A lofty house in the hills

A charm­ing bou­tique ho­tel just out of Ade­laide has a hardy his­tory and a strong wine pedigree

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRISTINE MCCABE

PERCHEDjust be­low the sum­mit, with lovely views of the deep Pic­cadilly Val­ley, Mount Lofty House in the Ade­laide Hills is no stranger to the plea­sures of the ta­ble. I’m re­minded of this when, on a chilly win­ter’s night and with the old stone house wreathed in felt-thick fog, I tuck into suc­cu­lent elk and Jerusalem ar­ti­choke and black truf­fle soup, washed down with fine Ade­laide Hills wines cour­tesy of John Tomich, medico doyen of the fam­ily-run Tomich Wines.

It’s a lively evening with bons vi­vants in full cry and, one imag­ines, a night lived many times over in this at­mo­spheric old pile. The house was built in the mid-19th cen­tury as a sum­mer res­i­dence by lawyer and pas­toral­ist Arthur Hardy.

Hede­camped here per­ma­nently in 1863 with his fam­ily and lived, ac­cord­ing to a de­scen­dant, in a ‘‘sort of feu­dal splen­dour’’, en­ter­tain­ing in ex­trav­a­gant fash­ion.

Af­ter ev­ery din­ner party it was the coach­man’s job to di­rect traf­fic, send­ing car­riages off at 10-minute in­ter­vals to avoid col­li­sions on the nar­row moun­tain road.

It can still feel a tad pre­cip­i­tous on a foggy night, climb­ing to­wards Hardy’s sum­mer digs, to­day a bou­tique ho­tel set on 7ha just above the Mount Lofty Botanic Gar­den.

The house is set amid the state’s high­est vine­yards and a re­cently planted plot of pinot makes it one of the few ho­tels in Aus­tralia to pro­duce its own­wine.

Al­though this is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment, cham­pi­oned by Mal­colm Bean and David Hor­belt, whop­ur­chased the prop­erty two years ago, the house has a strong wine pedigree.

Keen to trial all sorts of crops in his Hills plea­sure gar­den, Hardy planted — along­side goose­ber­ries, wal­nuts and the manda­tory rhodo­den­drons and aza­leas — 2000sq mof ‘‘red madeira’’ and later some shi­raz and ries­ling vines a lit­tle fur­ther down the hill.

De­spite be­ing rav­aged by the 1983 Ash Wed­nes­day bush­fires (only the house’s sub­stan­tial stone walls with­stood the in­ferno) Mount Lofty was re­built, and guests can en­joy a taste of the 19th-cen­tury high life in the bil­liard room and li­brary, on the ten­nis court, or in the swim­ming pool. Al­though the young gen­eral man­ager, Jessie Shee­han, ad­mits as we peer through the fog that the pool doesn’t get a lot of use.

The new own­ers are mid­way through a com­plete ren­o­va­tion of this South Aus­tralian land­mark; $1 mil­lion has been spent back of house (new hot-wa­ter sys­tem and kitchen), with a com­plete re­fur­bish­ment of all 33 gue­strooms and pub­lic ar­eas about to get un­der way.

Cana­dian-born chef Gi­rard Ram­say came on board late last year and has be­gun re­vi­tal­is­ing the or­ganic kitchen gar­den. The ho­tel’s own­chardon­nay has been aug­mented by a se­lec­tion of wines made with fruit sourced across the hills, and fur­ther gourmet evenings fea­tur­ing lo­cal wine­mak­ers are planned.

Only 15 min­utes from the CBD, the ho­tel feels a mil­lion miles from ur­ban life, with gar­dens and bush abut­ting on all sides. Only last week a koala knocked on the li­brary door, says Shee­han. (Re­turn­ing his copy of The Com­plete Ad­ven­tures of Blinky Bill, no doubt.)

Sum­mer evenings are quite mag­i­cal, with many rooms of­fer­ing bal­cony views across the val­ley (the pick of the bunch are rooms 1 to 5 in the her­itage wing, open­ing on to the old ve­randa). But win­ter here is es­pe­cially charged. As a pea-souper swirls through the trees and across the rain-slicked road, it’s easy to imag­ine ghostly car­riages ca­reen­ing down the moun­tain, rosy-cheeked pas­sen­gers warmed by a de­canter or two of the finest madeira. Christine McCabe was a guest of Grand Mer­cure Mount Lofty House


Mount Lofty House has views of the deep Pic­cadilly Val­ley

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