Great for: A cozy winter escape in a building steeped in history
What is it? Boutique hotel
Will set you back: AUD $325 – $472 p/n
Stepping through the heavy front doors of The Old Bank Boutique Hotel is a little like stepping back in time. Built in 1892, this gorgeous building, which now houses five exclusive guest rooms, is as good looking as its history is rich, and this makes just two reasons why it’s a good idea to spend a night or three here the next time you’re in New South Wales’ picturesque Southern highlands region. Not too many hotels have stories these days, but this one certainly does and it begins to unfold from the moment you arrive through its interior details, the photos on the walls and the hotel’s dedicated owners, not stopping until you turn off your room’s light with the traditional pull-cord light switch at the end of each day.
Lovingly restored by locals Barb and Warwick Wainberg over a painstaking seven-year period, as you might have guessed The Old Bank was the local Mittagong bank for over 80 years and was both work place and home to ten bank mangers and their families in its heyday. Today, it is as beautiful as I imagine it ever was. Arriving here, I instantly felt ready to kick off my travel shoes and sink into the brown chesterfield with a glass of red wine – which, by the way, Mr. T and I absolutely did – and boy, did it feel good.
For decades, the shell of the Mittagong bank sat abandoned and derelict, accommodating nothing more than bats and pigeons. But its current iteration couldn’t be further from those days, with grand, inviting and elegant design now characterising this intimate country hideaway. It really is a beautiful place to stay for a country weekender – the level of detail is astonishing and it’s clear that Barb and Warwick didn’t spare any expense on bespoke soft furnishings, bedding, carpets and joinery.
It’s actually hard to tell what is old and what is new at The Old Bank, because many of the original details of the building have been so perfectly refurbished that they blend seamlessly in with the new (antique-style) features. Outside on the porch you’ll find the original tiled floor and a convict brick-built sandstock cottage for self-contained accommodation (which used to be the bank managers’ horse stables!). Inside, original timber now shines in the cupboard doors, floors and draws.
The original staircase is majestic, the rooms feature those divine old worlde silk rope pull-cord light switches I mentioned and ornate ceilings, and original fireplaces throughout complete the masterpiece that is this restoration. Even the wine cellar has a story – housed behind a solid one-tonne cast iron door, it was in fact the bank’s vault – and it’s still standing strong.
It’s very apparent from the moment you become a guest at The Old Bank that Barb and Warwick want you to feel comfortable. Every part of the experience is infused with the motto: ‘make yourself at home’. The cozy lounge room with its roaring fire is as comforting as it comes, even more so when you partake in the bottle of wine or port at your disposal (again, yes we did). Each of the five exclusive guest rooms is opulent and luxurious, with premium bedding, furniture, and even a Nespresso machine in each room.
Something to note, however – The Old Bank doesn’t have a front desk / 24-hour reception, so when it’s time to hit the sack you’ll be sharing the hotel with only the other guests – no staff live on the premises. This didn’t bother us in the slightest but may deter those used to larger, process-driven hotels. In saying that, there is a mobile number provided for use at any hour, which Barb stressed to us we shouldn’t hesitate to call.
This is a very small hotel and so what it lacks in the amenities of the big hotels (gym, spa etc.), it makes up for in personalisation, attention to detail, privacy, and the level of relaxation you’re likely to feel. Something about this hotel and its location really does encourage you to switch off, and it’s definitely one of the most charming small-scale boutique hotels we have stayed at.
Aside from Warwick and Barb being on-site to attend to guests’ needs during the day, chances are you’ll also have a good yarn with the lovely Guest Services Manager, Moira. Together and separately they stress time and time again to simply let them know if there’s anything they can do to make your stay more enjoyable, and the thing is – they aren’t just saying it out of habit.
And another thing. Just because The Old Bank is a petite hotel doesn’t mean you won’t get all the luxury trimmings you’re used to on your travels. You can expect the usual daily housekeeping, turndown service, and your own parking space on the property.
Did I mention Barb is a professionally trained chef? This quickly becomes clear when you take your first bite of her multi-course gourmet breakfast, trust me. The food at The Old Bank is cooked with love, that’s for sure, and the servings are almost too generous. Breakfast is included in the tariff for all guests, and while most will venture into town for dinner, I can’t recommend enough spending at least one night here enjoying Barb’s cooking in the dining room.
The experience is like enjoying a home cooked meal in an environment that’s probably a fair bit nicer than home! We had lamb shanks for dinner during our stay and they were diviiiine and exactly what you crave when you’re in a cozy boutique hotel in the country.
The Southern Highlands is located a 90-minute drive south of Sydney. Perched inland at 600 metres above sea level, its climate means it has long been considered the ideal autumn and winter weekend escape for city slickers. The picturesque, upmarket town of Bowral is the most popular town to visit in the Highlands, and is a quick ten-minute drive from The Old Bank.
While in Bowral be sure to check out Dirty Janes – one of the best antique / vintage warehouses I’ve ever visited! Even if you’re not a relic seeker, it’s worth an amble just to admire the sheer expanse of the place.
Relaxing respite from busy city life