Welcome to Out of Office — a new travel column from lifestyle editor Katie Skelly. Visiting unique and emerging holiday lodgings that are doing things differently around Australia, Skelly will be reviewing stays according to a more unconventional grading system (not just stars!). First up, a luxury retreat on the South Coast with an on-site native dining experience.
Leaving Sydney early on a Friday afternoon and I arrived at the NSW South Coast with a few hours of daylight to spare. A scenic two-hour drive past Woollongong, Kiama, and finally through the lush green surrounds of Shoalhaven Heads, I arrived at the unassuming and inspired entrance of Bangalay Luxury Villas.
Positioned within a shaded and protected pocket along Seven Mile Beach, within Bangalay Sand Forest, and adjacent to Shoalhaven Heads Golf Course, Bangalay Luxury Villas is comprised of 16 private fully self-contained villas that have been architecturally designed in a calming monochrome colour palette to best showcase the natural surrounds beyond floor-to-ceiling windows and doors.
“We wanted to create an aesthetic that was sympathetic to the surrounding Bangalay Sand Forest and beachside setting, all the while showcasing the best of South Coast produce in our food and beverage offering,” says Michelle Bishop, owner and interior designer.
The appreciation for local produce and makers really begins from the moment you walk through the door of your villa, where chilled housemade lemon myrtle tea and local Treat Factory sweets await. You can (and should) also opt-in for a breakfast hamper, which includes freshly bakery items, yogurt, fruit and jam.
What makes it different
Bangalay feels familiar, homely, cosy. And yet it’s unlike any other retreat I’ve visited in NSW. It’s both modern and exclusive with secure entry gates and smart technology (hello, keyless and contactless check-in) and yet inviting and warm with a relaxed vibe that overcomes you from the moment you set foot on the sun-stained boardwalks.
The raised timber pathways lead right from the reception area through to each villa and beyond towards the on-site fine dining restaurant and cafe. Behind it, a sparkling pool that overlooks the rolling golf course, which despite a few polo-clad players, appears empty for the most part and calm and quiet always. Following the path to its end will land you right on the beach, where you can enjoy a private dip or a lie down on your own stretch of sand.
It’s a tranquil and albeit snug resort, but one that welcomes travellers of all intentions. With both one and two-bedroom villas, plus a couple of larger beach houses, the site could quite happily accommodate everyone from babymooners, girl’s weekenders and families looking for a mid-week break.
What makes it special
The stunning interior decor of the villas and the resort’s considered exterior is the work of owner Bishop. And though it’s been seamlessly executed, a design-savvy traveller will note the lengths the team have gone to, to ensure the dwellings will hold up in the years to come.
“Our villas were all designed to face north across the adjoining golf course. We chose to link each of the villas with hardwood timber boardwalks and surround them with landscaping to reflect the feel of walking through a bush track to the beach,” Bishop says.
“At Bangalay, luxury is synonymous with comfort. Luxury is about all the senses; touch, sound, visual, and so on. And so we made sure we had all the basics right to best allow a sensory experience for those who stay with us. The villas are all very well insulated, resulting in minimal noise transfer which makes the experience very private, and yet, the sound of the ocean at night always carries.”
Compact yet comfortable, each villa is equipped with air conditioning, underfloor heating, a fireplace, and sliding doors to a private balcony — “so guests have full control of their climate”. Designed for a short or longer-term stay, there’s also a full-sized dining table and kitchen, so guests can make their own meals if they choose to forgo the restaurant on site.
But it’s the little touches again that speak the loudest to the Bangalay ethos of showcasing the South Coast. “I worked with a number of artists I knew including Julie Paterson from Cloth, and Anne Miles and Marina Strode to further develop the concept. We selected stylish, good quality pieces of furniture which were practical for the application.”
A reason to return
Since my visit, a new executive chef team for Bangalay Dining has been established with Simon Evans and Thomas Chiumento at the helm. With a new team, that also includes ex-Saint Peter sommelier and restaurant manager Ronnie Gorman, comes a bright new summer menu of seasonal native ingredients.
When I visited the restaurant, I feasted upon a six-course tasting menu that included sumptuous treats like kangaroo with bunya bunya saltbush, peas with lemon aspen and garlic custard, barramundi with fennel and strawberry gum, and lamb belly with new potatoes, roast barley and beach mustard. Dessert was an affair to remember, with sweet treats including witchetty bush wattleseed with cocoa and malted milk. All up, the tasting menu was $110pp or $180pp with matching wines.
Now, the summer menu appears to sample a beautiful heirloom tomato, kutajura tomato and basil tart, ruby snapper with finger lime and heart leaf ice plant, and a South Coast panna cotta with rosella and rhubarb. You bet I’d go all the way back to try it.
Bishop says it was important to her that guests felt as if they were being served the very best the area had to offer. “We always have a number of local beers, wines and spirits on the drinks list and use wonderful local produce including Kangaroo Valley olives, Kangaroo Valley pastured eggs, and South Coast oysters. We also use a lot of Australian native ingredients in our menu, many of which can be found in the surrounding Bangalay Sandforest and of the adjoining sand dunes.”
A second reason to return? The cocktail menu. After painful deliberation, my partner decided on the green ant gimlet I had landed on the salt-bush margarita, to which I have no regrets. However, the entire cocktail menu is worth blocking out an afternoon for, likely best enjoyed by the pool with friends as the sun sets on another perfect day. Which is how I plan to spend my next visit.
A visit to Bangalay Luxury Villas starts from $430 for a mid-week stay with breakfast included.