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Exploring the Southern Highlands by Jeep

Mike Smith embraces the winter chill in NSW’s Southern Highlands, exploring its gracious mansions, gardens and pretty laneways in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Perched at the top of a steep rise shielded by towering trees, some 100 years old, is a stately country homestead which would be just as much at home in rural Britain as it is in New South Wale’s Southern Highlands. This is Milton Park, established by Sydney retailing giant Anthony Hordern in 1910 as a family retreat. Its grand features and nurtured gardens have been lovingly restored, furnished and expanded with a plush day spa, fine dining restaurant and a few mod cons.

On the driveway is an “inferno red” family four-wheel drive, Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, the perfect partner for exploring NSW’s country lanes and highways. Though American by name, it’s just as much a part of the Australian landscape as this majestic address “just up the road from the Bong Bong racetrack”.

Together, they seem to complement each other. And there’s a good reason for this. One has recently celebrated a 100th birthday. The other’s badge reflects 70 years of on and off-road motoring – with equal gleam.

Both names are synonymous with “getting away from it all”, and that’s exactly what we did – into the very heart of a region famous for its Autumn Scottish fling, blossoming Tulip Time festival, magnificent gardens and invigorating mountain-like fresh air. No matter which season of the year, Milton Park is a magnet, its close proximity to Sydney – about a 90-minute drive away – ideal for weekend breaks. In Summer, the gardens are richly green and leafy. Autumn paints its usual impressive shades and spring brings out the vibrant colours of tulips and other flowering bulbs.

In Winter, not even the early chill and morning drizzle can dampen the enthusiasm of guests decked out in heavy coats and gloves, itching to wander through the award-winning grounds dotted with old oaks and beeches. If not for the screeches of crows and colourful parrots, the gardens would remind expatriate Europeans of home.

Milton Park’s homely yet luxurious accommodation is restricted to 40 deluxe rooms and seven spacious suites, most suites boasting a spa bath.

It is easy to warm to the hotel’s décor, the open fire places, the full-sized snooker table and the tasteful furnishings, a mix of French provincial and antique.

Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa
Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa

Behind the wheel

Jeep Cherokee’s origins date back to 1978, although the Jeep has been around since the company designed a vehicle for World War II army duties. The 2011 version is the fourth incarnation of the Grand Cherokee. Under our bonnet was a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine with the grunt to climb steep hills and overtake effortlessly. Despite the muscle power, the engine is not as thirsty as we envisaged (11 litres per 100 kilometres) and the generous fuel tank (around 90L) allows for minimal calls to service stations.

Absorbing the rough stuff is not difficult, our Jeep’s “Quadra-lift” air suspension allowing the driver to adjust the suspension height to match off road conditions.

Despite Grand Cherokee’s lengthy list of features, it’s the small items that count, such as the rear camera for assisting with reverse parking and the rechargeable flashlight neatly packed in the rear compartment.

Fuelling the tank

Back on the road, and the drive along the Old Hume Highway takes us past imposing Mt Gibraltar into Mittagong. Food for the evening is at the, licensed Vin Santo Pizzeria and Ristorante, its homemade pizzas, pastas and meat dishes complemented by a blackboard of enticing specials, the wild barramundi a hot choice from chef and Peter Oakley.

Two doors away is Bella Cucina (which means “beautiful kitchen”), a BYO restaurant that prides itself on a menu of antipasti dishes, pasta and risotto. The penne pescatore (Moreton Bay bug, prawns and scallops in a pink creamy spicy sauce) is particularly delicious.

A five-minute drive away is Bowral with its string of cafes, restaurants, antique stores, stately homes and leafy paths. It is here that locals welcome spring with Tulip Time, the focal point being Corbett Gardens and a carpet of 100,000 flowering tulips and 25,000 equally colourful annuals.

Drive towards historic Berrima and a short detour will have you at Tertini Wines, and a quaint cellar door. The Arneis and Pinot Grigio as much a perfect match for the Italian cuisine as the Jeep at the entrance to Milton Park.

Southern Highlands, New South Wales

This article originally appeared in Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

Main image © Tourism Southern Highlands

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