Nature gets a look-in
Room for entertaining at The Ridge, Gloucester.
In Captain Thunderbolt territory, Elicia Murray bonds with the locals and enjoys breathtaking country views.
I DIDN'T really mind being watched while in the bath. It was worth it because the view through the glass-walled bathroom was so pretty, with lush, green hills and little houses dotted in the valley below. My friend, on the other hand, was slightly unnerved by the stares as she sat on the toilet.
Cows in neighbouring paddocks apart, The Ridge at Gloucester feels completely private. The eco-friendly house is on 40 hectares; when we drove up the winding dirt road from the highway the night before, we couldn't even see the property until we were almost at the front door.
Like Goldilocks, we poked our heads into each of five bedrooms - and three bathrooms - before deciding where to plonk our bags. In the main bedroom, a dark-brown, upholstered-leather queen bed faces a window with one of the best views in the house - a bucolic scene of gently sloping farmland. The walk-in wardrobe is so huge, it could almost count as a sixth bedroom and the en suite bathroom, where I bonded with the cows, has a deep, luxurious tub.
The Ridge was designed as a family home by Sydney architect Gareth Cole. It's solar-powered and completely off the grid, with no electricity or phone lines to spoil the views over the valley.
Rainwater tanks provide the water, including the supply for the in-floor heating in winter, and louvres allow the breeze to flow through the two pavilions that make up the house.
In the afternoon, sunlight streams into the side where three of the bedrooms are positioned. With so much space, it's a shame there are only two of us knocking around the property this weekend.
The galley kitchen is big and equipped well enough to cook for a footy team (bring your own food and footballers), while the layout is perfect for entertaining. An island bench separates the kitchen from the dining area and a spacious lounge area with TV.
Outside the bi-fold doors is a deck, complete with stylish seating and barbecue. The second pavilion also features a large living space and breathtaking views.
We drive into Gloucester to potter around at the markets and a small art gallery, pausing to look at mosaics erected by the Gloucester Arts Society.
There are scenes of trout fishing and dairy farming, steam trains and goldmining. My favourite is a gun-totin' Captain Thunderbolt. The caption reads: "Thunderbolt, the bushranger, rode this country. He was said to have never killed a man and was gentle with women."
The Ridge's managers offer winery tours of the region. We decide against an organised trip, opting to drive to the Villa d'Esta vineyard at Dyers Crossing, about 50 kilometres away. This small, family-run vineyard has six hectares of grapes and the owner, a charming man who moved to Australia from Hungary, dispenses words of wisdom along with generous splashes of his handmade drops.
As well as wine, there are jams, chutneys, relishes and sauces. We can't leave without a few bottles of creamcello (a creamy take on limoncello), walnut liqueur and blueberries in gin syrup.
Back at The Ridge, we settle in for a second night's sleep in the blissfully quiet house.
The next morning, as I pad out to the kitchen to make coffee, there is a mysterious sound. I check the taps - no drips. I look for birds - none to be seen. Then I spy it: a fat black-and-white cow ripping mouthfuls of grass from the ground near the fence. Now it's my turn to watch.
The writer was a guest of The Ridge and Tourism NSW.
The Ridge, 135 Thunderbolts Way, Gloucester. (02) 6558 4272, theridgegloucester.com.
Take the F3, then the Pacific Highway. Turn off at Bucketts Way to Gloucester. Follow Church Street through the centre of town, veering left on to Park Street and Thunderbolts Way. The turnoff is about 1.3 kilometres north of the town centre, on the left.
From $200 a night a couple on weeknights; $250 on weekends. There is a two-night minimum. Accommodates up to 10 people.
Sleek and modern inside, picture-postcard rural setting outside.
A secluded escape for a group of friends or relatives.
Walking shoes: there are tracks aplenty. The Hidden Treasure Trail at Copeland Tops is easy and enjoyable.
The treacherous road up from the highway. Not one to attempt after a glass or two of wine.
The campfire out the back, complete with timber logs for seating. Perfect for star-gazing and toasting marshmallows.
Take the kids?
Why not? With all this space, you won't even hear them.