Many of the touches are pandemic-appropriate. Contactless check-in was always the plan, but it works perfectly for these times. Before arriving, guests receive a text message with a door code. The kitchen is stocked with breakfast goodies – pastries, bread, fruit, fresh eggs and locally made yoghurt and butter – because, under COVID-19 restrictions, not every guest can be seated in the poolside restaurant for breakfast if the villas are full. It’s rather nice to just wander around your villa in the morning and boil an egg to have on the deck with a freshly brewed coffee.
There are the usual niceties, of course, each with a nod to the region. The fridge (no motel minibar here) is stacked with wine from Cupitt’s, about an hour down the road between Milton and Mollymook, and Coolangatta Estate, a touch closer. Welcome lollies are from The Treat Factory in Berry, just a few minutes’ drive away.
A lot of people just come for the beach, which is lovely, but there’s much more to it than that.
— Michelle Bishop, Bangalay Luxury Villas
“We want to celebrate where we are, in the Seven Mile Beach National Park,” says Michelle. “A lot of people thought this site couldn’t work. They thought Shoalhaven is not where you come to spend money. There was this idea that people from Sydney wanted to go to Berry or Gerroa or Mollymook, not here. And we thought, ‘Well, that’s probably only because they haven’t been invited yet.’”
The hotel offers horse rides on the beach, in-room spa treatments from local providers and winery visits. “Berry Taxis didn’t exist when we first opened,” says Michelle. “Now they have five cabs. That is testament to the fact people want to come and explore.”
Soon, she says, the area will have even more going for it, with the soft opening late this year of Bundanon Reimagined, a new art gallery at the former home of Arthur Boyd, just half an hour from Bangalay. Michelle is on the board of the Bundanon Trust and does a fine job of marketing the new gallery, promising it will be “the MONA of the mainland”.
For Michelle, Bangalay is just the starting point for guests to her home region.
“The South Coast has so much to offer. Come to us and do the beach horse riding, go to Jervis Bay and see the humpback whales, swim with the seals at Montague Island … You can do a creative or arts trail, looping up and around to Canberra. A lot of people just come for the beach, which is lovely, but there’s much more to it than that. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a vast, rich destination.”
Australia? You’re standing in it. The resort’s restaurant, Bangalay Dining, began life with a degustation menu starring native Australian ingredients. “It was great, but having a tasting menu meant guests would eat here only once,” says owner Michelle Bishop, who switched the kitchen to a more relaxed and flexible menu in November.
Her timing was perfect. Wollongong chefs Simon Evans and Thom Chiumento had recently closed their acclaimed Caveau restaurant and wanted a new challenge. They now act as hands-on executive chefs and Ronnie Gorman from Sydney’s fish-focused Saint Peter brings some big-city smarts to the role of restaurant manager.
Evans’ deep working knowledge of Australia’s flora and fauna enlivens the quietly confident, accomplished cooking and gives Bangalay Dining a real sense of place. Coastal succulents such as sea blite are hand-picked from Seven Mile Beach to add salty crunch to a stand-out dish of kangaroo, sharp with muntries (cranberry-like native berries) and toasty with hazelnuts. Anise myrtle scents a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, and native herb butter melts over char-grilled Moreton bay bugs.
The restaurant sits by the in-ground pool at the beach end of the long conga line of villas, connected by a timber boardwalk that seemingly floats above the lush growth of the garden. Floor-to-ceiling glass floods the square room with light, and even when full – tables are in demand from guests and the public alike – it feels buzzy but relaxed.
“Making it easy for the guest to come back time and again is key,” says Michelle.
Sipping an all-Australian negroni on the sunny deck as yellow-tailed black cockatoos fly overhead, it’s looking pretty easy. – Jill Dupleix
NEED TO KNOW
Bangalay Luxury Villas 30 Staples Street, Shoalhaven Heads, NSW. Tel: (02) 4448 7729. Rates from $399 a night for one-bedroom; $900 for two-bedrooms.
The writers were guests of Bangalay Luxury Villas.
Around the South Coast
Bannisters by the Sea may have been around since 2002, but it still leads the South Coast in luxury hospitality. Set up camp in the Collette Dinnigan-designed penthouse, visit the day spa for a calming facial or massage and bring your book to the pool for afternoon cocktails as the sun sets over the ocean; you might even spot a whale.
Ensure you make time for dinner at Rick Stein’s famed on-site restaurant. It’s indulgent, old-school and totally worth the visit. If the weather’s cold, try the fish pie. For warmer months, the whole fish with Asian dressing is a must. From $399 a room per night.
The newly reopened Milton Hotel offers a pub lunch with a difference. Let the kids loose in the outdoor playground while you enjoy a pint of the house brew, Dangerous Ales (the cappuccino stout is excellent), or a glass from the wine menu, which has a distinctly local bent. As for the ever-changing food offerings, there are no fish and chips or chicken parmy here. The menu is more refined. Try perfectly seared steak with spinach and horseradish, or crisp shards of tofu dressed with mirin and soy. Afterwards, head over the road for dessert: Woodstock Chocolate Co serves gelato from Kiama’s The Pines dairy and also has plenty of treats for your trip home. The Turkish figs dipped in Callebaut milk chocolate are an excellent post-dinner snack.
Gird your credit card; shopping in Berry is a wild ride. Fortify yourself with a cooked-to-order doughnut at the Berry Donut Van, then head to Moss Nest for a beautifully curated range of Australian and international clothing (POL, Alembika, Assembly Label). Up the road is Amara Home, where you will find interiors, clothing and accessories from the likes of Anine Bing, Lucy Folk and J Brand. Around the corner you’ll find Long Weekend Store, which specialises in luxury consignments, and Wax Lyrical, a charmingly petite bookstore with a carefully selected offering of recent releases.
Lauren Sams was a guest of Bannisters by the Sea.