On a high in the Southern Highlands
The Solar Springs experience begins with the scenic drive to Bundanoon, a lovely Southern Highlands village roughly equidistant from Canberra and Sydney. Our one-and-a-half-hour run took us south down the F5 Freeway, turning off at Mittagong and passing through the pleasant towns and villages of Bowral, Moss Vale, Sutton Forest and Exeter, then on to Bundanoon.
As it was a new moon, our yoga instructor led a restorative session which, though it was still a thorough workout, left us feeling blissful.
As we crawled through Bowral’s township, my friend and I were sorely tempted to stop at some of the many interesting-looking clothing and homewares stores or refuel at one of the inviting cafes. Remembering Solar Springs’ standard invitation to arrive in time for lunch, even though check-in isn’t until 2.30pm, we pushed on.
The first thing to impress on arrival is the stunning gardens with their combination of cottagey profusion and elegant, clipped formality. Mind you, these gardens have had many years to become so established: the place has been operating as a wellbeing retreat for around 30 years and before that as a guesthouse dating back to the 1920s, when there were as many as 50 guesthouses in this tiny village. The well-worn but comfortable buildings carry their vintage with quiet dignity.
As soon as we were settled in our rooms, mine with a lovely view over Morton National Park and my friend’s overlooking the gorgeous front Garden, we joined the other guests for lunch: a perfectly cooked, flavoursome pumpkin risotto with a delicate lemony flavour, along with big bowls of fresh salads of crisp greens and divine-tasting tomatoes. There was also sensational sourdough bread, which the chef makes on-site; but only on Fridays, we were told.
On that first afternoon, we elected to stroll around the six acres of grounds and then down to Bundanoon village, before relaxing in one of the comfy lounges until dinner.
Later, while my friend had a facial, I had the best pedicure of my life.
Solar Springs is not the only wellness retreat that offers wine with evening meals, but it was nevertheless a pleasant surprise to accompany a delicious three-course meal featuring fish for main. Vegetarians, vegans and anyone on special diets are also very well catered for.
Knowing that the one thing missing from the otherwise exceptional food and drink offerings was espresso coffee (brewed was available), we followed our retreat buffet breakfast on Saturday with a coffee down in the village, where we found a truly amazing quilting and embroidery show in progress. Not quite our thing, but we couldn’t walk past it.
Unlike some other health retreats that seem cloistered away from their local communities, Solar Springs is very much a part of the life of Bundanoon. Only a gentle walk from the shops and cafes, some of its facilities are open to locals. In fact, the two friends we planned to see while we were there have a membership to use the gym and indoor pool. They also dine at the retreat’s restaurant sometimes — a great compliment given that one is a very talented pastry chef at a local cafe.
There’s a great range of activities and treatments on offer, but you can opt in or out of any of it. Don’t worry, you’ll be applauded whichever way you go — vertical and energetic or horizontal and calm.
Our weekend packages included a massage and one other treatment each. Electing Swedish at the same time on the Saturday, we had different masseuses, both top-notch. Later, while my friend had a facial, I had the best pedicure of my life. The day was topped off when our Bundanoon friends joined us there for a delicious three-course dinner.
Spa treatments include massage therapies, beauty treatments and body hands and feet therapies
The 75-minute Sunday-morning yoga class was a standout, too. As it was a new moon, our instructor led a restorative session which, though it was still a thorough workout, left us feeling blissful. Then we had to make the difficult choice between staying for Sunday lunch or leaving early enough for shopping time on the way home. (The shops won by a whisker.)
With all the charms of its picturesque location in a region renowned for its cultivated Beauty, a good range of activities and treatments by highly trained therapists, fantastic food and a scenic drive to get you there, friendly, relaxed Solar Springs is yet more than the sum of its parts.
If you prefer not to drive, by the way, you can be met at the quaint Bundanoon train station.
At a glance
- 26 guest rooms, some with ensuites, some with shared bathrooms; a separate cottage with four ensuite twin/double rooms and sunroom
- Activities include yoga, archery, bushwalks and glow-worm walks, swimming, aquarobics, bootcamp, stretch and circuit classes, tennis and more
- Spa treatments include massage therapies, beauty treatments and body hands and feet therapies
- Consultations include naturopathy (with iridology), Haemaview live blood analysis, success coaching and lifestyle counselling, and a Wellness Program with bioimpedance analysis (BIA)
- Food by French-trained chef Francois Razavet, twice awarded a Sydney Morning Herald chef’s hat
For more details, visit solarsprings.com.au.