French chic in the Highlands

It’s right on dusk when I pull up outside the St Eloi Guesthouse and a wintery chill is in the air. With its rich terracotta-coloured walls and weathered timber shutters, the property exudes French farmhouse charm beyond the rustic front gates. A blue and white street sign, IMPASSE ST-ÉLOI, a lovely translation of ‘no through road’, directs me to the visitors’ parking spot. This is one dead-end I am happy to discover.

St Eloi is just a few minutes’ drive from the centre of Bowral, yet the moment I crunch over gravel through the parterre-styled courtyard, I feel transported to another world.

Stepping into the main living area, the first impression is one of homely comfort. Thoughtfully restored and furnished by local owners Pete and Shelly, the guesthouse delights with its recycled furniture and vintage collectibles.

The main living area is warmed to just the right temperature by hydronic heating and colourful rugs are scattered over the timber floors. There are two generous lounges and a long communal table, providing plenty of room for guests to relax without feeling crowded. Just off the dining area, a small but well-appointed Provençal-styled kitchen is close enough to feel part of the action when preparing meals. An outdoor table offers a pleasant al fresco dining option, perhaps more suited to balmier months, unless you’re well rugged up.

The elegant master bedroom features a queen-size bed dressed in hues of pastel green with plump white pillows. Layers of muslin curtains, swept aside and caught with an iron hook, frame golden evening light. Walk through the master bedroom to a large private ensuite – no bumping elbows in tight corners here – with a double sink over an antique wooden dresser, a shower big enough for two, and a hidden loo. Luxurious toiletries in delicate glass bottles add to the considered mix of contemporary design with an old-world finish.

Just as the mind begins to form a question (where’s the bath?), a hand-written note looped over a door handle or tied to a basket, provides the answer (there’s a second full bathroom). Charming bric-a-brac, miniature bouquets of dried flowers and bundled pages from old books tied with ribbon, suggest years of dedicated collecting.

With three additional bedrooms, two offering queen-size beds, the third with two single beds, there is ample sleeping space and privacy for up to eight guests. Elegant wrought-iron clothes racks are an authentic and practical inclusion.

The floor-to-ceiling shelving in the main living area is stocked with crockery, glassware, cutlery, and a decent selection of books. Choose a novel or a board game, play some French inspired tunes on the CD player, and settle in. Dimmed lighting and tea light candles add to the ambience.

If further relaxation is called for, take up the owners’ suggestion to run a warm bath in the beautifully renovated main bathroom, and drop in a scented grenade (another charming translation) from the box of Côte Noir crystals.

A basic but delicious breakfast basket is provided, with a fresh half-baguette, small tubs of creamy butter and fruity jam, plus a dozen or so eggs collected from the St Eloi chooks. A selection of complementary herbal and breakfast teas, coffee, and a carton of long-life milk in the fridge means even the less organised traveller, like me, is well catered for.

The St Eloi experience is so well put together, it’s sure to please even the most discerning guests – you really could be bunkered down in the south of France. It took an early morning burst from the local kookaburras, my wake-up call, to remind me this little slice of heaven is much closer to home. Add St Eloi Guesthouse to your list of home-stay gems, perfect for a winter break in the Southern Highlands.

St Eloi Guest House

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