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Just an hour’s drive from Sydney’s CBD, a trail of kayakers crosses the horizon off the ocean beach, silhouetted like ants against the silver sea. The morning sun splashes a beachside cafe, its outdoor tables teeming with Mamils. All the women, it seems, are at home or in the local park, where lemon tarts and Moroccan textiles and linen dresses the colour of weather are being laid out in modest market stalls.

From the balcony of a master bedroom high on the peninsula, I watch as Pittwater sparks into life. A single white sailboat slides past Currawong Beach towards West Head. A breeze ruffles the treetops, and a currawong’s cry echoes down the hill. Somewhere inside the quiet mansion, an appliance gurgles. The teenagers are still asleep in the south-east wing. It is, perhaps, a perfect Sunday morning like any other in Palm Beach.

Along with its little brother Whale Beach to the south, this northern beaches suburb is gloriously undeveloped, if not untouched by money. Perhaps by happy accident of social history or challenging topography (the peninsula is narrow but rises steeply from coastline to spine) it mostly comprises single dwellings, ranging from modest brick boxes to look-at-me architectural feats. Tootle (carefully) around the narrow roads that hairpin and snake from the crest down to Barrenjoey Road, and you note a conspicuous absence of hotels. The homemakers and millionaire weekenders got here first, and we can all be thankful for that. But… where to stay on holiday?

In the gap between impersonal key-under-the-mat short-stay rentals and snapping up your own $8 million pile, there’s a growing market catering to those with pockets deep enough to shell out for something special. Matthew Fleming, whose Contemporary Hotels has about 200 homes on its books in Australia and is the largest player in this sector in Palm Beach, says that when they started out in 1997 the idea was to apply a “boutique hotel philosophy” to carefully curated luxury home rentals. That means, among other things, a concierge to greet guests on arrival (and be on call for luxury emergencies), fully equipped kitchens, Aesop goodies in bathrooms, a welcome bottle of bubbles, and bedding, towels and cleaning worthy of a five-star hotel.

All of the above – but especially the delightful concierge Tony, who lives nearby and meets us in the driveway – serve to make us feel right at home at the six-bedroom Palm Beach Estate. It helps that the tasteful, richly relaxed décor reveals traces of its owners, serving to make us feel more like houseguests than burglars. Within a few hours it seems only right that the teens should have their own wing to sleep in, and of course they favour the eastern living room with its projection system and movies on demand. Basketball on the half court, boules on the north lawn, or games in the heated pool with the half-pipe slide? Dinner from the kitchen, the outdoor pizza oven or the barbecue? Cocktail hour on the terrace, or upstairs in the outdoor room with its stunning views up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse?

We resolve to spend some time in every entertaining area in the place, though the firepit in the south-west corner of the grounds and the lounges by the barbecue don’t get a look-in. Living this large can’t really be done in just one weekend. We do the sums. With three or four carefully chosen couples, a limited number of children … yes, yes, we could do it again. Oh wouldn’t it be luv-er-ley?

Perfect for: Families, small groups.

Must do: Take a dip at Palm or Whale beaches; walk to Barrenjoey headland and lighthouse; pre-book a surfing lesson at the southern end of Palm Beach with Manly Surf School. Check out Palm Beach Market in Governor Phillip Park on the fourth Sunday of the month; drive to nearby Avalon for village vibes and a vintage cinema. Explore Pittwater pitstops via the Palm Beach ferry service.

Dining: Cook up a storm in your private palace. Palm and Whale beaches have limited groceries, so stock up in Avalon or Newport. Dining-out options include The Boathouse Palm Beach and Jonah’s on Bynya Road, overlooking Whale Beach.

Getting there: Palm Beach is a little over an hour’s drive north of Sydney’s CBD.

Bottom line: Contemporary Hotels properties in Palm Beach from an average of $1100 per night (standard, non-peak rate). Palm Beach Estate from $2000 per night.


Reference: The Australian – Weekend Australian Magazine: