LOG FIRES, SCENIC SPAS AND FINE FOOD — JUST TRY TO RESIST THE CHARMS OF A WINTER GETAWAY TAILOR MADE FOR TWO
It begins when boy meets girl. In a land far, far away — Rajasthan, India, to be precise — ambitious young hospitality pro Ali Khan chances on Xochi Lindholm as he’s about to begin building his dream hotel.
Xochi, born in Queensland but raised in Sweden, helps fulfil his vision and they fall for each other while opening Hotel Helsinki House. The couple eventually settle in a secluded slice of the Sunshine Coast hinterland to raise their family, running the boutique Narrows Escape in Montville.
If our open-hearted hosts have their way, it’ll be happy endings all round.
They set the tone for what is undeniably a love story. A forest fairytale playing out on cushion-loaded hammocks hidden in the trees and over long, dark nights cuddled by rustic log fires.
Visiting Narrows with my partner on a deliciously crisp winter weekend, the wooing begins the moment we’re led to our freestanding pavilion, one of six secreted alongside a tumbling creek.
Red roses are propped on the table alongside chilled champagne, there are chocolates on the pillows, candles in the bathroom and a soft soundtrack.
One of the first things we do is fill up the deep spa and lie back in a dream of leafdappled
light, soaking up a view reserved for two through the many windows.
Guests can while away the hours with onproperty walks, a movie library liberally laced with rom-coms, a dip in the saltwater pool and in-room massages.
With warm, buttery croissants discretely dropped at the door each morning and a brimming breakfast basket there’s little reason to budge before lunch.
Montville, the hinterland’s cultural heart, is just five minutes down the road and its happily humming main street is crammed with culinary temptation — and they do say there’s no faster way to the heart.
Cafes with sweeping views to the coast are dotted between galleries and gift shops on the picturesque parade, but we’re being treated at the celebrity-chef-inspired Altitude on Montville.
A quiet spot to take in the valley vista framed through floor-to-ceiling glass, warmed by an equally hypnotising fire, chef Matt Golinski’s local influence defines the satisfying menu.
We mop up gooey baked local brie with toasty sourdough and savour grilled Mooloolaba prawns on silky saffron risotto.
The hearty hospitality continues at Wild Rocket at Misty’s Micro Brewery, which occupies one of the most historic buildings in Montville.
Repurposed into a restaurant by UK chef Peter Brettell and his wife Belinda, the former Fancy Goods & Lolly Shop has retained every ounce of its chocolate-box charm.
From the beef sausages to the bread to the jam slathered on oven-warm scones, everything is made on-site. We dine by candlelight in a cosy second-storey nook, interrupting a round of red wine to sample an ale from the restaurant’s own microbrewery.
There’s even more to love at free-spirited Montville, where we expand our explorations the next day.
A 15-minute drive spiralling through green pasture dotted with cows and punctuated by peek-a-boo perspectives of the Glass House Mountains brings us to Spa Anise.
You don’t have to stay at the surrounding
Spicers Tamarind Retreat (although that would be rather nice) to get a taste of this soothing spa sanctuary.
Coaxing calm with architecture that echoes the best spas in Asia, we’re not the only robed-up couple relaxing in the lounge. With double treatment rooms, nobody need miss out on a muscle-melting massage or fragrant footbath.
Whatever your pleasure, try to swing a session in the hydrotherapy room first. We float in the forest in the open-air mineralised spa, with a rain shower and steam room to prolong the pampering.
Our heads are still in the clouds when we arrive for lunch at Brouhaha Brewery and swap the herbal tea for something with a little more grunt.
Great beer is expected when you’re at the source (and I adore the playful strawberry and rhubarb sour), but the hyper-local menu is equally impressive.
We nibble on seared Noosa scallops spooned with Fraser Isle spanner crab and crispy HUM honey bacon on to fanned shells, and dig into supremely satisfying milk stout and Maleny wagyu bangers and mash with pumpkin jam.
It’s a two-way street. Brouhaha shares the spent grain they use to make their beer with Maleny Wagyu, who then feed the grain to their cattle. The circle of life in action.
If you can pass up the likes of sticky toffee and beer pudding, meander down Maple Street for another sweet surprise.
Choose from a rainbow of Maleny Food Co’s acclaimed gelato or build a platter from a fromagerie stocked with more than 200 cheeses.
On the road again, we find ourselves on the most inefficient of routes — a beguiling view around every corner threatens to derail our progress to Maleny Botanic Gardens and Bird World.
While it seems each glimpse of the Glasshouse Mountains is more beautiful than the last, it’s worth waiting for what must be the finest. Flowing from tiered flower beds and reflected in lake surfaces, the privately owned gardens frame layer upon layer of the panorama.
The parcel of 44 scenic hectares was once the sole preserve of some very lucky cattle, but a hand-built network of manicured gardens and flower beds, waterfalls, rock walls, ponds, bridges and walking trails now shares the love with the rest of the world.
The man responsible for this incredible feat bounces up in a buggy to offer a tour. Fuss-free and quietly spoken, owner Frank Shipp derives genuine joy in guests’ reactions to his creation.
And he’s far from done. As we whiz by the biggest variety of plants in Australia and some of the rarest cycads in the world, he points out what will be the country’s largest rose garden and a dozen other daydreams in the making.
It’s hard to miss the colour and cacophony of the giant walkthrough aviary, alive with around 700 finches, South American conures, peacocks and parrots.
Some of the aviary’s residents — most of them rescue birds — are enthusiastic in their attentions, but shredded shoelaces are a price I’m willing to pay to cradle a fluffy-cheeked baby macaw.
Just when it seems romance will take a backseat to this joyful, flapping, squawking (admittedly, mostly from me) flight of fancy, it’s back to being two.
The property is peppered with gazebos, picnic spots and seats screened from prying eyes, so even on the busiest days it’s easy to find a place to pause over a treat from the cafe. We devour Devonshire tea on the edge of an escarpment, waterfall burbling in the background and flowers in the fore.
It’s hard to think of a more likely setting for a love story to start.