Travel

6 Reasons to Drive to the Southern Highlands

What could be more relaxing than a leisurely drive through the country?

Things to do southern highlands
Photo Courtesy Of Destination NSW

The Southern Highlands is an hour and a half drive from Sydney, making it a popular destination for Sydneysiders looking to escape the city for a weekend. Once you hop on the Grand Pacific Drive, expect to find rural vistas, charming European towns, wineries, and historic sites. It’s hard to believe this rural paradise is only a short drive away, but the proof is in the pies here. Here are six reasons to drive to this pretty region. 

MORE: How To Road Trip Your Way Through The Southern Highlands Pie Time Festival

Southern Highlands Bendooley Estate
Photo Courtesy of Destinations NSW

Hop on the wine trail

There are over 60 vineyards and 15 cellar doors in the Southern Highlands, making it worth the drive, without being overwhelmed with choices. Most cellar doors are close to the highway, so you can stop in and shop before heading back on the road. The majority of the vineyards here make cool-climate wines including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and merlot. Some vineyards are smaller, such as Cherry Tree Hill, producing award-winning premium wines, and others have restaurants, such as Bendooley Estate. Book in for a tasting and a lunch, or opt-in for a wine tour with a local company, depending on which town you visit or stay in. Some notable wineries worth a visit include Centennial Vineyards, Tertini Wines, Artemis Wines and Distillery, Joadja Estate, and PepperGreen Estate.

Southern Highlands Pies
Photo Courtesy of Destination Southern Highlands/HCreations

Eat a ridiculous amount of pies

Whether you plan to visit Bowral, Mittagong, Berrima, or Moss Vale, each town, big and small has a pie shop. Behind that pie shop is a family recipe, a grandmother, or an award for the best pastry, filling, and pies in Australia. There are around 30 pie outlets to visit. The reason they’ve won awards is because of the produce and of course, multi-generational recipes. Most pie makers here use local produce, including beef, lamb, and vegetables to fill their pies. Gumnut Patisserie is well known for its pies. You will often find a line around the best pie shops in town. During winter, each town participates in a Pie Time Festival, which celebrates all things pies. Although, pies are enjoyable all year round, so here are some pie shops you don’t want to miss: Polly’s Pies and Pastries, Sonoma Bakery Bowl, Heatherbraes Pies, Baked in Berrima, Bowral Hotel, Flour Water Salt, and Robertson Pie Shop.

Things to do kids Southern Highlands
Photo Courtesy Of Destination NSW

Road trip with the whole family

The Southern Highlands is a playground for kids, from the wonderful parks to the museums and treetops adventure park. The Bradman Museum is home to all things cricket, and for a stunning view head to Fitzroy Falls visitor centre. Here, explore the park, enjoy the views from lookouts, and walk the boardwalk to find more natural sights. There are 15 lookouts to view and six kilometres of walking tracks to cover. At night, venture to find glow worms or enjoy a puppetry performance at the Australian Puppet Centre Inc. There is also a rail museum and entertainment centre with events and performances on all the time. Be sure to stop by Lolly Swagman for sweet treats, including fudge. 

Carrington Falls
Photo By Kramer Photography/ www.kramer.photography

Hike the trails and walk the historic sites

On a nice day, there is no better way to enjoy the Southern Highlands than by foot. Here, walking is more popular than bikes and cars. There are bush walks, town walks, and historic walks, which will help you get acquainted with the region. The Berrima River Walk is a new walk guiding visitors along the river bank and takes an hour return trip. The Box Vale Walking Track follows the formation of a historic railway line and passes through cuttings, along embankments and through a tunnel 84 metres in length. The Barren Grounds Nature Reserve is a best-kept secret of Robertson, boasting views of the Illawarra Coast Line and surrounding countryside. Another stop to add to your list is Carrington Falls, where visitors can swim, walk the tracks, and view a striking waterfall while having a picnic.

things to do Bowral
Photo Courtesy Of Destination NSW

Explore the heritage sites in each town

The region is made up of several towns and villages, each with its own history and character. In Bowral, you will find Cherry Trees and the Cherry Tree Walk at the Vietnam War Memorial. Other towns are steeped in iron ore and coal history, corruption and theft, and colonial architecture. Visit Berrima Courthouse, or partake in the Berrima Historic Walk to discover the town’s past. In Burrawang, the General Store is a culinary destination and must-visit historic site. Harper’s Mansion is also a great place to discover a colonial Georgian style house with strolling gardens and a large hedge maze. There are several historic walks and sites to see in the region.

where to shop southern highlands
Photo Courtesy Of Destination NSW

Spend hours roaming the boutique shops and specialty stores

One of the major allures to small towns is the shopping. Rather than the major stores, boutique and specialty shops often stock little treasures and unique items guaranteed to strike up a conversation. Whether you’re shopping for a new hat, outfit, or for your home, chances are you will find something special in the region. Bowral is great for antiques, and homewares. Dirty Janes is a popular spot for vintage clothing, antique furniture, and lighting. On any given weekend, there are bound to be markets filled with gems just waiting to be discovered. The Mossy Store in Moss Vale has a lot of beautiful homewares including vases, furniture, and rugs. If you’re looking for good shops, walk down any main street in town and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Need somewhere to stay?

Taking time out for that short break away is something we all forget to do. Visiting midweek is great when you want a charming town to yourself, and the weekends are perfect for indulging in local food and attending farmers markets. There are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation. You can stay in the newly minted Berrima Vault House, find a charming cottage in Mittagong, or rent a house for the weekend and invite the family. You can find beautifully designed properties on Airbnb including this off-grid house in Sutton Forest or this gorgeous terrace house in the heart of Bowral, adjacent to Corbett Gardens, so you’re never more than a skip away from tulips.

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Travel

Hollywood's Favorite Mountain Town Isn't Where You'd Think It Is

It's all hot springs and Hemmingway lore here.

Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images
Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images
Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images

“Idaho is like the new Colorado, and Sun Valley is like the new Aspen,” a woman leaned over and said as we began our descent into Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho. “Everyone’s coming here now.”

Similar to Aspen-which has seen an unprecedented influx of transplants from around the country since the pandemic began-Sun Valley has served as Idaho’s venerable ski town ever since it was established as the country’s first designated ski resort in 1936. But those same snow-covered mountains people swish down all winter look awfully pretty come summertime, surrounded by the nearby Sawtooth Mountain range and set within the sweeping Wood River Valley.

Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images

Celebrities, artists, and fiercely passionate locals have long been a part of the fabric of this town ever since Ernest Hemingway was invited to live and write in the Sun Valley Lodge in 1939.

“Many celebrities were invited to come for free.” actress and Sun Valley resident Ali Larter told me at The Sun Valley Film Festival (SVFF) in April. “Hemingway was one of the first famous people to come and help build up what this mountain town was, and it’s become a part of what makes this valley the creative hub that it continues to be even today.”

Sun Valley’s cachĂ© remains alive and well, with its contingent of laid-back locals, cool bars, restaurants, and always-sunny Sun Valley vibes. While the secret about this idyllic mountain town may be out, Aspen, I can assure you, it is not. From spending some time soaking in the local hot springs to visiting a few of Hemingway’s favourite haunts, here are all the ways to enjoy Hollywood’s favourite mountain town, no matter the season.

Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images
Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images
Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images

Walk in Hemingway’s footprints or drink amid the flowers

With 50 peaks, 300 lakes and rivers, and 250-miles of trails, wherever you are in Sun Valley, adventure isn’t far behind.

A good place to get your bearings is the White Cloud Trail. One of the most popular hiking loops at a leisurely 2.5 miles, it’s a short walk or bike ride from the Sun Valley resort area. As you make your way along the trail, plan to stop by the Hemingway Memorial, which is a fantastic place to soak in some views.

About four miles down the Wood River Trail is the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, which makes for a lovely bike-ride destination. The garden is a beautiful place to spend a few hours, especially in the summer when numerous events take place, like tours, wine tastings, and cocktail evenings.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Spend the morning soaking in local hot springs or angling for rainbows

Just 10 miles west of downtown Ketchum on Warm Springs Road, Frenchman’s Bend is the best place to soak in local hot springs. This shallow spring has long been a local Sun Valley hot spot, though it’s very much not clothing optional, so skinny dippers beware.

But getting hot and pruny isn’t the only way to enjoy the water here. Stretching 137-miles long and running directly through Sun Valley, Big Wood River is a great spot to go white water rafting in nearby Stanley or try your hand at fly fishing.

If you’re angling to get out and catch those elusive rainbows, try a guided fishing trip or even a women’s intro to fly fishing clinic with Sun Valley Outfitters. Big Wood is known for wild trout, though Silver Creek Preserve is another excellent spot (and a Hemingway favourite).

Warfield Distillery & Brewery
Warfield Distillery & Brewery
Warfield Distillery & Brewery

Eat homey dishes in cozy settings

Sun Valley’s food scene rivals that of any big city, starting with coffee and a ham and cheese croissant at Konditorei. Otherwise head straight for The Kneadery for a country frittata and ultimate Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream in downtown Ketchum.

Walk it all off before heading to Warfield Distillery & Brewery, which serves up some of the best elevated pub food. The beautiful rooftop is perfect for drinking in the views over downtown Ketchum and Baldy mountain. Don’t miss the signature Warfield Burger and Bacon Blue Ridge Salad and save some room for the carrot cake if you can.

Set on a side street in downtown Ketchum, The Covey‘s hearth style, seasonally inspired menu more than delivers when it comes to homemade pastas and some of the best locally caught trout you’ve ever had. It’s also got a killer wine list and a gorgeous new outdoor garden to enjoy it all in. If push comes to shove, don’t be afraid to post up at the bar, where you can chat with some of Sun Valley’s coolest team of locals and longtime friends who own and operate this awesome spot.

Rickshaw
Rickshaw
Rickshaw

Rickshaw is the cozy [read: tiny] neighbourhood joint to satisfy all your Asian- fusion cravings. The Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, and Green Papaya Salad are cooked to chef-kiss perfection. Just note that this place packs up quick and reservations can be tough to come by, so if you can’t get a spot, grab your food to go and post up for a picnic in any of the nearby parks.

One absolute can’t miss when you’re in Ketchum is the chance to guzzle down schooners at Grumpy’s, a true Sun Valley legend. You can sit out front and enjoy the chilli fries and beers, but you’ll be missing out on the indoor ambience of this time-capsule-of-a-ski-town dive.

Come nighttime, head to Pioneer Saloon for margaritas, pints at The Cellar Pub, a tipple and some of Tom’s Mom’s Meatloaf at the Sawtooth Club, before an obligatory lap at Casino.

The Gold Mine Thrift Store
The Gold Mine Thrift Store
The Gold Mine Thrift Store

Strike gold at the local thrift

There’s no shortage of high-end boutiques in and around the Sun Valley Resort and downtown Ketchum, but for a real taste of local goodness, Gold Mine Thrift Store is considered the ultimate choice for all your thrifting needs. There’re always gems to be found here and it’s an added bonus that all of the proceeds go towards The Community Library next door.

For all your gear and outdoor needs, head to the Elephant’s Perch; or for some great local reads, look no further than Chapter One Bookstore on a side street off the Main drag. Finally, The Farmer’s Daughter is the perfect place to pick up some cool, local home dĂ©cor and Idaho knick knacks.

Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley Resort

Sleep like a star at Sun Valley’s best hotels

The Sun Valley Lodge is the go-to spot for a five-star stay in Sun Valley. Dating back to 1936, it’s also the former residence of Ernest Hemingway, whose room here is said to still house his typewriter.

The hotel’s pool area and bowling alley are always buzzing with activity, but if you’re in the mood for some bonafide “me time,” head straight to The Spa at Sun Valley, where a spin inside one of their “Experience Showers” in the locker room is enough to make you a believer in the power of one really good shower.

Right across the courtyard from The Lodge, the Sun Valley Inn is a bit more rustic than its glamorous counterpart-but recently remodelled and offering access to all of the same amenities as the Lodge at a fraction of the cost, the Inn is a more economical way to stay in the resort area.

Just off Main Street in Ketchum, Limelight Hotel is the perfect, pet-friendly place to stay if you want to be in the heart of the action. Word to the wise, snag a room with balcony views over Baldy, and don’t miss a chance to wind down with a dip in the pool and hot tubs.

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Michelle Gross is a travel, food and lifestyle writer who loves a small-town vibe. An alum of the University of Colorado Boulder, she spends a lot of time enjoying the great outdoors. This summer you’ll most likely find her on a paddleboard or on her porch in Beaufort, South Carolina.

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