Bells at Killcare takes the best of country, coastal and city chic to make a boutique bouillabaisse which is part hotel, part chef's-hatted-restaurant, part private retreat. New Mediterranean heartiness is dished out in the kitchen, while classic Australia awaits on the surf beaches and walking trails of the surrounding Bouddi National Park, just 90 minutes north of Sydney.
Double rooms from £304.10 (AU$527), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include a full cooked breakfast; dinner packages are also available. A surcharge must be paid on departure for all credit-card payments.
Don't go home before setting off on a bush walk to Bouddi National Park.
At the hotel
Day spa, gardens, free WiFi throughout, library. In rooms: iPod dock, flatscreen TV.
Our favourite rooms
All Bells’ boudoirs are set away from the Main House amid 20 acres of pretty English-style gardens, secluded from the gastronomic bustle of the restaurant. For maximum privacy, a super-deep free-standing bath tub and a lake-surveying balcony, opt for a Lakeview Villa.
The shimmering turquoise swimming pool is flanked by sun-loungers, umbrellas and a self-service pool bar.
Marcos-loads of shoes: loafers for lunch, flipflops for the beach, walking shoes for the National Park trails.
Attend one of the hotel's monthly wine dinners; or visit the in-house Bakery and Larder to grab a picnic for a day out in the National Park.
Bells’ accommodation is best for grown-ups, but kids over 13 are welcome.
Food waste is recycled for the 50 chickens that call Bells home; there's an organic kitchen garden that services the restaurant and tank water is used outside.
Pick a table on the veranda, but any of the windowside tables for two will do if it’s too hot or cold to be outside (number 23 is lovely).
TM Lewin shirts and RM Williams moleskins for lunch; a pair of stretch pants for afterwards.
The Wild Flower Bar & Dining is at the heart of the hotel, celebrating the natural majesty of Bouddi National Park and the local waterways. It's helmed by Yorkshire-born chef Sean Connolly, who's behind restaurants in Australia, New Zealand and the UAE. Supported by his right-hand man Tony Gibson, he’s brought a mod-Mediterranean lean to the menu, which pairs perfectly with the hotel’s coastal setting. Some of the ingredients come from the hotel’s 500 square-metre kitchen garden, bee hives and free-range hens. The cooking is precise but simple, letting the quality of the produce shine through. Trolley service and table-side cooking bring a sense of theatre to the newly-refurbished dining room – order the salt-crusted fish, for example, and it’ll be cracked and prepared right in front of you. The food is supported by an equally-strong wine list with a judicious selection of local and Italian labels.
As well as a super-extensive Italian wine list, Bells serves many of the best regional Australian wines. The glass-walled, temperature-controlled wine cellar is a key feature of the restaurant area, but quaff the stuff in the Chesterfielded bar or more comfy, literature-lined library, where a replica First Fleet rigger takes pride of place. Suitably, Bellinis are the house cocktail.
The restaurant opens or dinner from 5pm Monday to Sunday. Lunch is served from noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The bar is open from 4pm every day.
Located on the Bouddi Peninsula on the New South Wales’ Central Coast, Bells at Killcare is a 90-minute drive north of Sydney.
Sydney Airport (www.sydneyairport.com.au) is serviced by an array of international and domestic carriers. From there, it’s a scenic 100-kilometre drive to Bells at Killcare.
Woy Woy Station is 10 minutes away from Bells and is serviced by City Rail (www.sydneytrains.info). From Central Station in the city centre, take the North Shore and Western Line. The journey takes approximately 70 minutes on the express train or 90 minutes stopping at all stations en route. From Woy Woy, catch a taxi from the rank at the front of the station to Killcare Heights. The drive takes about 20 minutes.
You can get a taxi to Bells or hire a car at Sydney Airport. The Central Coast is about 100 kilometres north of Sydney. Take the Pacific Highway and exit at Gosford.
The FantaSea Palm Beach Ferry Service (www.palmbeachferry.com.au; +61 (0)2 9974 2411) operates daily. The ferry departs from Palm Beach and stops at Wagstaff where passengers bound for Bells must alight. Bells offers a complimentary transfer from the Wagstaff wharf, however this service needs to be pre-booked.
It is also possible to get to Bells by sea plane. Sea Planes Sydney (www.seaplanes.com.au; 1300 732 752) charter flights from Rose Bay to Booker Bay. The 30-minute flight provides a bird’s eye view of the stunning Northern Beaches north of Sydney and once you have made your water landing a boat will be waiting to take you to Killcare Wharf. Here you will be met by a driver for the 15-minute drive to Bells.
Worth getting out of bed for
To justify further gourmet indulgence, fossick around Bouddi National Park or any of the nine local beaches. Bushwalking maps are provided and tasty picnic hampers, backpacks and guides can be arranged. The more adventurous can swim or surf at Killcare Beach, charter a yacht or go whale watching. Talking of adventure, for an arrival to remember, take to the skies with Sea Planes Sydney (www.seaplanes.com.au; 1300 732 752), who charter flights from Rose Bay to Booker Bay. The 30-minute flight provides a bird’s eye view of the stunning Northern Beaches north of Sydney; once you have made your water landing, a boat will be waiting to take you to Killcare Wharf.
New York City-transplant TheLucky Bee, in Hardys Bay, has lovely views over the marina, a Southeast Asian menu designed to share and chic clientele – try the bao buns or the spicy fish of the day. Nearby Hardys Bistrois always buzzing, thanks to its dockside perch, deliciousburgers, and local seafood.
Large white capital letters jutting from the blue wall of the reception area at Bells at Killcare grab you on arrival and command: ‘RELAX, UNWIND, ENJOY.’ It leaves you in no doubt as to what’s expected of guests here. There’s nothing Mr Smith and I can do but step up to the mark.
It’s not a tough job, of course. There’s the place itself, with graceful central manor house and English country estate-style gardens. We’re led to our room, a king suite, although ‘suite’ is a rather misleading term. It’s more a diminutive cottage with a spacious living and bedroom area, an iron fireplace resting on exposed brickwork, a fully equipped kitchen and an enormous bathroom with an oversized spa bath. The decor – which features a crisp mix of nautical blues, whites and beiges alongside elegant antique furniture, chic rattan and sumptuously comforting fabrics and cushions – adds to the bliss.
Mr Smith and I head directly to the big veranda with a cafetière of rich coffee, and within a few moments are already getting stuck into the wall instructions that greeted us on check-in.
It doesn’t take long for our thoughts to shift to dinner because, first and foremost, this destination is renowned mostly for what it serves on a plate. With Dean Jones, an acclaimed chef at the helm, the award-winning restaurant here has made this quiet spot on the Central Coast a point of pilgrimage for foodies. His menu is a robust take on Italian cooking, backed with considered flavouring and a strong emphasis on local and organic produce.
And then there’s the wine. Owners Brian and Karina Barry have long been names in the nearby Hunter Valley wine industry and have brought their expertise to an extensive and encyclopedic wine list that offers the best from Italian and local vineyards, with staff only too happy to talk you through the choices.
Decision-making over dinner itself isn’t too troubling. It’s a simple menu that lets the ingredients speak for themselves and inspires snap ‘I want that!’ decisions. There’s an antipasto of meats and oysters, but Mr Smith and I get straight into the primo courses: crisp pork cheek with mushroom ragu and sweetly buttery spinach and ricotta gnocchi. For secondi we try the grass-fed beef rump and roast rabbit with veal sweetbreads – both are boldly flavoured, hearty portions.
But it’s not all about gorging yourself silly or sitting on your behind at Bells we discover – there’s plenty to do. The picture-perfect setting of Hardys Bay, a typical Australian coastal village complete with fish and chip shop, is just a few minutes down the road. The sweeping views here treat us to an eyeful of the many small islands, bays and waterways that weave around this part of the coast out to Ettalong Beach and Daleys Point. On the other side of the peninsula is Killcare Beach, a big open crescent marked only with a surf club at one end. We walk across the peachy-coloured sand and enjoy the pounding of the waves. As Killcare is nestled on the edge of Bouddi National Park the lure of bushwalks also offsets any conscience about indulging in the chef's dishes and the Barrys’ wine selections. We spend a couple of hours traipsing the six-kilometre Maitland Bay Circuit, one of the many walks suggested on a map given to us on check-in and dotted with beautiful views.
Calories burned, back at Bells we settle down on the Manor House terrace, overlooking the grounds with a couple of sundowners, enjoying the dying daylight, peacefully huddled among the fat navy-and-white cushions on the lounge. Marita, one of the many friendly and attentive staff members here, has come to see if she can bring us anything. She tells us that this small haven gets many visitors from all over the world and lots of weekenders from the city. ‘It’s only a short drive from Sydney,’ she says, ‘but you could be anywhere.’ She’s absolutely right. Although Bells is firmly planted in the middle of some of the Central Coast’s best beaches and bays, it’s rather unique as a coastal resort in that you can’t actually spy the water. The sea is just a few minutes’ drive away and the nautical decor throughout doesn’t let you forget your coordinates, but the leafy privacy afforded here also makes it a country retreat that is truly about getting away from it all. ‘We’re anywhere and nowhere at the same time,’ sighs Mr Smith, ‘and it feels heavenly.’
With the flush still in our cheeks from all that salt-air-kissed strolling, we head to the inviting embrace of the main dining room. The blue-striped walls (another fitting seaside touch) and larger-than-life mirrors are especially seductive when teamed with chic chandeliers and flickering tealights. Pre-dinner drinks are soon in our clutches, and we flop into the large Chesterfield sofas in the cosy bar, olives and crumbly caper-and-parmesan biscuits to hand. Home-made simple-but-delectable bread is our next treat, along with an olive oil that’s so deliciously light and flavoursome I’m tempted to drink it. As romantic as the setting is, it’s the menu of two courses and a glass of wine, served as a special offer on Tuesday nights, which has us enraptured. Salt cod soup gets both votes as does roast pork belly with savoy cabbage and chestnuts. Hey, it may be corny, but when our waiter, Hayden, brings our dishes, it’s the line he delivers with them that captures our sentiments about Bells at Killcare in a nutshell. ‘Enjoy!’ he smiles.