A lofty house in the hills
A charming boutique hotel just out of Adelaide has a hardy history and a strong wine pedigree
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