Australia has a dominant beach culture and that is many people’s destination for Christmas holidays or weekends away, but they also head for the hills and mountains. Our nation’s rugged alpine bushland is another world of silvery gum trees, towering pines, rivers, rocky outcrops, a sky free of light pollution and dimpled with stars. And then there’s the big country hospitality.
My daughter Francesca and I recently stayed at Turon Gates, a 7000-acre property about three hours west of Sydney, beyond the Blue Mountains, where horseback was the preferred mode of transport and a wood stove heated our comfy cabin at night. Because the cabins are run on solar power, and mobile phone reception is dodgy, it was a weekend of no gadgets.
Visitors camp by the river or stay in riverside cabins. Ours was on a hilltop with a knockout view. As we drove up, kangaroos bounded across the road in front of us. A bottle of wine, duck pate, olives and other nibbles had been thoughtfully provided. Otherwise you’re recommended to take your own food, although the owners will cook for you, if you’re lucky!
We went horseriding along a riverbed, the horses ploughing through the water and then winding up through rocky hillsides. The loudest noise was the the clip clop of the horses’ hooves. At the end of the ride we went back to have lunch with our hosts, Sonya and Soren Lunoe, who can talk as well as they cook. Soren also makes his own wine, which runs as freely as the river winding its way through the property. Ah yes, this was me trying to get over the fence to take a shortcut to the house.
Soren used to be Sydney’s top chef many years ago before he decided he’d had enough of the rat race and bought this out of the way place. But he still loves to cook. He made the duck pate and then grilled duck breast, while Sonya rustled up a salad of greens, peas and fresh mint.
And of course Soren uncorked a couple of bottles of his Turon Gates wine. The wines are made from premium handpicked grapes, basket pressed and aged for 12 months in French Oak Casks, hand bottled, waxed and labelled right here on the property.
While Sonya and Soren expect visitors to fish, bushwalk, horseride, kayak and generally get some exercise, they’re often amazed at the number of people who just come up here – and sleep.
“It’s city people who are just tired out and want to wind down, and that’s what they do – sleep really well,” said Sonya. Meanwhile, this is Soren (below) giving Francesca advice on life, the universe and everything.
Sonya’s parents were Lebanese immigrants, so desserts and sweets are a forte of her cooking repertoire. We went back to Sydney with with a boot full of wine and rather a lot of this gorgeous cake flavoured with orange and topped with toasted pinenuts. It’s Sonya’s version of what she says is a light dessert!
Turon Gates Turon Gates is about a three-hour drive from the Sydney CBD. Take the M4 Freeway (through Penrith and Katoomba) or M2/M7 Motorway (exit Richmond Road and turn right) to Lithgow. Drive through/past Lithgow and follow the signs to Mudgee until you come to a small village called Capertee (about 25 mins from Lithgow). Continue through Capertee for about 1.5 km and you will see a sign for Turon Gates on the left. It’s 4-6 km to the mountain cottages (depending which one you’re staying in) and 12 km to the river cottages – follow the signs and cattle grids.
Call: 02 9969 3818
It’s very popular during school holidays, but otherwise weekends and especially weekdays are blissfully peaceful. Pets are welcome. Oh, and the wine is for sale. The rose is $A14 a bottle, with red wines up to $A20. Highly recommended.