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Bronte Beach: Sydney's best-kept secret
Had enough of the hustle and bustle of Bondi? Make like the locals and head south to Bronte
Every year in October and November, half a million people follow the epic coastal walk from Bondi to neighboring Tamarama Beach for Sculpture by the Sea, the world’s largest free outdoor sculpture exhibition.
Yet only a trickle continues to the next cove -- breathtaking Bronte Beach -- Sydney’s best-kept outdoor space and its best-kept secret.
“I have traveled to more than 50 countries, I’ve lived in the US, in Europe and I’m yet to find a place that has the same special combination as Bronte,” says resident and author Nigel Marsh.
“It’s got one of the most beautiful beaches in the world but it is only 15 minutes’ drive from the heart a major city and it’s got beautiful weather all year round.
“Every day spent away from Bronte is a wasted one.”
Let your stomach guide you
One of the best ways to discover Bronte is through its culinary offerings. Traditionally, this was limited to greasy takeaway joints on Bronte Road and McPherson Street -- the suburb’s two retail hubs.
But today Bronte is home to some of Sydney’s most-talked-about eateries.
Starting in the suburb’s northeast quarter, on the corners of Belgrave and Murray Streets, are two relative newcomers that are already Bronte institutions.
The first is Iggy’s Bread of the World. Since the day it opened in 2008, locals have been lining up here to buy naturally fermented, artisanal sourdough bagels, baguettes and focaccias that usually sell out before noon.
“We had a bakery in the United States, but because of the politics my husband and I thought we’d get away,” says co-owner Ludmilla Ivanovic.
“We came to Sydney to visit old friends, discovered Bronte and fell in love with it: the sunrise, the sunsets, the beach, the pool, the village. There is nothing imperfect about Bronte.”
Across the street is Favoloso Café.
From Fiat kitchen clocks to Limoncello aprons, to the prosciutto and marinated eggplant at the antipasto bar, to the Pasta alla Norma and panini lunchtime favorites, Favoloso stakes its claim as Bronte’s Little Italy.
“When I opened in 2005, it was a huge risk because the agents were having trouble leasing the space,” says owner Christiane Pinzone.
“But the reception has been so positive. I wanted to be part of a community -- not a shopping center -- and I found one.”
For food that surpasses even Favoloso’s high standards, head up to Bronte Road Bistro on, naturally, Bronte Road.
An intimate French restaurant set in an atrium-like dining room and tropical garden, it’s run by husband and wife team Stewart and Jessica Parsons.
Everything these two serve is exceptional in terms of presentation and flavor -- from their shaved cabbage, Persian feta, pea-and-mint salad that tastes like coleslaw for millionaires, to a steak frites (steak and fries) cooked to perfection, through to bread supplied by Iggy’s with Café de Paris butter.
Also on Bronte Road is Vacanza Pizza. Vacanza make old-school, crispy-crust, wood-fired pizzas with premium-quality toppings like triple-smoked ham, provolone and San Marzano tomatoes.
The service is a little hit-and-miss, so unless you’re a huge “Fawlty Towers”fan, order takeaway instead.
Iggy’s Bread of the World, 49 Belgrave St., Bronte +61 (0) 2 9369 1650; open Tuesday-Sunday, 7 a.m. until sold out; www.iggysbread.com
Favoloso Café, Deli, Store, 43-45 Belgrave St., Bronte +61 (0) 413 155 517; open Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-4p.m.; www.favoloso.com.au
Bronte Road Bistro, 282 Bronte Road, Charing Cross, +61 (0) 2 9389 3028; open Tuesday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, noon-3 p.m.; www.bronteroadbistro.com
Vacanza Pizza, 261 Bronte Road, Charing Cross Deli, +61 (0) 2 9090 2089; open Tuesday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-late; www.vacanzapizzeria.com.au
More on CNN: Amazing images of Bondi Beach
The enchanted forest
Follow Bronte Road down toward the beach to Bronte House, a Gothic pile dating from 1845 from which the suburb derives its name.
Named in honor of Britain's Lord Horatio Nelson, who was also Duke of the Sicilian town of Bronte, this heritage-listed property is home to one of Australia’s finest colonial gardens, with grassed terraces, ponds, flower beds, arches, fountains, a mini rainforest and elaborate rockery gardens.
Bronte House is owned by the local council and leased to private tenants, who open it up to the public four weekends a year.
The next open day falls on November 24.
Bronte House backs on to Bronte Gully, the suburb’s own enchanted forest.
To get there, walk back along Bronte Road and up Murray Street until you reach a gap in the apartment buildings, where you can see straight to the ocean.
On your left is a moss-grown stairway that descends along a series of waterfalls and rock pools marking the start of Bronte Creek.
Every second Sunday, members of the Bronte Gully Bushcare Group get together to remove weeds, clear rubbish, build terraces, plant native species -- whatever it takes to maintain its fairytale look.
Blue Tongue Lizards are plentiful here, while kookaburras and other birdlife can seen hanging about Wattle, Banksia and Giant Honey Myrtle trees.
And the best time to see it is right now, in spring, when the entire valley is carpeted in bright yellow Guinea Flowers.
A walking track through the gully leads to the wide, green lawns of Bronte Park, where coin-operated barbecues, children’s playgrounds and shaded picnic gazebos buzz with life and laughter on weekends.
Unlike Bondi and other Sydney beaches, where shops and apartments have been built right up to their promenades, Bronte Park provides a public bulwark that gives the place a “holiday by the seaside” feel.
There are shops here, but they’re tucked away on a low-rise strip south of the beach.
For the ultimate Sydney breakfast experience, with panoramic ocean views and beautiful people on the side, visit any of the trendy cafés on this strip.
They all make a great coffee and bacon and eggs, though for something fancier, Swell Restaurant Sydney, at the end of the strip, is one of the city’s best restaurants.
Think baked eggs with chorizo, avocado toast or orange pancakes with yoghurt. And the bread? Iggy’s, of course.
Bronte House, Bronte Road, Bronte; www.brontehouse.com
Bronte Gully Bushcare Group, +61 (0) 2 9386 7915; www.brontebushcare.org.au
Swell Restaurant Sydney, 465 Bronte Road; +61 (0)2 9386 5666; www.swellrestaurant.com.au
“The beach itself is not large,” reads a real-estate posting for Bronte, dated 1915. “And for this reason, the excellent and enjoyable bathing and surfing it affords is double appreciated for the additional selectness and privacy in consequence.”
It may be small -- about a quarter the size of Bondi -- but Bronte Beach packs a mighty punch.
The waves are not suited for novice swimmers or surfers -- it’s rated as a seven on the scale of beach safety from one to 10.
However, there are a number of relatively safe places to swim, starting at the Bronte Baths at the south end of the beach.
Established in 1887, it has five 30-meter swimming lanes and a large shallow area sheltered by a rock face that kids love leaping from.
Adjacent to the Baths is the Bronte Bogey Hole -- a lagoon made of rings of rocks that’s a favorite among mums and toddlers, who spend hours exploring its nooks and crannies.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Bronte’s most-tanned senior citizens spend their summers sunbaking on the benches and lawn in front of the changing rooms, their skin crisping under the southern sun.
A few of them are lifelong member of the Bronte Surf Lifesaving Club, whose headquarters lie on the northern end of the beach.
Throughout the summer and on sunny weekends, they can be seen patrolling a flagged swimming area at the center of the beach -- ergo, the great Aussie idiom “swim between the flags.”
Established in 1903, the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club claims to be the home of surf lifesaving in Australia and the oldest continually operating surf club in the world.
The club’s biggest day of the year falls on the first Sunday of December, when the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim hits town.
This year, 2,500 swimmers from will tackle the 2.4-kilometer course for a chance at saltwater glory and to join the massive post-race celebration in Bronte Park featuring live music, street food and children’s rides.
“In the last few years, conditions have been rough and the swim’s been quite a challenge,” says event organizer Kate Hughes.
“But we’ve had a couple of sparkling weekends in spring, so this year is shaping up to be an easy swim on a clear, blue day. Exactly what Bronte is known for.”
To enter the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim, download an entry form from www.bonditobronte.com.au. Entrance costs $40 (US$42) with all funds donated to the Kids' Cancer Project.