A place for romance and relaxation

17:00, Jul 14 2013
PICTURESQUE PLACE: The scenery in the promised land near Bellingen, New South Wales, Australia.

His left foot methodically taps on the pedal as his hands flick the drumsticks.

He records his voice and plays it on repeat, masquerading as a back-up singer, as well as the lead. The sound is intoxicatingly, head-boppingly good.

His name is Claude Hay and he's basically a five-man band. He's a pleasant surprise on our long weekend away to Bellingen, on the NSW mid-north coast. This hamlet, about 30 minutes south-west of Coffs Harbour, is a drawcard for creative souls.

A number of writers, artists and musicians make up a fair amount of the 2700 residents.

"It's like a little Byron Bay, without the pretension," a friend says before our arrival.

As Claude pumps out tunes from his latest album at a Bellingen cafe-cum-bar, I take in the audience.


There is the intoxicated blonde Brit who's determined to sweep this musician off to bed. There's the middle-aged couple snuggling against the back wall. To my right, a troupe of hippie parents sprawl on an aged lounge with their young hippie children. When they get up to dance, their long straggly hair and loose clothing sways wildly to the beat.

Then there are the waitresses, who are attentive and friendly, and who each have an eclectic style of their own.

The food at 5 Church Street isn't the best. My husband is brave enough to continue with his undercooked beef pattie burger, while my vegetarian tart is served cold (on purpose apparently) and bland. We may have caught the chefs on a bad night though.

The entertainment and atmosphere, however, is enough of an attraction that you can forgive the faults of the food (and beside, the chai lattes are deliciously spicy).

The cafe gives tourists a good sample of life in Bellingen and we learn more about the allure of this artistic town when we meet Fritz and Suzanne Dimmlich.

They're the adorable couple who own CasaBelle Country Guest House, a quick drive from the main strip, Hyde Street.

"I was standing in the garden one day and it was so quiet and still I thought I was dead," joked Fritz, who is originally from Germany.

"We like the property to have a rustic, comfortable feeling," adds Suzanne.

Fritz and Suzanne moved from Melbourne to Bellingen chasing warmer weather. They built CasaBelle and styled it like a Tuscan villa to match the climate.

The property is four stars, and the grounds feature orange and grapefruit trees, and a herb garden. There are also chickens and Suzanne will whip you up a mean organic scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Set on five hectares, it's peaceful at CasaBelle and intimate. We easily unwind and relax into our romantic getaway, and we quickly feel at home.

Our room is spacious and warm, and there are sweet touches - like the complementary chocolates and charming brass tapware in the bathroom.

I'm disappointed we hadn't booked another night.

But we're in for a completely different treat when we whisk our suitcases to Lilypad Luxury Cabins, also just a 4km hop out of town.

Lilypad is also set on close to five hectares and offers a tranquil escape.

There are two luxury self-contained cabins with modern Australian charm. It's obvious as soon as you enter that no expense has been spared. Everything, from the kitchenette fittings to the organic milk provided for breakfast, is top quality.

You can relax on a deck that overlooks a large pond or - and the guys will appreciate this - you can cook a feast on the immaculate barbecue (just drop by the butchers in town first).

Owners Yvonne and Frank will even organise an in-room beauty or spa treatment for you. And as your better half gets massaged, you can unwind in the large bath.

It's all very romantic, and the pretty town of Bellingen, with the Bellinger River running through it, encourages visitors to slow down.

Stroll Hyde Street, where a small collection of stores sell wooden brooches, colourful earrings, woolly jumpers and homewares. Bear in mind, though, that if you visit over a weekend do not leave your browsing 'til Sunday as many shops close.

Like any good country town, the community comes together to sell its wares at a market held every third Saturday of the month.

There are around 250 stalls at Bellingen Community Markets, held at Bellingen Park, and they feature arts and craft, food and local produce.

Adding to the region's creative spirit is the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. Held in March this year, the festival included events across Bellingen, Coffs Harbour and nearby Dorrigo, and unique experiences such as Paddle with a Poet (poetry readings in a canoe).

Bellingen also has a selection of talented chefs. The local pub, The Federal Hotel, is a great place to start. Expect large gourmet bistro meals, including roast rack of lamb, twice-cooked half duck and crispy lemon-peppered king prawns.

For a special treat, head to No 2 Oak Street (two chef's hats), where you can dine on red wine braised beef cheeks, de-boned Burrawong farmed rabbit, and quince tart tatin with vanilla bean ice-cream.

It's all very indulgent, delicious and deserving. And with fine food, charming accommodation, and a calendar of creative events, it's worth rewarding yourself with a visit to Bellingen.


GETTING THERE: Bellingen is a small town on Waterfall Way in NSW. It's about six hours north of Sydney via the Pacific Motorway, and about nine hours if you take the New England Hwy via Tamworth. Brisbane is about five hours north of Bellingen.

Qantas, Virgin, Brindabella and Tiger Air have regular flights to and from nearby Coffs Harbour.

STAYING THERE: CasaBelle Country Guest House is located at 90 Gleniffer Rd, Bellingen.

Lilypad Luxury Cabins can be found at 241 Hydes Creek Rd, Bellingen.

PLAYING THERE: For great places to dine in Bellingen, try The Federal Hotel; No 2 Oak Street; and Mouza Restaurant.

If you would like to indulge in a beauty or spa treatment, visit Nadira Perera at La Beaute du Monde.

To time your visit with the markets and festivals, check out bellingenmarkets.com.au, or the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. The 24th annual Bellingen Jazz Festival is also held between August 16-18.


The writer travelled as a guest of Coffs Coast Marketing.