A weekend away in a location only a couple of hours from home is not something we do often – it’s usually a long drive or flight (of varying lengths) to get to our retreat. But discerning friends had recommended Bishop’s Court Estate in Bathurst as a “must stay”, so we thought we would pop along one Friday afternoon after work for a 2 night visit with Christine and David and the Burmese cats, Chocolat and Latte. And that is exactly what it feels like when staying at Bishops Court – that you are visiting with friends…only their “spare rooms” are huge and their furnishings are bold and plush and exquisitely tasteful…and the food!!…But I get ahead of myself.
Bishop’s Court was once the privately owned home of Bishop Samuel Marsden (grandson of THAT Marsden – “the flogging parson,” the nasty one who never actually served in Bathurst). It is located on a hill with spectacular views of the city on what was once a property of sweeping paddocks, but is now of smaller scale, on grounds still spacious with well-manicured and picturesque gardens.
Christine and David have worked tirelessly to transform the once neglected manse into the unique and luxurious boutique B&B that is Bishop’s Court today. Each piece of furniture, painting, objet d’art, cushion and throw have been personally selected by owner, Christine (who was the interior designer of the iconic Longitude 131 at Uluru), and her taste is faultless. She embraces the history of the building with her fine sense of composition and modern taste in a cohesive design concept that simultaneously gives the impression of intimate comfort and lush opulence, all while staying with friends.
There are five bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs. Due to the heritage listing of the building, only one of the bedrooms has an en suite, but all the rest have private bathrooms – you just need to don the plush robe supplied to pad down the hall to your luxurious bathroom. We stayed in the impressive Bishop’s room – warm furnishings, dark wood and an occasional accent of cardinal red. Our private entrance to the second story wrap around balcony was a delightful surprise. The wide space allowed room for lounges, chairs and coffee table, as well as Christine’s touches of figurines and other striking artistic statements – the perfect spot to curl up with a book. There was even a range of furry throw rugs for when the temperature dropped. The weather provided us with gothic-novel mist for both of our mornings, but when clear, the views of the garden assisted with the fantasy of living as landed gentry.
The heart of this magnificent old home is the large and welcoming kitchen. This is where Christine, who is not just a renowned interior designer but is also an exceptional chef, creates her masterpieces. A four-course dinner and wine package is not to be missed when visiting. Our host catered beautifully to the various food requirements of the guests, providing equally delicious options for vegetarians, carnivores and allergy sufferers alike. Christine’s cooking, as well as the luxurious location, is why so many people choose Bishop’s Court as their “go to” place for special celebrations. The chapel, which is attached to the main house, has been meticulously restored and accommodates a gigantic medieval banquet table for 22 people (but up to 40 people can be accommodated for events). Understandably, this is a much sought after venue, and I recommend booking well in advance to lock in the date for you special occasion.
Without any other guests checked in on our Friday night, it was lovely having the house to ourselves. The evening began with David opening some sparkling wine – a Mayfield Pinot Noir Chardonnay – before moving on to a very fine bottle of pinot noir from Cook’s Lot Winery (both wines are from the Orange region). The comfortable sitting room with its open fireplace provided the perfect atmosphere to relax before dinner. We vacillated between staying in while our hosts cooked or hitting one of the local culinary hot spots for dinner with all of us having a “night off.” The vote was unanimous – a night off, so we piled into the car and went to 9inety2wo, one of the many outstanding places to eat in Bathurst; fine dining without exorbitant prices. Our vegetarian status did not phase our wait staff or chef at ‘92’ (as is sometimes the case in Bathurst), and we were treated to an absolutely delicious hand made sweet potato ravioli followed by a blue cheese soufflé. Brett (owner, manager, head chef, and on this night, maître d’) brought us a lovely viognier that worked beautifully with the wide variety of dishes ordered at the table. We left Restaurant 92 sated and very impressed with the local talent, produce and service. Not a bad start to the weekend at all!
Our one full day in Bathurst began with a walking tour of the historic buildings of the town, some art galleries, pastries at Le Gall’s Patisserie, window shopping at the various boutique stores, and then a short drive out of town. We began at Vale Creek Winery, where Liz and Tony gave us a tour of the wine-making facilities, and we indulged in some tastings. This winery specialises in Italian varietals, and we left with a nice range, including Barbera, Dolcetto and Sangiovese. Happy shoppers, indeed.
We then swung by Stone Pine Distillery. As it was near closing time, we rang ahead to let Ian know that we were coming, and he was happy to stay open a little longer for us. Before this visit, I had no idea that there was a distillery in the region. And their range was surprising. While whiskey is not a feature at Stone Pine, they do have gin, rum, vodka and grappa. My personal favourites were the white spirits made with the indigenous finger limes – the vodka and finger-lime-cello were a hit! Another successful shopping venture completed.
Our second night at Bishop’s Court was shared with a variety of pairs and solos, guests who had all visited before. Dinner was incredibly tasty and perfectly portioned, and Christine catered to all the dietary requirements with flair and inventiveness. My particular favourite was the spicy Moroccan vegetables and couscous, with the cream of cauliflower and truffle soup a close second…although it really was hard to choose! It was a delightful evening chatting with other guests, sharing stories and basking in the hospitality of our hosts. Breakfast was a similar affair in terms of fine dining presentation and well-matched flavours. After our buffet selections of cereals and homemade preserves were finished, we placed our orders for our breakfast mains and whatever we fancied was catered for. My particular favourite was the courgette stuffed mushrooms with pinenuts and shaved almonds. Delicious!
Leaving on Sunday morning was difficult. And the fact that all other guests this weekend were ‘repeat custom’ meant they obviously felt the same. Christine and David provide such a special experience at Bishop’s Court. The sense of complete pampering, courtesy of the luxurious environment and expert service, is balanced with the comfortable sense of the familiar, achieved through their sincere and friendly hospitality. It is easy to see why visiting titled gentry from the ‘motherland’ were eager to extend to their stay – 5 star service without the pretension – a perfect and surprisingly difficult to achieve balance. Well, Christine, David and staff make it all look ‘too easy.’ I can’t wait for my next visit.
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