For a luxury break, a mere two hours from Sydney, Bangalay Luxury Villas at Shoalhaven Heads really hit the spot.
The sky is awash with pinks and purples and swirls of orange that dance and morph into a rich kaleidoscope as the minutes tick by into a new day. As the sun slips over the horizon the orange coloured gaps in the clouds give the impression of doorways opening into a fireball. It is mesmerising, and turns my sunrise walk up Seven Mile Beach into a stop start affair that is more stop than start.
It is something of a surprise that I manage to get up before the sun, as it is not a regular occurrence and my general rule is that there should be no alarm setting on a relaxing weekend away. But I wake anyway to a serenade of bird song, and when a local says don’t miss the sunrise on the beach, you should always listen. I am glad I did as it was a stellar start to the day.
Bangalay Luxury Villas opened in 2018, the creation of interior designer Michelle Bishop and her husband Tom, a builder (Evolve Building Group). This dynamic duo wanted to build a place for couples to enjoy, and with the Villas an easy two hour drive south of Sydney, and three hours east from Canberra, it is a comfortable enough distance away from the big smoke to feel like a real escape. The design is clever and aesthetically pleasing, sitting amenably in the landscape. The property is eco-certified, with solar panels on the roof of the restaurant. Michelle tells me, over coffee at the restaurant, that she and Tom accidentally became operators of the property, but it is obvious that this place is a labour of love for her.
There are 14 one-bedroom villas and two two-bedrooms, in a staggered formation fanning off a boardwalk, as well as a four-bedroom pet-friendly house right next door. Some have views of the golf course, with others looking over the gardens. We are in number five, and when we sit out on the verandah, we can watch golfers do their thing on the manicured greens, through the trees. The villa is really well thought out, with the kitchen containing an oven, microwave, cooktop, full fridge/freezer, and a half-drawer dishwasher. The De Longhi espresso machine has coffee pods that are 100 per cent compostable, and there is milk in the fridge – something that is often overlooked.
The kitchen flows into a lounge area with television and a push button fireplace, with the sliding doors opening up to the verandah. There is a washing machine, dryer, iron and ironing board, while the bathroom features a heated floor, stylish black tiles and a roomy shower with luxe Aspar amenities. The king bed is ridiculously comfortable, and while there is a TV in there, I don’t even turn it on.
One of the big drawcards for Bangalay Luxury Villas is its restaurant, Bangalay Dining, which is headed up by brilliant chef, Brent Strong. Formerly of Orana, Jock Zonfrillo’s star performer in Adelaide, Brent has created something really beautiful here. He grew up in the area and loves showcasing local produce and native ingredients. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with many locals coming through the doors while we were in house. The highlight of our stay was the Six Course Tasting Menu, with a full or half paired wine component.
Our evening started at the bar with a few drinks. Brent has a connection to the Adelaide Hills Distillery and the green ant gin is something we have to try. I have been very slow to board the gin train, but this one has got me on board with that now. Looking at the cocktail menu I am impressed with the native ingredients sprinkled throughout. I can’t go past a lemon myrtle pina colada, and happily report that it far exceeded expectations – a new and very interesting take on my tropical island by-the-pool drink of choice. The wattle seed vodka, espresso and crème de cocoa also looked good, as did the saltbush margarita, with tequila, Cointreau, lime and old man salt bush.
Suitably relaxed and hungry now, we are seated at a table ready for our extravaganza. Course one is kangaroo with bunya bunya saltbush, followed by fermented barley with black fungi quince and brush cherry. Course three is barramundi with Jerusalem artichoke, pine and mushroom, with a beautiful pork dish with pumpkin, persimmon and muntries hot on its heels.
As someone who loves dessert, having more than one dessert is always welcome. Course five is green ants with a green apple sorbet, a palate cleanser with a difference. I have tasted green ants before, and they definitely have a citrus taste. The last course is mandarin with chamomile and red stringybark honey. Delicious doesn’t quite capture how good it was. Just as we were about to waddle back to the villa, a surprise seventh dish comes out – another dessert. This one is a sourdough ice cream with a buttermilk granita – a sort of sweet bread and butter option – and it is unlike anything I have had before.
My favourite dish would have to be the fermented barley – something I would never, ever order if left to me. But it was exquisite. The balance in the dish was extraordinary, and the flavours new and exciting. To quote MasterChef, it was a ‘banging’ dish.
Bangalay Dining has introduced some other dining experiences. The Oyster Experience is for two people who can sample NSW South Coast Oysters prepared in different ways with accoutrements. Each oyster is paired to a local wine or spirit such as Headlands Distillery’s Boobialla Gin and Coolangatta Estate Semillon, creating a tasting experience celebrating the best of the South Coast’s producers.
Another new offering is the Native Ingredient Experience with canapes, wine, local spirits and cocktail pairings. Guests can learn about raw native ingredients – how they are grown, harvested and prepared.
Discover the Shoalhaven
Shoalhaven Heads offers a wealth of activities for guests of Bangalay. There are several walks in the area, from the short stroll through to the river to the long, long stroll up Seven Mile Beach – you can walk all the way to Gerroa should you wish to. Bangalay’s owner operator Michelle recommends the Abraham’s Bosom track in Currarong, with the highlight being Gosang’s Tunnel. Then there’s the Kiama Coast Walk and the Minnamurra Rainforest Walk.
We could have shopped up a storm at the always charming township of Berry, visited Kangaroo Valley, explored the delights of Nowra, and taken in the coastal beauty of Gerroa and Gerringong.
We could have gone snorkelling with whales and seals on a tour with Dive Jervis Bay in Huskisson and could have gone for a swim at Hyam’s Beach.
Closer to the Villas, we could have gone horse riding on the beach, gone surfing right out front of the surf club across the road, and for golfers, the golf course is next door, so it couldn’t be easier.
We did choose to go wine tasting, as with three wineries within a ten-minute drive, why wouldn’t you! We visited Mountain Ridge Wines, which is as pretty as it sounds. It is $5 for a tasting of about five wines plus a liqueur. The labels are all paintings by local artists and the quality of the wines, as it was every place we visited, was good enough for me to buy some. I picked up a bottle of Pinot Gris and an organic Shiraz and report that they have been drunk already.
Second stop was Coolangatta Estate, which is an important place in the history of NSW. It was selected as the first settlement on the south coast by Alexander Berry, and still has many of the old buildings from 1822 in the stroll-through village. Again, it is $5 for a tasting of six wines. I come away with a bottle of Eileen Chambourcin – this being a variety I hadn’t heard of before but is common down here.
Last stop on the wine tasting tour is Two Figs, which is perhaps the most scenic, on a hill overlooking the Shoalhaven River. We go all out and order a cheese platter, and happily pay the $5 to taste eight wines. Once again, I don’t leave empty handed, taking a bottle of cabernet sauvignon home.
The wine serves two purposes – one being that I will have great wine in the house, and the other is that when I drink them I will think about the beautiful area from whence they came, and will dream of going back.
To set aside health concerns, Bangalay Luxury Villas is offering Contactless Check-in meaning that guests will be sent their villa number and access code via SMS prior to check-in. The team will also continue to offer in-room dining from their new Asian/native ingredient fusion menu and optional daily housekeeping.
Find out more: Bangalay Luxury Villas
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