Planning your stay

sun-tel

Sunday Telegraph Feature August 5 2007

Sunday Telegraph Feature August 5 2007

Hot tubs under the stars are just part of the charm at Aniseed Villas, Sheridan Rogers took the plunge.

IT’s 5.30pm in the Promised Landand already dark outside. Not surprising given that the winter solstice has just passed and thedays are still short and brisk.

I’m keen to immerse myself in the hot tub on the wooden deck but fearful of going out into the chilly night air. I don a fluffy white bathrobe, venture out,remove the robe and slide into the heated swirling water.

Two heavenly bodies— a bright silver moon and twinkling Venus— are beaming down on me and the temperature of the water(at 38C) is bliss.

Having arrived in Bellingen a few hours earlier after a hectic week in the city, this was just what the doctor (make that naturopath) ordered. I’d also had the foresight to book a beauty and spa treatment at Aniseed Luxury Villas and wasn’t disappointed.

Day spas in the privacy of either your home or home-awayfrom home are becoming increasingly popular, and local beauty therapist Paris Skye will do a range of fabulous treatments (facials, body wraps, massages and body travel treatments) at the villas if you book ahead.

She arrives carrying a massage table fitted with an electric blanket,heat packs and bottles and jars of fragrant oils and creams and sets up in the bedroom, or on the deck in warmer weather. The lemony scent of perfumed candles and aromatherapy oil fill the air and I’m in hippie heaven.

That’s not quite fair, for although the hot tub carries overtones of 1970s-style Californian hippies, this tub, with its nonchlorinated water, is luxurious.

In warmer months, it serves as a plunge pool, though I’d intersperse it with dips in the Never Never watering hole, just five minutes away.

Aniseed Luxury Villas are in a serene landscape about 15 minutes from the township of Bellingen in northern NSW. The house in which Peter Carey once lived and wrote Illywhacker is just down the road; it’s now owned by George Negus.

The area left its stamp on another of Carey’s novels, Oscar And Lucinda, in which a glass church sinks into the Bellinger River. David Helfgott, the brilliant pianist whose life is portrayed in the movie Shine, lives close by.

The movie Eucalyptus was scheduled to be shot on a nearby farm — and, when you stroll along the main street of the town,don’t be surprised if you bump into a fairy or two leaving ‘‘Faerie Laura and Friends’’, a Bellingen shop.

Like many who have moved here, Rod and Jo Keers, owners of Aniseed Luxury Villas, underwent a tree change a few years ago. Originally from Sydney, they were looking for a less-stressful lifestyle (Rod worked as a foreign exchange trader and Jo was aphysiotherapist) and decided to buy a block of land near the pristine Never Never Creek.

After consultation with Guido Eberding, a local architect who specialises in passive solar design, they built a smart modern home and two villas on the property.

Made of timber, corrugated iron and glass, they are designed to catch the sun in winter and the breezes in summer. The villas are fitted out with every mod con, including a stainless-steel fridge, oven, dishwasher, microwave, plasma TV, DVD, CD player, barbecue, airconditioner

and ceiling fans.

Attention to detail is impressive: the day I arrived, a compote of dried figs and quinces and a loaf of wholemeal bread wrapped in a tea towel was sitting on the kitchen bench and the fridge was stocked with organic butter,creamy Hastings River yoghurt, eggs, bacon and tomatoes.

On a shelf above were a range of loose-leaf organic teas. I didn’t spot any aniseed myrtletea, but there was aniseed myrtle soap in the bathroom and plenty of young saplings outside (the trees are indigenous to this area).

For dinner, a barbecue hamper can be arranged ahead or you can call on local chef Neil Gunning to

prepare dinner for you. Neil’s ricotta gnocchi with arrabiata sauce and slow-cooked lamb shank tagine with apricots, almonds, dates and honey were terrific. In summer, a table set with white linen and candles can be set up in the paddock or out onthe deck.

You probably won’t want to leave but, if you do, make sure you dine at No. 2 Oak St, an outstanding restaurant for a small country town, and lunch at either Mouza (for Middle Eastern fare) or Relish (for mod Aussie pub tucker) in the Federal Hotel. Once known as ‘‘The Feral’’ by

locals, this pub has been refurbished and exemplifies the changes that have taken place in Bellingen over the past few years.

The writer was a guest of Tourism NSW.