we make the quick drive from Moss Vale, for the night. Awaiting us in true Highlands estate fashion, Iona Park sits hidden from the road, a wrought iron electric gate adding neck-craning frisson to the back seat.

“Whoa, Mum,” says my 10-year-old, more au fait with weathered weatherboard than terracotta terrazzo. “This place is massive. Who lives here. A king?”

Well, not quite but over his 20-year court career, Alexander won seven singles titles and was the youngest ever player to represent Australia for the Davis Cup, in which he played from 1968 to 1980. In 1975, he was ranked 8th on the ATP tour. I grew up watching Alexander and his contemporaries, John Newcombe, John Fitzgerald, Wally Masur, and Paul McNamee play tennis on the telly in the 1980s and there is, I think as we unpack the car, something faintly nostalgic about Iona Park. It is enormous in scale, with double front doors, dormer and ceiling to floor arch windows. The foyer is a swathe of marble with a great glistening staircase.

My 16-year-old lays claim to the master bedroom: guess that means she’ll be having have the king-sized bed, the raised en suite lounge area and bathroom with spa and views overlooking Iona Park’s 100 acres, then.

Beyond the foyer, there is a huge open plan Shaker style kitchen/dining room/living area with nine-seater settees that opens out on to a verandah with table and chairs and barbecue, a front lawned area with swimming pool, firepit, and vine topped trellis. A dam with a weathered jetty sits in the foreground.

Along the hall sits a formal living room, a library with a giant-sized walnut desk and floor to ceiling bookshelves (there is everything here from Bill Bryson to Spike Milligan, Agatha Christie to Iain Banks). Determined to seek out all 22 beds, having played some pool with the 10-year-old and admired the JA posters, as well as various bits of winning silver in locked trophy cabinets, we set off on a bed crawl.

Four singles downstairs in plush bedroom number one, next to the living room. This bedroom has a shower en suite and a walk-in wardrobe as big as a tiny house (beds for four, so far). A double bedroom next door with upholstered bedhead and lush furnishings (six), and along the hall the library, set up with a two-person sofa bed (eight). Further along the hall, another four-person room with king singles (12) and another sofa bed made up in the games room next door (14). Upstairs, there is the master bedroom bagged by the daughter (16) and another lovely double room at the other top of the stairs (18) with an enormous shared bath and shower bathroom that opens on to a nursery-style room with sloped roof and three beds and a trundle (22). There it is … 22 beds for that intergenerational family reunion or intimate family gathering.

But wait. Before you push go on that idea, check the rule book on the foyer table. Iona Park, as it happens, has a ‘strict no party policy’. “We welcome family gatherings, dinner evenings, including late nights and music but please beware that you will need to move all guests indoors at 10pm and music off by midnight,” read the rules.

Cripes. Stand down kids. No parties for us tonight. Chill out instead on the enormous settees in front of the television while I sit outside and watch a sunset over Moss Vale that money couldn’t buy.

Thank you ball boys; thank you linesmen. A Highlands holiday option for those who think big.

*Escape SH was a guest of Iona Park thanks to Holiday Rental Specialists holidayrentalspecialists.com.au

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