Nestled in the picturesque Southern Highlands of New South Wales, the town of Bowral has long been a favourite weekend getaway for the upwardly mobile, thanks to its great restaurants, chic boutiques, upmarket spas, cool art galleries and plethora of antique shops.
Its modern-day reputation is no surprise if you consider the town’s history. Established in 1861, it was a popular rural retreat during the summer for the “elite” gentry of Sydney, which is just under 120km away. Back then, the humidity and high heat in the city drove many to the Southern Highlands, where the temperatures are noticeably cooler over the summer months – think The Hamptons and New Yorkers, but on a much smaller scale.
Thanks to the summer exodus from the late 1800s onwards, many wealthy families built their own estates or manor houses, many of which are still standing today and add to the charm of the town.
But of course, you can’t talk about Bowral without mentioning cricket’s legendary Sir Donald Bradman, often referred to as the best batsman of all time.
While Sir Don may have been born in Cootamundra, his family moved to Bowral when he was two so his mother could be closer to her family, who lived in nearby Mittagong. If you are a cricket fan, then one must-see place on your list of things to do in Bowral is to visit the Bradman Museum and International Hall of Fame in Glebe Park, also home to the Bradman Oval, which also featured in the hit movie Babe.
Surprisingly, another famous Bowral resident was the late author Pamela Lyndon Travers, better known as P.L. Travers, who penned the famous Mary Poppins series of books. Like Sir Don, her family moved here when she was a child – and they actually lived on the same street at the same time: Holly Street. These days, you will also find a statue of the magical nanny Mary Poppins in Glebe Park.
To get to Bowral, Emirates and Etihad offer flights to Sydney from Muscat via either Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
My favourite place: There’s nothing better than wandering around the main street of Bowral on a Saturday morning, where you’ll find great cafés for brunch, lunch and anything else in between. There are some cute antique shops to explore, while if you are a movie fan and a bit of a history buff, you can catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster at the Empire Cinema, Australia’s oldest commercial movie house that celebrated its centenary last year.
Highlights: As mentioned, you can’t visit Bowral without exploring the Bradman Museum and the International Cricket Hall of Fame. It’s a hi-tech, interactive experience that takes you back to the origins of the game, and visits the significant periods of cricket, including Bodyline from the Bradman era to the “Big Bash League”. It’s also worth checking out Bradman Oval and there’s also a children’s playground in the park – it’s cricket-themed so should appeal to many. If you happen to be in Bowral in September, head to Corbett Gardens for the Tulip Time Festival, which dates back to 1911, where you’ll find a huge colourful display of more than 100,000 tulips. A small fee applies during the festival but entry is free for the rest of the year.
Lowlights: Bowral is a beautiful place to get away from the summer heat but during the wintertime, it can get very cold, with temperatures dipping to below zero degrees Celsius. In fact, I’ve been there when it has snowed so wrap up well if you are planning a mid-year visit.
Souvenirs: There are the usual touristy souvenirs, such as “I Love Bowral” T-shirts and hats but I would explore the antique shops for something a little more unique. There are also some fun weekend markets in Bowral and nearby towns such as Mittagong, Burradoo and Moss Vale, where you can find one-off designs and some colourful local characters.
Where to stay: There’s a plethora of choices in Bowral, from the luxe Milton Park to small boutique hotels to B&Bs and youth hostels for those on a budget. You can also go camping and there are a number of motels and caravan parks to choose from – it just depends on your budget.
1. Explore the Bradman Museum and International Hall of Fame
2. Head to Holly Street to check out the childhood homes of Bradman and Travers
3. Visit the colourful Tulip Time Festival in Corbett Gardens
4. Have a picnic at the Bowral Lookout and explore one of the many hiking trails
5. Catch a movie at the 100-year-old Empire Cinema