Following the glamourless year that was 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 this instalment, Billy Mitchell takes us on a trip to Australia’s 2019 House of the Year, Dovecote, on the NSW South Coast.
If you’re a fan of Elisabeth Moss from The Handmaid’s Tale, you may have seen her epic film The Invisible Man, an intense sci-fi thriller set in San Francisco. But what you might not know is that it was filmed in NSW’s (no longer) greatest secret – Gerringong. And a significant portion of the filming took place at Dovecote, the ultra-modern cliffside residence that’s become one of the most enviable holiday rentals in the country, if not the southern hemisphere. The architectural retreat, which is tucked into undulating green mountains that meet the ocean at an abrasively stark coastline, was also named HIA’s 2019 Australian House of the Year. And it’s been on my bucket list of NSW holiday destinations ever since.
The secluded 60-hectare block comprises two properties – The Headland, a four-bedroom masterpiece that exudes Bond Villain compound vibes, and The Range, a modern Scandinavian-style farmhouse perfect for a romantic couple’s getaway. Both offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and are located with enough distance between them to ensure you feel like you’re the only ones living in a post-apocalyptic world.
When our dear friend Christian (if you’re ever seeking a mortgage broker I cannot recommend Shore Financial enough) and his divine fiancé Nikolina offered up an invitation to spend the weekend with them at The Headland, I knew it would be a weekend for the ages.
If you haven’t spent much time in the Kiama/Gerringong region, it’s defined by contrasting landscapes; in some ways it reminds me of a ye-olde fishing town somewhere in the UK, but the rolling paddocks that greet the rough and rocky coastline are so uniquely Australian. It’s no wonder the area has become prime real estate for impressive architectural retreats, often available for rent via Airbnb Luxe and our friends at Contemporary Hotels. The region is only a lazy two hours from the Sydney CBD – making for an easy weekend trip – and whilst the towns are quaint, my advice is to make the absolute most of your accommodation and try not to leave… very much our approach going into Dovecote.
We began our unforgettable weekend with a pit stop at the surprisingly well-stocked IGA in the township of Gerringong, about five minutes from Dovecote, to collect fresh and local produce before approaching the estate. As you enter the chic gates and traverse the long driveway towards the property, you’re welcomed by horses and cows that roam free in the fresh, salty air, before meeting what looks like a somewhat understated beach house. But this judgement is shattered as soon as you enter the otherworldly residence.
Designed by Atelier Andy Carson, the oceanfront property offers 180-degree views over the Pacific Ocean. But rather than featuring floor-to-ceiling glass, carefully considered framing provides breathtaking glimpses of the surrounds, with each room serving up a different view to the next – whether of the rumbling ocean or the lush, rolling hills. Even the glass pool, which is perched at the back of the property, has a clear view through the house and straight out to the Pacific Ocean.
Our Friday consisted of finishing off some work by the fireplace with a glass of local Pinot and some light jazz, while simultaneously watching a storm roll in from the horizon (more entertainment than a movie or television could ever offer). An early night and light dinner was the perfect way to wind down before a feast fit for Silvio Berlusconi at one of his wild dinner parties the next day.
Christian had generously organised Chef Orazio (of Matteo Sydney), his head chef and another charming Italian to prepare our Saturday lunch at the property. The boys cooked up some of Matteo’s most iconic dishes on-site; private parties are a new offering from the Matteo clan and something I cannot recommend enough. From the fresh handmade pasta served with succulent lobster to the iconic Vodka rigatoni that temporarily took over my Instagram feed, and the Wagyu beef cooked to absolute perfection, every dish of the five courses was infallible. Arguably, perhaps, it was the balance of the light fluffiness and densely caffeinated tiramisu that could have been the piece de resistance in the menu, made even more unforgettable when served to us poolside in the sun. We enjoyed each bite of the opulent feast with sips of Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay picked up on a recent trip to Margaret River (my next sojourn in this series).
I enjoy nothing more than a food-induced comatose by a pool with a crisp Chardonnay, which is exactly how we spent the rest of the afternoon soaking in the dappled light from the clouds passing by. Orazio and his team kindly popped any leftovers in containers. We finished off the day by watching The Invisible Man in the TV room, picking at the generous leftover tiramisu.
Sunday morning, as expected, was a little on the dusty side of life so the cure was inevitably a dip in the ocean, only a short stroll from the property. We made our way down to the isolated Werri Beach (with private access, no less) before a breakfast cook-up in the industrial-sized kitchen. After that I indulged in a long Le Labo-infused shower (you know you’re onto a winner when a property uses Le Labo for their toiletries, and no it was not Santal 33!). The rest of Sunday was spent fireside listening to music, reading and indulging in the never-ending leftovers from the previous day. Leaving the property was something I had not mentally prepared for, so we made our way to the famous Kiama blowhole to lap up the local hotspot before cruising back up the coastline and home. Until next time.
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.”
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.”