Sarah Maguire finds an atmospheric base for exploring the Adelaide Hills.
Mount Lofty House is at Crafers in the Adelaide Hills, a short drive from the South Australian capital and a popular daytrip destination for folk drawn by its pretty villages and flourishing foodie and creative scene: cheese, chocolate, beer and wine makers abound, as do cafes, restaurants and galleries.
Renowned painter Hans Heysen lived in the Hills, inspired endlessly by the landscape and the light. Mount Lofty House was built in the 1850s as a summer residence for the well-to-do Hardy family, and has its own vast, mind-clearing views over the Piccadilly Valley.
Mount Lofty House was still a private home when it was gutted in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires; it was rebuilt as a guesthouse, and is now part of hotel giant Accor's boutique M Gallery chain.
It is intended to have the feel of a grand country house, and it succeeds: guests having a poke-about will happen across plush sitting areas, a billiard room and a library; there is a pool to lie by, grounds with vineyards to wander and the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens are next door.
On my two-night stay I get to experience three of the 33 rooms in the three-level main house: a leaking ceiling in my first room, which has a verandah and one of three new bathrooms in the hotel, leads to a 1.30am evacuation to a less salubrious room in the hotel's boondocks with a Spartan feel and a bathroom showing its age.
The next night, however, I am in the Piccadilly Suite: this has a separate bedroom and living area and is all together the duck confit's nuts. As with my first room, it combines traditional features (heavy drapes and period wooden furniture) with enough modern touches to make it feel contemporary.
There is an iPod docking station, free Wi-Fi and the bar fridge is stocked with goodies befitting the Hills' foodie reputation.
The beds are fine and the linen lovely, and the sitting areas in each room an inviting touch, but the sooner all the bathrooms are refurbished, the better. (There are also plans for further minor room updates, manager Craig Dodd tells me).
Ask for a room with a verandah; it's wonderful to be able to throw open French doors and settle outside with some local wine and cheese.
People flock to the Hills to eat: as well as restaurants, there are food trails, bakeries, markets and cooking schools.
On my first night I order a simple yet flavour-packed prawn pasta from the extensive menu at the Mediterranean-inspired Tranquillo restaurant in Stirling.
The next night, the excellent five-course degustation menu (A$120 with matching wines) at Mount Lofty House's fine-dining Piccadilly restaurant includes crispy fried squid and beef fillet in porcini sauce.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
The Cedars at Hahndorf, the sprawling home of Hans Heysen, is a beautifully preserved tribute to the artist. Time has been brought to a halt inside the house where Hans lived with his wife and eight children, as well as the studio where he painted prolifically (see hansheysen.com.au).
Follow it up with a walking tour (phone Sharon Pippos on 0477 288 011) of Hahndorf village, established in 1839 by Prussians fleeing religious persecution. Links to the first settlers remain unbroken in the classic collection of buildings and the descendants who still live there.
The Adelaide Hills is an eminently worthy candidate for an interstate, circuit-breaking weekender - and Mount Lofty House is a base with a strong sense of place: with the dominating views and residual ambience of a rolling-in-it free settler's homestead, you won't forget where you are.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Adelaide Airport, it's a 30-minute drive. A hire car and sat-nav are a must for exploring the Hills.
Mount Lofty House, 74 Mount Lofty Summit Road, Crafers, see mtloftyhouse.com.au. Rooms from A$199 (NZ$217.65) a night.
The writer was a guest of Mount Lofty House and Tourism South Australia.
- FFX Aus
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