Spectacular spring sojourns
1. Book Barn ... Explore the quaint hamlets and villages of the Southern Highlands Photo: Muller-Maher Photography
The days are getting longer, the birds are singing louder and the flowers are starting to bloom. It's time to emerge from your winter hibernation and enjoy a short escape. Here are five suggestions to suit a range of tastes and budgets and all are an easy drive from Canberra.
1. Book Barn
Book Barn Cottage: Formerly the gatekeeper's residence on Berrima's historic Bendooley Estate, this recently refurbished self-contained cottage comfortably sleeps five adults or a family. It's spacious, complete with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open fireplace, and is lavishly appointed with all the comforts of home.
Getting there: 3020 Old Hume Highway, Berrima. About a 100-minute drive from Canberra.
Suitable for: Not just for book worms but ideal for a girls' weekend away. Also a great base for families and couples to explore the quaint hamlets and villages of the Southern Highlands.
What's different: Where else can you snooze in luxury with a cellar door, restaurant and one of Australia's most sought-after range of books literally on your doorstep?
Best blooms: There are delightful garden views from every window of the cottage. Alternatively, take a wander around the Bendooley Estate, which features a romantic rose garden, some of the oldest pines and oaks in Australia and expansive lawns. If you want to venture further afield, Bowral (a 10-minute drive away) is celebrating their annual Tulip Time in Corbett Gardens from September 24 to October 7. Contact Tourism Southern Highlands on 1300 657 559 for a full list of open gardens.
Highlight: Every room is crammed with books.
What to do: You can while away a whole day at the adjoining log cabin-style book barn, which features soaring cathedral ceilings, a knock-out open fire and thousands of new, second-hand, rare and antique books.
Cuisine: Sample the Bendooley Vineyard wines at the cellar door or enjoy a bite to eat at the Bendooley Bar & Grill, which serves fresh seasonal produce seven days a week for lunch, and dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Tip: Stop in at Flour Water Salt in Bowral and pick up a loaf of the most delicious fresh bread.
Spring deals: $250 a night mid-week or $375 a night on weekends (minimum two-night stay).
More: Ph: 02 4877 1370 or see bendooleyestate.com.au.
2. Farm Fun
Springfield Cottages: Established in the 1850s, Springfield is a historic working farm producing fat lambs and fine merino wool and the seventh generation owners have recently refurbished three outhouses on the farm for short-term stays. Each cottage has its own story to tell. For example, Bill's Cottage near the property's main entrance was once a shepherd's cottage. Gabby's Cottage and the converted Stables are near each other, so they are suitable for two families who want to stay close to each other.
Getting there: 2964 Moppity Road, Young. About a two-hour drive (150 kilometres) to the north-west of Canberra.
Suitable for: Families, couples and groups.
What's different: This is a working farm, so if you have young kids, watch out for farm machinery.
Best blooms: Springfield has an old world garden to wander around, with inviting nooks aplenty. The region is renowned for its fresh produce, particularly cherries and other stone fruit, and you can see cherry blossoms in full bloom at nearby orchards during September and October.
Highlight: No traffic noise within cooee. Waking up to the sound of sheep bleating.
What to do: Among the homestead's rambling gardens are a tennis court and a circa 1920s concrete pool with a deep end measuring almost four metres! There is also a virtual menagerie of animals around Springfield's main stone homestead.
Cuisine: BYO picnic in the gardens or fire-up the barbecue and enjoy sunset over the paddocks.
Tip: November is peak season due to cherry-picking, so book ahead.
Spring deals: $140 to $150 a night.
More: Ph: 02 6382 3799 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Alpine Getaway
Youth Hostel, Thredbo: The award-winning YHA hostel is a purpose-built lodge in the heart of Thredbo village. It features a comfy lounge and dining room, full kitchen, super-clean bathrooms and a mix of accommodation.
Getting there: 2 Buckwong Place, Thredbo. About 2.5 hours drive from Canberra.
Suitable for: Couples on a budget, families or groups.
What's different: Check in isn't until 4.30pm, so plan your arrival time carefully.
Best blooms: As the weather warms up, fields of colourful wildflowers replace the snow.
Highlight: Free mulled wine and hot chocolate on Sunday nights during the ski season. Also, toast marshmallows on an open fireplace outside the hostel year round on a Saturday night.
What to do: Enjoy spring skiing until the October long weekend. Once the ski season is over, go mountain biking, horse riding, bushwalking or just relax with a good book on the YHA's veranda with its stunning mountain views.
Cuisine: The hostel has a large kitchen with a number of cooking stations, but no oven. You are also only a short stroll from a number of eateries. Everything from pub grub (The Pub Bar & Bistro) to hearty German fare (Black Bear Inn).
Tip: If you like a wine with dinner, bring your own glasses, as it is one of the few items the otherwise well-equipped kitchen doesn't have. For those late-night munchies, there's also a vending machine hidden in the laundry.
Spring deals: From $30 a night a person share. Family rooms and twin rooms with private bathroom are available at extra cost. You can hire the entire YHA between October and early December for $1230 a night. Maximum capacity 48.
More: Ph: 02 6457 6376. See www3.yha.com.au.
5. Coastal Fling
Freshwater Oasis B&B: A new tropical-inspired, open-plan bed and breakfast, perfect for couples.
Getting there: 149 Crown Road, Queenscliff (just north of Manly, a three to 3.5-hour drive north of Canberra).
Suitable for: Cocooning couples.
What's different: The B&B is several blocks from the tourist strip.
Best blooms: This is a bit of a secret. Most people make a beeline for the beach, but adjoining little-known Garigal National Park is another natural playground: Manly Dam Reserve. Here, seven bushwalking tracks criss-cross the land around the dam, which is ringed by banksias, bottle brushes and wildflowers during spring.
Highlight: The resort-style pool on your doorstep.
What to do: You are on the doorstep of some of Sydney's most celebrated beaches. Take a short stroll down to Queenscliff or a longer walk to North Head via the sandstone cliffs of Shelly Beach.
Cuisine: Self-catering in the ultra-modern kitchen or there's a thriving food scene at nearby Manly. The cafe at Fairy Bower (on the walkway between Manly and Shelly Beach) has views to die for.
Tip: If the weather is a bit cool (it's only spring after all), ask for the pool heater to be put on.
Spring deals: From $180 a night in high season (September to April). Minimum two-night stay.
Contact: Ph: 02 9905 3132. See freshwateroasis.com.au.
4. Garden Haven
Redbrow Gardens: Modern en suite rooms (love the double showers) set on the shores of a spring-fed lake and surrounded by a lovingly created garden, which is said to be home to more plant species than the National Arboretum Canberra.
Getting there: 1143 Nanima Road, Murrumbateman.
Suitable for: Couples, families or groups. Also a haven for birdwatchers and gardeners.
What's different: It's close to home but it's also far enough away from the city lights to have a sparkling view of the night sky.
Best blooms: A rambling rural garden crammed with more than 40,000 daffodils of more than 30 varieties, hundreds of ornamental and productive fruit trees and 20,000 native and exotic trees and shrubs inter-planted with colourful perennials, annuals and other assorted bulbs.
Highlight: Watching ''red-browed firetail'' finches dart around the lake. Also, collecting you own eggs from the free-range hens.
What to do: Row around the lake or picnic in the gardens. If you are feeling more energetic, just up the road is Burnelee, which offers a range of horse treks (Ph: 02 6227 5850 or burnelee.com.au). Murrumbateman's acclaimed wineries are within a short drive and, if you have a sweet tooth, head next door to Chocolat D'Or (Ph: 02 6227 0550 or robynrowechocolates.com.au). Divine!
Cuisine: Cooked or continental breakfasts are available on request. Just a few minutes drive away is Poachers Pantry's Smokehouse Cafe. Bookings recommended Ph: 02 6230 2487 or poacherspantry.com.au.
Tip: The tennis court isn't enclosed, so don't be over-zealous with your overhead smash.
Spring deals: From $195 a night (cheaper for longer stays) per couple for a standard lakeside room. Family rooms and guesthouse are also available.
More: Ph: 02 6226 8166. See canberraguesthouse.com.au.