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April 3, 2009

Highlands Down Under

Pure luxury takes on a whole new meaning when you’re breathing in the world’s cleanest air.
Originally published on July 29, 2008.

Where in the world are you if you’re surrounded by heath-covered moors, whisky distilleries and the River Clyde? Scotland, you say? Try Tasmania — Australia’s only island state, home to the snarling Tasmanian devil and last stop before Antarctica.

An hour north of Hobart, the Tassie capital, is Bothwell — gateway to the so-called “highlands down under.” Settled by Scottish farmers in the 1820s, they left behind the Southern Hemisphere’s oldest golf course, Ratho Links, and a collection of 19th-century architecture, now almost completely restored. On August 1, one of those buildings emerges as a stunning new hotel, The Priory Country Lodge.

Following a year’s refurbishment, the 1848 Tudor-style home (pictured) has four bedrooms, each with king-sized beds, Jim Thompson silks and new marble bathrooms. While the “hunt room” and library add a formal touch, a movie room, infrared sauna and open barbeque-pit spice things up. Plus, an impressive collection of contemporary art hangs throughout the lodge — although it’s “not as flashy” as the artwork at sister hotel The Islington in Hobart, according to Priory’s director Nicholas Parkinson-Bates. (He told us that the 11-room Hobart beauty boasts a Picasso, a Hockney and a “million-dollar” Léopold Survage painting.)

Don’t worry — Priory’s surrounding countryside is prettier than a picture, including a landscaped garden overlooking the valley. And since the Tassie air is said to be the purest on earth, it behooves you to hike out to nearby Nant — a whisky distillery housed in a restored flourmill built by convicts. But you’ve also got 3,000 trout-filled lakes to choose from in this region, and the aforementioned Ratho Links, where rule number five states: “If a sheep track interferes with stance, the ball may be dropped behind without penalty.” (Sheep still mow the lawn at the 1822 course.)

For a change of scenery, escape the highlands with a chopper ride to Table Cape on Tasmania’s northwestern tip. In just half an hour you’ll find wineries, UNESCO Heritage wilderness preserves and the world’s last temperate rainforest. To fully appreciate the rugged coastline, bed down at The Winged House (pictured), a newly open architectural showpiece cantilevered over the cliffs. The full-service two-bedroom house has a 180-degree observatory deck with ocean views (pictured); Japanese baths; and, soon, a private helipad. Most importantly, there’s a clutch of luxe services available at the touch of a telephone button, including dial-a-chef, dial-a-massage and “dial-a-cray” — after all, the Giant Tasmanian Crayfish is the largest in the world.

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read more: 02. Sleep | boutique | historic | secluded | unusual | 06. Drink | 09. Active | golf

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