A recent visit to Clifton House and Gardens, located at Maimuru, just north of Young, pleasingly coincided with cherry-blossom time in the Hilltops region. From the moment the front door opened and I saw the beautiful wide black-and-white tiled entrance, I knew I was in for a treat. David and Rebecca McMillan, both of pioneering rural stock, are the proud and energetic owners of this historical treasure, and warmly welcomed me to talk about their inspiring plans for a beautiful landmark estate. With trends in tourism constantly evolving and more people opting for ‘staycations’, Clifton House and its mature gardens tick a lot of boxes. It is the sort of property we would normally expect to see in the hands of the National Trust, but this lovingly restored and elegant house has a slightly different destiny: Clifton House is available for events, corporate functions, romantic garden weddings and now as a farm stay.
But wait there is more. Clifton House will also be hosting special public events in the coming months. The Brandenburg Ensemble will perform on Sunday 19 November in the gardens at 2 pm. This is early notification for Canberra audiences of this intimate and exclusive experience with the Ensemble performing rare Italian Masters on period instruments. Included in the ticket price will be a pre-concert drink and nibbles on the lawn prior to the concert. More details here. This sort of event certainly meets the growing demand for cultural tourism, especially as the concert is in the middle of the day and Young is a reasonable driving distance from Canberra.
Then there is the chance for garden-lovers to visit the gardens of Clifton House for an Open Garden on the final day of the popular National Cherry Festival on Sunday 3 December and enjoy the mature pepper trees, kurrajongs, elms, Chinese Tallow, crab apples, poplars, pear, roses as well as the wonderful vistas.
Clifton House sits high on a hill overlooking the green countryside. In the distance, it is possible to spot small planes taking off and landing at Young Airport, although I am told the runway can and has taken quite large planes. This is relevant because Clifton House is very well placed for fly-in/fly-out tourists who are visiting the Hilltops region in increasing numbers. Once on the ground, pre-booked transport is available and a local company, Hilltops Wine Tours offers small group boutique tours for visitors.
Clifton House was built as a wedding present for Minna Augusta Roberts, daughter of the Honourable Richard Hutchinson Roberts, MLC when she married Herbert George Makepeace Thackeray. The house is constructed from local granite, while the decorative quoins were crafted from sandstone brought from the Southern Highlands by bullock-drawn dray, as were most things that couldn’t be sourced locally.
Clifton House is a gem and stands as a testament to David and Rebecca’s love and enthusiasm for its future. Those who love old houses and watching restoration programmes will appreciate how much work goes into repointing brickwork, freeing up windows that have long been painted in and removing inappropriate additions. Bringing a fresh new look to an old home isn’t easy, but inside David and Rebecca have achieved a casual and elegant feel. There is plenty of natural light and a comfortable ambiance, with the use of large mirrors over the original marble fireplaces, polished floorboards, the original brass picture rails, complemented by an eclectic mix of French Provincial and antique furniture, as well as the odd family heirloom.
With renovations now completed (and from the way they talk about their achievement, it was a true labour of love), David and Rebecca have extended their vision for this beautiful historic house, and it is now available for farm stay holidays. A farm stay? Well, I think it will be more than just a farm stay. Yes, there are chickens to feed, there are Merino sheep and the gentle-faced Mandalong cattle, wildlife along the banks of the Burrangong Creek, including an albino kangaroo, and lots of birds.
But, there is also a swimming pool, shady nooks, a garden pavilion and clay tennis court. The beautiful deep timber verandahs are sheltered from the sun, but capture the breeze high up on the hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. Clifton House can accommodate up to 12 guests in six double bedrooms and there is provision for excellent catering for evening meals, as well as everything provided for a continental breakfast. This truly sets the scene for guests to rest, relax and recharge.
The gardens of Clifton House extend over 10 hectares. With mature trees, sweeping vistas, and the promise of early summer roses and a lush green lawn, this is a garden that needs to be seen more than once to be appreciated. When I viewed it in very early Spring, I was enchanted by the miniature daffodils, hellebores, some sturdy fairly rare succulents, and the budding of the 80-year-old wisteria that provides an attractive fringe to the deep verandah. It has been lovely to see Rebecca’s images on Instagram in recent days of the beautiful wisteria coming into blossom!
The perfect hosts, David and Rebecca treated me to a beautiful meal of winter root vegetable soup, succulent and tender local lamb, followed by a generous cheese platter, which they expertly rustled up in the industrial kitchen of the old stables. The stables have been converted into a most impressive and already busy function centre. Over dinner, we talked about how fast tourism is growing in the regions around Canberra. Agritourism, including farm stay holidays, is a fast-growing market, and Clifton House is in a prime position to offer visitors a unique and luxurious country experience.
The wines selected to accompany dinner were perfect. They were created by Freeman’s vineyard from northern Italian grape varieties. I was treated to a delicate Rondinello Rose, followed by a Sangiovese with the perfectly cooked lamb, and a Rondinella Corvino with the generous cheese platter.
Freeman’s award-winning wines are served at functions at Clifton and have rightfully achieved a 4.5 star rating in the must-have handbook for oenophiles, the 2018 Halliday Wine Companion. I have also noticed Freeman’s wines on the list of at least two notable Canberra restaurants.
After a comfortable night’s rest, I was up for an early start to walk around the garden before tucking into a generous Continental breakfast, the highlight of which was a memorable Cherry and Vanilla Bean conserve by regional producer The Pastor’s Pleasures. I noticed their range of small-batch jams, preserves, and pickles for sale in the Yass Tourism Information Office in the wonderful Italianate-Gothic railway station built during Young’s gold rush. I may not have seen any cherries on my visit, but this delicious conserve captured the sweetness and fragrance of cherries from the Young District.
The hectares around the house are home to David’s pretty Mandalong cows. Foreign markets have shown strong interest in this breed and he also has a strong interest in supporting the home demand for ‘paddock to plate’ with his quality beef. David and Rebecca work collaboratively with other producers and service providers in the Hilltops region to showcase the very best they have to offer.
Behind the house is a large and busy function centre. David said there were a number of large events booked for the spring season, and Christmas inquiries were coming in fast. The redesign of the original stables, built before the house, has been carefully thought out. Now converted into a dining hall that can comfortably take 120-150, there is a cozy little bar, a substantial industrial kitchen, and the recent addition of a pavilion with very sophisticated screens and heating for dancing or an outside function.
Clifton House is a truly stunning venue for your special event and is quite understandably, in popular demand by locals and visitors from all over. If you choose to stay, expect a luxurious and refined experience
Clifton House and Gardens is located seven kilometres north of the town of Young. To discuss your next function or farm stay holiday, please contact Clifton House and Gardens, details here.
The gardens of Clifton House will be open to the public on Sunday 3 December, the last day of the National Cherry Festival. There will be a BBQ, live music on the lawns and other entertainment. Please check the latest details here.
Young, the cherry capital of Australia, hosts the annual National Cherry Festival and is home to all things to do with cherries. It is located less than two hours north-west of Canberra and can be reached by a number of routes, with my favourite being the back-road that goes from Burley Griffin Way in Harden to Kingvale/Prunevale and past the Lambing Flat Chinese Garden.
What else is there to do around Young? There are heaps of suggestions on the Hilltops Region Tourism website and I am looking forward to fitting in some cherry-picking at one of the ‘pick your own’ orchards and revisiting the fascinating Lambing Flat Folk Museum, located on the Olympic Highway on the way out of town.
All images by the writer unless credited.
Maryann Mussared was a guest of Clifton House and Gardens.