At a sumptuous boutique hotel, Elicia Murray savours the final throes of footloose and baby-free married life.
The rules are quite clear: Bells at Killcare is designed as an exclusive retreat for adults. Children are not catered for. I’ve managed to find a loophole, though – my husband and I smuggle one in, in the form of a 20-week-old baby bump. It soon becomes apparent that we’re not the only ones hell-bent on making the most of our final days as man and wife minus munchkin.
We spot at least three other women in the family way as we meander through the perfectly clipped gardens, laze by the pool or graze on fresh Italian-style dishes at the impressive Manfredi at Bells restaurant.
We’re staying in a two-storey cottage, one of 14 new additions built late last year. The building is divided in half, so our balconies face a row of turpentine trees, while our neighbours’ side faces the (admittedly pretty) driveway.
Storm clouds overhead match the blue-grey of the weatherboards. It doesn’t look like we’ll have much opportunity to kick back in the lounge chairs on the uncovered balcony upstairs. At least the day bed on the downstairs deck is mostly shielded from the elements.
Inside, the cottage is unashamedly designed for two people. On the ground floor, two lounge chairs with bleached linen covers face a gas fireplace and big TV. A kitchenette contains the basics and there’s a writing desk and loo on this level, too. Upstairs, the king bed is stacked with cushions and comforters, including one bearing the word “Relax”. If we must. A chic white bathroom has a shower that could do with some more oomph and a luxuriously deep free-standing tub.
Our first afternoon is spent exploring the area around Hardys Bay. It’s about a kilometre from Bells to the nearest beaches. We lunch at L’anxaneta, a casual waterfront spot with a menu ranging from tapas to traditional cafe fare.
As the heavens open, we head back to the cottage. While there may be no screaming children to disturb the peace, some neighbours on dirt bikes are buzzing around like noisy blowflies, so we don raincoats and head off for a walk along The Scenic Road, aptly named for its views over Bouddi National Park to Palm Beach and, on a fine day, North Head.
Manfredi at Bells comes alive at night. In the classy, dark-walled dining room, waiters hover around a central timber table laden with drinks, while chatter from guests mingles with cruisy tunes and the clink of glasses.
If you’re not pregnant, the wine list is inspired reading, named best regional wine list at the 2012 Good Food Guide Awards. The food menu emphasises seasonal fare and many dishes incorporate ingredients grown at the Bells gardens, including roast tomato with warm buffalo mozzarella, radicchio and pesto, and caramelised figs with ricotta cream and honey from the property’s hives.
Steve Manfredi is working the night we dine and pops out to recommend matching wines. My husband is only too happy to follow his suggestions, with the excuse that he is drinking for two. Three, more like it.
As we have a stickybeak around the gardens the next day, the chef points out a huge clump of ripening rhubarb, “for John”. That would be the owner of Bells at Killcare, ad guru John Singleton, who bought the property four years ago. He still visits regularly, often staying at the seriously posh Pretty Beach House down the road, where rooms start at $1700 a night.
Apparently rhubarb and custard is a childhood favourite, so the chefs always have some on hand.
Some people might find this an unreasonable demand. Personally, I think it’s a delightful folly and it gets us thinking about what we would insist on if we ever found ourselves with pockets deep enough to own a boutique hotel. A never-ending supply of cheesecake for me, thanks. And my husband will have the pancakes with lemon and brown sugar.
At breakfast, I become suspicious that my beloved might be more cashed-up than he’s letting on. The first dish on the hot breakfast menu? Italian crepes with raspberries, lemon and unrefined cane sugar. He assures me it’s just a coincidence. Continental breakfast, with a selection of cereals, fruit, bread and pastries, is included with the room rate.
While we are beyond excited at the prospect of our new arrival, I’d be lying if I said the weekend didn’t make me wonder for a moment how old munchkin needs to be before he or she can be dropped off with the grandparents for a night. Or two.
There are 25 rooms at the sprawling boutique hotel, perched high on a cliff on the central coast’s lush Bouddi Peninsula. Accommodation ranges from king spa suites to villas and two-storey cottages, all decorated in sandy shades and fresh blue and white stripes.