Tauranga: As close to heavenly as you can get

By Patricia Greig

Patricia Greig has a fairy tale stay at a luxury country house near Tauranga
The French Country House lodge. Photo supplied / Ian Benet
The French Country House lodge. Photo supplied / Ian Benet

I've crept up an antique wrought iron staircase to write in a library seemingly in the clouds. I've always had a thing for libraries, but this one is special. I can see a road and some farm slopes outside cathedral windows, but I can't see where they begin and where they end. I assume this is what floating feels like.

Kay, a wonderful human, chimes in on my daydreams and insists on topping up my Champagne and feeding me canapes. She and her tiny dog, Freddie, are possibly the friendliest, most genuine hosts I have ever had.

Kay has a knack for sorting out your needs before you discover them yourself, and guests to her French Country House in Tauranga are treated to a special brand of luxury accommodation. Kay will happily organise your wine, dinner and lunch bookings, and pack you off to the beach or to play golf (there are six golf courses nearby). I'm not entirely sure why you would want to venture far from the property, but if needs must Lake Taupo and Rotorua are close enough, and Matamata isn't far away either, so the location is ideal for sightseeing.

I was after a little rejuvenation and, with a taste for the finer things, I'm not one to stay just anywhere on a weekend away. This property is listed on booking.com, which offers 3317 properties throughout New Zealand (and more than 820,000 worldwide, so the options are endless).

The French Country House is bathed in soft romantic light, no matter what the the hour of the day. Speaking of lights, there are more than 11 chandeliers. My favourite is a colourful French harlequin antique above the breakfast bar in the kitchen, contrasting beautifully with the miles of farmland leading to the Tauranga Harbour framed in the window behind.

The French Country House, near Tauranga, is bathed in soft romantic light, no matter what time of day. Photo supplied / Ian Benet
The French Country House, near Tauranga, is bathed in soft romantic light, no matter what time of day. Photo supplied / Ian Benet
The French Country House lodge. Photo supplied / Ian Benet
The French Country House lodge. Photo supplied / Ian Benet

This house is made from many pieces, but together it is a puzzle-picture of somewhere Cinderella may have lived in fairy tales.

The suite floors are made from a beautiful creamy wood milled from the farm, the roof shingles are from Canada, chimney pots came from England and the tiles are Egyptian. Windows arc and accentuate the high pitch of the roof, drawing attention skywards. A disused bridge from Westport dating from the turn of the 19th century was purchased and disassembled, finding new purpose as door frames and roof beams throughout the house.

The first night I was at the French Country House the wind howled a blustering gale, crashing at the surrounding walls and trees.

As I lay in bed and listened to the clamour outside, I gazed up at the wharf-like beam running through the centre of my ceiling, its ruggedness a contrast with the feminine pink roses and tall silver-framed mirror. "How strange," I thought for a moment, "I must be under the sea," before drifting off to sleep.

As far as I can tell, the French Country House is fairly close to heaven. Nestled in the Pahoia farmlands on about 16ha, it was an easy drive down from Auckland and it's hard to believe I'm only 25 minutes from Tauranga. I had incredible breakfasts, met horses (which guests are welcome to ride, there's an instructor on site), wandered the beautiful farmlands, nibbled homemade baking and had the most magnificent massage by Melissa (yet another thing Kay organised for me), which had me so relaxed I'm still not sure it really happened.

Maybe I was projecting, but I'm sure Freddie was sad to see me leave. The French Country House is a gem, too good not to share.

Need to know

If you're in the Bay of Plenty for the weekend, try Elizabeth Cafe and Larder in Tauranga for the best coffee and locally sourced food. For dinner, Rye American Kitchen and Spirits serves a killer margarita, biscuits and fried chicken.

Mt Maunganui is around 30 minutes' drive away, perfect for a day trip. The Mount is the right neighbourhood if you're keen for retail therapy, with offerings of homewares with a difference, and a plethora of stores bursting with surfwear and New Zealand designers.

Booking.com has more than 3300 properties around New Zealand. It's easy to use and you don't have to pay until you stay. We'd been aware that people use it in Europe, not realising that we could use it here too.

• Patricia Greig stayed at The French Country House courtesy of booking.com

- Weekend magazine

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