In the glamourless year that’s been 2020, we’re all crying out for a little escapism – a flight of fancy, if you will. Which is why in this regular column we’re bringing you decadent and dazzling holiday stories from Australian jet-setters. Superyachts! Private planes! Caviar on speed dial! All without leaving the country. In our first instalment, Billy Mitchell recalls his extravagant recent birthday at one of Sydney’s most luxurious holiday homes…
I have an obsession with pools. I don’t know what it is, but every holiday I’ve ever planned has been decided based on how chic the poolside set-up is, whether it’s Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in Antibes – Slim Aarons’ favourite haunt; the Beverly Hills Hotel – a regular of 90210 icons; the Grand Hotel Tremezzo floating on Lake Como; or even locally at Sydney’s Park Hyatt. It may stem from my obsession with David Hockney’s iconic pool paintings, or perhaps my adoration for cinema in which the pool is the centrepoint for romance and mystery (if you haven’t seen Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in La Piscine or 2015’s A Bigger Splash … drop everything and inspire yourself immediately).
When COVID-19 hit and steamrolled any hope of a European getaway this year, and I had to bid farewell to my Lake Como wedding followed by a 30th/partymoon in Mykonos, the panic set in… Where was I going to lay in the dry European sun and have glasses of crisp, light rosé delivered to my hand on cue? The answer became clear; I had to bring those vibes to Sydney. I searched high and low for the perfect staycation that would offer a hint of Europe, without feeling contrived. I wanted a house that would sleep a large group, with enough space that my friends could choose their own adventure – whether slipping off to a nook to take in the salty sea breeze, or to soak in a bath tub while listening to seagulls chirp – but that also boasted a casual dining space (reminiscent of Scorpios Mykonos dayclub, no less) where we could all come together to feast, laugh and dance, punctuated by dips in the water.
With the help of my dear friends at Contemporary Hotels, I discovered the beast that is Gaelforce, an impeccably styled luxury villa that steps down to Pittwater over four levels of pure Eden. The estate, recently featured in Vogue Living, is the perfect blend of Palm Beach and Italian design. The pièce de résistance is inarguably the large pool and alfresco area; think a Lake Como-style floating pool with an outdoor entertaining space that gives little nudges of Le Club 55 in St. Tropez. It is, and I repeat, is the most sublime property available for rent in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
I took the liberty of booking Gaelforce in all its glory for a 3-day weekend in late August with my partner, Michael, along with 12 of our closest friends who also felt the wrath of cancelled overseas trips. Being my 30th, Michael and I quickly jumped to stay in the sumptuous and secluded Tree House Suite, but to be honest every bedroom in the not-so-humble abode would rival Sydney’s top hotels in terms of comfort and suite size.
The first stop on the trip was wisely the Palm Beach General Store, a hidden gem serving up fresh bread, produce and an expansive selection of blush-coloured French rosé (conveniently in magnum sizes). Despite being the end of August, we were blessed with weather that was warm enough to laze poolside, but also with a slight crispness to the air. After a quick bite at a local cafe just a stone’s throw from the General Store, we filled up the car with baguettes, cheese, fresh fruit and veg (a crudité platter is a non-negotiable) and set up for a day by the pool. I cannot stress enough that the playlist needs to be perfect – so we started with Niki De Saint’s Amalfi Aperitvo, which can be streamed via Soundcloud, before progressing into the Scorpios Mykonos playlist on Spotify.
After a solid few hours basking in the sun and sipping French wine, we had an early dinner (which we cooked collectively: bistecca, charred greens, fresh prawns, Caprese and potatoes roasted in duck fat). Rest was imminent as my 30th was just a sleep away.
That Saturday, the sun was shining down on us, so we took to the busy Lighthouse Walk to sweat out some of our sins from the night prior. It’s a must-do when staying in Palm Beach. In addition, the walk conveniently collides with the doorstep of The Boathouse, another Northern Beaches icon that’s not only an unbeatable breakfast spot, but also does catering. I picked up the menu for the day’s poolside lunch and we set back to the villa to commence festivities under the St. Tropez-style outdoor dining cabana. The convenience of The Boathouse & the Corner Store all within a short drive made the day roll on flawlessly as we swam, ate, drank and danced until the sky turned an unforgettable burnt orange. Picking at leftovers, laughing and indulging the day away.
Whilst the journey to Sydney’s Northern Beaches may only be between 45 minutes and an hour (or if you really want to expedite your arrival, it’s only a hop, skip and seaplane away), it really is otherworldly when done right. It might not be Europe, but it has its own romance, which sets it apart from the glory of the Côte D’Azur or Aegean Coast. In a way, its laid-back attitude is its own form of luxury. So whilst an overseas trip will most probably be off the cards for 2021, Gaelforce will definitely be an annualised affair… I’m not sure how I will up the ante (perhaps a poolside waiter?) but I’ll happily accept the challenge!
My life in travel
Favourite Australian holiday memory
“My partner Michael proposed to me at my favourite beach in Australia – the Basin on Rottnest Island – two years ago on Christmas Eve. He dropped on one knee at sunrise after a morning dip in the fresh, clear waters. It was a holiday I’ll never forget.”
Australian bucket list destination
“I am DYING to stay at Dovecote on the south coast of NSW, which I will very fortunately be doing in 2021.”
My spirit destination
“In my dreams it’s hotel Epi 1959 in St. Tropez, but also a little bit of Lohan Beach Club in Rhodes, Mykonos… which much to my despair has closed indefinitely. RIP.”