Is Orange the new black?

4 November 2020

We hit the road with interior stylist Steve Cordony, who took us on the scenic route from Sydney to Orange in his Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV.


Is Orange the new black?

4 November 2020

We hit the road with interior stylist Steve Cordony, who took us on the scenic route from Sydney to Orange in his Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV.

A car drives on a misty road

Steve Cordony’s black Mercedes-Benz GLE powers its way effortlessly up the steep, snaking incline of Bells Line of Road. Image: Sue Stubbs.

The sky is slate-grey and the bonnet of Steve Cordony’s black Mercedes-Benz GLE beaded with raindrops as the car powers its way effortlessly up the steep, snaking incline of Bells Line of Road. It’s probably not the best day for a scenic drive to Rosedale Farm, Cordony and his partner Michael Booth’s 50-hectare property in Orange. Hit the M7 freeway out of Sydney, and it’ll get you there in just over three hours but in a car like this, where’s the fun in that?

The Bells Line route via Bilpin takes a fair bit longer, especially if, like Cordony, you fancy stopping off to stock up on provisions, catch up on emails over lunch, or pause at the many little roadside stalls for local produce and flowers. You might even, as Cordony does, happen to have a pair of secateurs handy to cut a stem or two of hawthorn blossom that blooms in profusion along the roadside in spring.

A man pulls blossoms from a car

Cordony unloads the hawthorn blossom he snipped from the side of the road. Image: Sue Stubbs.

One thing’s for sure, though, this is a route to enjoy at your leisure whatever the weather, with magnificent views for passengers (even when said views are shrouded in mist) and lots of fun on those plentiful bends for driving enthusiasts.

Earlier, as the lights turned green and Cordony swung the GLE left onto the start of Bells Line of Road at Richmond, he exhaled deeply and happily. “I’m very aware of the duality of our lives,” he explained. “This junction is like a physical punctuation mark of that cut-off point between the city and the country.”

The commute between Sydney and Orange is all part of a day’s work – and weekend’s play – for Cordony, freelance interior stylist, tastemaker, and Style Director at Large for Australia’s leading interior design magazine, Belle. Based in Sydney for much of the week, Cordony has been shifting his work increasingly to Rosedale Farm, using the property as his styling canvas for editorial features and working on digital campaigns with such esteemed international brands as Moët & Chandon, Apple, Nespresso, Samsung and, of course, Mercedes-Benz.

A passion project that started when Cordony and Booth bought it three-and-a-half years ago, Rosedale Farm is a gracious, Georgian-style homestead built in 1887, set amid a sprawl of paddocks and garden ‘rooms’. After two years of drought, resulting in the loss of hundreds of newly planted trees and plants, a good six months of rain has refilled the dams and transformed the property from a depressing dun to 50 shades of green.

Tasks at Rosedale Farm are clearly defined: Booth is a passionately committed gardener and animal lover, so he happily consigns himself to the great outdoors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s been working almost exclusively from the farm – he’s National Business Manager at Coca-Cola Amatil – as well as setting up an expansive vegetable garden bordered by newly planted apple trees.

A man and his dog unloading a car boot

Bedford, the couple’s English Spring Spaniel, greets Cordony as he pulls into Rosedale Farm. Image: Sue Stubbs.

There’s the couple’s menagerie of animals, too – all in shades of monochrome, due to the demands of Cordony’s unwavering aesthetic. “It’s a Noah’s Ark,” laughs Cordony. “We have albino peacocks, a turkey, ostriches, ducks, guinea fowl and fantail doves. Plus, two Shire horses, Brave and Ebony, along with Lucy the pig. She’s the only animal that breaks the colour mould, as she’s on the cusp of being soft pink!” And of course, we can’t leave out five-month-old Bedford, their handsome English Springer Spaniel.

The home’s interior is Cordony’s domain, and he’s flexed his considerable design muscles to curate a magical blend of traditional and contemporary interiors, interspersed with exuberantly playful touches. “I like to think of my aesthetic as timeless, bold and layered,” he says.

Back on the road, the chilly dampness of the morning is forgotten as the GLE’s heated seats kick in and wrap us in their warm embrace. “I love the technology of the GLE,” says Cordony. “The whole interface of the Widescreen Cockpit is amazing. And I love that you have the options of both a trackpad and a touch screen. The sheer size of the screen means everything’s clear and easy to read. The head-up display is really useful, too. Basically, I just feel really safe when I’m on the road.”

A passenger with too much time on her hands might be tempted to play with the numerous features available at her fingertips – the ambient lighting, perhaps, or background display themes – to create the right mood for the occasion, but she manages to restrain herself. “I just stick to ‘classic’,” laughs Cordony, before he asks Madam Mercedes to “play some Frank Ocean”. She immediately obliges.

From its start at Richmond, the Bells Line of Road takes a scenic route, crossing the mighty Hawkesbury River at North Richmond, passing through Kurrajong Heights, Bilpin and Mt Tomah before descending to the historic mining town of Lithgow. To its south sprawl the hazy undulations of the Blue Mountains National Park; to its north, the tree-canopied vastness of Wollemi National Park. Fruit orchards and flower farms border the route, and there are plenty of little roadside stalls with hand-painted signs touting their wares – apples, honey, sprays of blossom, bunches of flowers and bundles of firewood.

Bilpin, famed as an apple-growing region, is becoming something of a mecca for foodies, with a variety of places to stop and refresh or simply stock up. “I always pick up some honey on my way to the farm,” says Cordony. “We have so much already, but I just can’t stop buying it – and we have four hives!”

He also regularly calls in to see Phil Miscuso at Bilpin Blossom Farm to pick up a few showy branches of seasonal blossom to use in arrangements around the homestead or for photo-shoots: “I’ve got vases coming out of my ears,” he admits. Miscuso, who lost 70 per cent of his plants and trees to last summer’s bushfires, is in the process of restocking and re-inventing his business as an organic flower farm and orchard, cafe and produce store.

A man and his dog unloading a car boot

Bedford, the couple’s English Spring Spaniel, greets Cordony as he pulls into Rosedale Farm. Image: Sue Stubbs.

Of course, where there’s apples, there’s cider, and you’ll find a number of producers along the way where you can stop and sample their wares. Hillbilly Cider is just one, and, after a major refurbishment, it’s a lovely spot for a tasting, to pick up a little of what you fancy, or kick back for a couple of hours for a wood-fired pizza. Best not to kick back too far, though, or you’ll never leave.

A man at an outdoor table

Highhopes Roadhouse, by chef Sean Moran and his partner, Michael ‘Manoo’ Robertson, is a regular pit stop for Cordony. Image: Sue Stubbs.

The latest jewel in Bilpin’s crown is High Hopes Roadhouse & Sweet Shop, a quirky, colourful, warm and welcoming pit stop owned by chef Sean Moran, of the much-awarded Sean’s Panaroma restaurant in Bondi, and his partner, Michael ‘Manoo’ Robertson. The couple has lived in the area for many years, growing much of the produce for Sean’s Panaroma on their property, Bilpin Springs Farm. These days, Manoo is the friendly face of High Hopes, which not only serves some of the best food you’ll find this side of the Great Dividing Range, but some seriously local produce to take home, plus the luridly packaged old-school lollies on display out the back.

Refreshed, replenished and on the road again, it’s impossible to ignore the aftermath of last summer’s catastrophic bushfires, as the car winds up the hill to Bell via Mount Tomah. Bordering the roads are lines of spindly trees standing like sentries, their charcoal trunks brightened by cheering tufts of green regrowth. Thousands of them, stretching away into the valleys below on either side. Elsewhere, great slabs of rock, slick and shiny with rain, form natural barriers between road and bush.

From Bell, the road takes on a new name – Chifley Road – which winds down to Lithgow. It’s late afternoon as we drive through, and the light is starting to fade as the rain batters the GLE’s windscreen. No stopping now. The country starts to open out as the car chews up the kilometres to Bathurst. Brilliant yellow wattle lines the freeway, and fat cattle graze in emerald pastures. “We could be in Ireland!” jokes Cordony.

What might have taken another hour and a half – had Cordony done his regular pit stop at Bathurst to grab a coffee at The Hub, and home-baked pies from Harvest – flashes by in rain-dappled vignettes of farmland and forest edged by brooding hills. Up ahead is the turn onto the Mitchell Highway and a sign for Orange, and Cordony is eager to get home. There, at the end of the long, winding gravel driveway leading to Rosedale Farm, there are blossom branches and provisions to unload, and Michael (and an exuberant Bedford) waiting to greet him on the elegant white verandah. It may well be better to travel than to arrive, but sometimes, the destination is everything.

On the road checklist.

Bilpin Blossom Farm
2549 Bells Line of Road, Bilpin, NSW

A work in progress since the bushfires, but owner Phil Miscuso is hoping to open to the public in early 2021.
Huntley Berry Farm
Huntley Rd, Huntley (near Orange), NSW

Have a picnic, pick your own berries or stock up on preserves, syrups, jams and more.
Open Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm for picking in berry season, and for the shop all year round; weekends, 10am-4pm, October-April only.
Hillbilly Cider
2230 Bells Line of Road, Bilpin, NSW

Ciders galore, and wood-fired pizzas to soak them up.
Open Monday-Thursday, 10am-4pm; Friday-Sunday, 10am-6pm
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden
(formerly Mount Tomah Botanical Garden)
Bells Line of Road, Mt Tomah, Blue Mountains, NSW

Beautifully laid-out 28-hectare cool-climate gardens with species from all over the world.
High Hopes Roadhouse & Sweet Shop
2488, Bells Line of Road, Bilpin, NSW

Great food and a big welcome – with a lolly shop that kids of all ages will love.
Open daily, 8am-4pm.
The Hub Cafe
52 Keppel Street, Bathurst, NSW

Excellent coffee by locals Fish River Roasters and good casual cafe food, too.
Open Monday-Saturday, 7.30am-2.30pm; Sunday, 8am-2.30pm.
The Hive
6-18 Bells Line of Road, Berambing, NSW

An unassuming yet excellent cafe with good coffee, house-baked goods (the sausage roll is said to be unbeatable) and, of course, local honey. The kids will love watching the bees at work in the glass-fronted hive.
Open daily, Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8.30am-5pm.
Harvest Cafe & Store
1 Kendall Avenue, Bathurst, NSW (next to the Visitor Information Centre)

A cafe and casual eatery focused on local produce that also sells great gluten-free pies, according to Steve Cordony.
Open Wednesday-Friday, 9am-3pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-4pm.

By Sally Feldman