Sweeping up the curve of Milton Park’s driveway and through the parkland doesn’t prepare first-time visitors for the grandeur of the Federation mansion and its English style gardens.
It is quite simply, huge. However, the grand style is certainly not overwhelming. In fact Milton Park nestles comfortably amongst its extensive collection of mature trees, something that only time provides. Perhaps it’s the scale of the house. Being so large you don’t see the whole of it and therefore at ground level the protruding porches and large windows beckon you to follow, step around the corner and discover what is beyond. The garden nooks and little stone paths bordering the house beckon in the same way. And like the escarpment, photos don’t give a true indication of the scale of Milton Park. You have to experience the place, not just the house but the gardens where everything surrounds you and you are embedded in the landscape. The grand urns and lawn, the soaring trees, affect the play of light and shade, while the vistas and garden rooms draw your feet hither, and all is juxtaposed against the expanse of winter sky and the minutiae; little wrens flitting through the bare branches, a shrivelled leaf, the blue of forget-me-nots, and the narcissus bulbs pushing through the garden beds.
Inside is another matter. The house is imposing and you feel the grandeur of scale in the width of the hallways, the rambling rooms with their huge windows and soaring ceilings. The rooms are punctuated rather than overwhelmed with antiques, comfortable chairs and sofas. There are some original artworks (mostly realist) although I was disappointed to find a lack of artist signatures on the ones I looked at. The pervading atmosphere of the hotel is elite and expensive noticeable through the quiet, pleasant, discreet service. You get the impression that no-one at Milton Park would ever raise their voices.
The style of the house is predominantly Federation with some eclectic with influences from earlier French and Villa styles evident in the numerous classical pillars, marble fireplaces and marble balustrades around the porches.
We arrived late morning and booked a table for lunch at Horderns Restaurant. With time to wander through the gardens and the public areas of the house before the restaurant opened. Deciding to tackle the garden after lunch we chose to relax in one of the smaller lounges with views through the huge windows into the garden and sundrenched porch.
Dining is not a rushed affair at Milton.
The ethos of the hotel is relaxation after all.
Allow two hours to enjoy the experience. We began with scallops and charcuterie selection. I ordered a glass of NV Moet & Chandon which wasn’t available so was offered the NV Veuve Clicquot instead which was lovely. My brother and his wife chose the craft beer and daughter Sheridan doesn’t drink so chose water. For our main course Sandie and I shared the charcuterie for two and Rohan had the scallops. For mains he and Sandie ordered the angel hair pasta with seafood, Sheridan the venison and mushroom pie with beet salad, and I chose the pot au feu chicken and we shared a side of greens which included zucchini, broccolini, and asparagus.
We chose the 2016 Far Ago Hills Pinot Gris to accompany our main course. This pinot gris, is gorgeous with lovely colour and perfume and it suited the chicken and pasta beautifully. Thumbs up for the seafood pasta which Rohan and Sandie said was nicely sauced but light which was a lovely change as most seafood pasta sauces they’ve tasted tended to be too heavy. Sheridan thought the pie very nice except for the pastry pie filling ratio (too much pastry for the amount of filling). She thought the baby beet salad was nicely cooked, combining some lovely textures and flavours.
For dessert both Sandie and I chose the tonka bean pannacotta with strawberry sherbet. The sherbet was a dusting over the plate so I didn’t pick up the sherbet fizz which I’d been expecting. However, the panna cotta was beautifully silky and soft and the strawberry sorbet was full of strawberry flavour that cleansed and brightened the palate with an additional little sharp sour note that makes the insides of your cheeks zing.
Sheridan ordered the café au lait crème brule with homemade chocolate sorbet and biscotti. Rohan had the French banana tart with homemade vanilla ice-cream, strawberries and toffee caramel sauce which won his verdict of the best banana dessert he’d ever tasted. The after-lunch coffee was rich, strong and smooth without any bitterness; definitely something you wanted more of. A thoroughly delightful meal, beautifully cooked and presented, served by attentive but unobtrusive, pleasant and quietly-spoken staff.
After lunch we ventured into the garden. As it was July the deciduous trees and shrubs had shed their leaves but any gardener worthy of the name won’t be put off by this. Winter is an opportunity to marvel at the beauty of bark, limb, and lacework of twig set against the pale blue of the winter sky, to admire rock walls and stone paths, the bare bones of a garden with moss and hidden little gems pushing bravely through the carpet of leaves. I was reminded of Edna Walling’s gardens and those of the English Landscape School. Milton Park’s history page states that the garden is in fact, the only surviving example of this style in Australia.
Of course, Milton Park’s gardens have a great deal to offer, Bowral’s tulip festival, Tulip Time being one of the garden’s long standing calendar events. The hotel provides visitors with a booklet outlining the history and includes a map of the walks and garden rooms. Green grass, the soaring majesty of mature trees, urns, stone walls, bulbs, parterres, reflected water, and birds provide their own charms to a winter garden. I was drawn to the various maples and the beautiful way they’d been pruned to reveal the contorted branches.
Finally, we thoroughly enjoyed our day, and all I can do is repeat myself and affirm that Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa is something you just want more of.
Hmm! Now let’s take a look at their special package deals.