There’s a hint of woodsmoke in the air as we drive into Robertson, winding carefully through bucolic hills. It’s one of those fine autumn afternoons, all beaming sun and light breeze, and the countryside, no doubt due to the recent rains, is as lush as ever. The town is small – just one little main road with a few cafes, a pub, some small boutiques and a couple of grocery stores – and pretty, like the rest of the NSW Southern Highlands.
Down a long driveway, thick with agapanthus that brush the car, Greengate Bed and Breakfast is set in an old, sprawling building that has been meticulously restored. Our room, one of just two on offer, is spacious, with large windows offering views into the garden and the fields below.
The downside to quaint accommodation is a demanding cash-only policy and rigidly early breakfast times; my late rising partner misses out entirely on the first day. I make it just in time and enjoy sourdough toast, croissants, eggs and bacon, though I question the decision to serve pork products in the town where they famously filmed Babe.
To get my partner some food, and myself a second coffee, we head to Native Grace nursery where the Bush Cafe food truck is doing a roaring trade in caffeine and steak sandwiches that we enjoy among the plants. The shop also sells a range of locally made sauces and marinades that we can’t resist.
We make a quick stop at the Big Potato, which looks, to my untrained eye, more like a large poo, but it holds a place in the heart of locals, who saved it from being turned into a carpark a few years ago.
At the Robertson Cheese Factory, we browse the range of local goodies and try a few cheeses, but are disappointed to find no actual factory. Still, my partner is taking the order to “buy from the bush” seriously, and he purchases some cheese made a town or two over.
We decide it’s midday somewhere and set a course for wine country, about a 25-minute drive away, ending up at Southern Highlands Winery. Upstairs is a chic restaurant and bar and, downstairs, where we enjoy a leisurely tasting, the cellar door looks out over rolling hills.
We’re headed for the next winery when my partner spots a sign for Berrima, where he spent time as a child, so we make the turn. A similar size to Robertson, Berrima has a long history that we learn about at the former courthouse museum. The self-guided tour includes a so-bad-it’s-good documentary, several terrifying mannequins lurking in dark corners and an impossibly ill-conceived re-enactment of a famous court case. We love the whole thing.
After stimulating the local economy by buying a large quantity of locally blended tea from a nearby shop, we get back on the road. We drive through Moss Vale – where children have actually set up an old-school lemonade stand on the side of the road – to Mount Ashby Estate. It came highly recommended, so we’re disappointed to find them completely booked out. On a lovely afternoon like this, their garden-side terrace looks like the perfect place for a glass of wine.
Never mind, some friends who live in town have invited us to join them at the Robertson Public House, so we head back for a few Highlander beers – which you can only get in Robertson – and live music out on the sunny balcony. Our friends declare that “real Robbo” has to be seen down at the bowlo, so we wander over to find that the first-grade cricket team has just won the local competition and all the beer taps are occupied filling the trophy cup – a worthy cause we think.
As evening falls, my partner and I walk up the hill and out of town a little way to the Robertson Hotel, which was named the most luxurious hotel in the Commonwealth in 1925. While faded, it has retained much of its old-world charm, sitting proudly in extensive gardens above town. We’ve booked dinner in the fine old dining room and, being one of just a few groups, get a large corner by a fireplace to ourselves. The food is simple but well executed, and the service is attentive and friendly.
The compact hotel bar is still open, so we get whiskies and take them to the huge, unoccupied sitting room, all leather couches and high ceilings, and spend the rest of the night wrapped in faux-fur blankets playing chess in front of the glowing fireplace.
On the highway out of town the next morning, we’re debating stopping for coffee and a heartier breakfast when we spot the famous Robertson Pie Shop – a second too late. My partner, never one to falter in his quest for a delicious snack, takes a sharp turn and the car ends up wedged gently in
a ditch. While we wait for the NRMA, we
get pies and coffees that we enjoy in the sun. They’re good, but probably not worth the two-hour delay. We won’t make the same mistake next time we’re in town.