It’s a short drive from Sydney to the Blue Mountains – about one-and-a-half hours from the CBD – yet the destination feels remote, well away from the busy city scene.
There are many attractions to suit luxury travellers – gourmet food, wine and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed sights of the national parks. The area’s accommodation options are also worth exploring, with Emirates’ Wolgan Valley Resort recently rebranded to become a One&Only property (now known as Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley) and the historic Hydro Majestic Hotel that reopened in late 2014.
I visited the Blue Mountains on a spring weekend for some R&R and a look at two of four properties in the Escarpment Group’s portfolio – Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa in Katoomba, and the nearby Hydro Majestic Hotel.
Lilianfels is a boutique hotel with classic, old-world charm. The hotel has a billiards room, reading room, indoor and outdoor pools and a day spa among its guest offerings, as well as hatted restaurant Darley’s. The 85 rooms and suites are decorated with floral accents and Edwardian-inspired furniture. A popular destination for weddings – two were taking place during my overnight stay – the grounds are beautifully kept and much of the foliage was in full bloom.
The gardens at Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa | Belinda Craigie
It’s also a short walk to Echo Point, where guests can view the rather spectacular Three Sisters rock formation and Jamison Valley. I visited the landmark at sunset and got a sense of why the area is named Blue – the eucalyptus-lined valley and mountains exude a hazy, deep blue impression and hue when viewed from afar.
Just a few minutes’ drive up the highway in Medlow Bath is the Hydro Majestic Hotel, which has recently reopened after six years of restoration from years of dilapidation and neglect. The refurbished hotel has a somewhat fragmented footprint from 125-odd years of ownership changes and fires that destroyed the property’s Gallery building in 1905 and the original Belgravia wing in 1922.
Cat Alley at Hydro Majestic | Belinda Craigie
While some of the entry-level rooms are small (due to the heritage listing of the building, the structure can’t be altered, meaning a soft refurbishment is the only transformation for many of the rooms), the allure of the property for me was the views over the Megalong Valley, which can be seen from three of the hotel’s onsite restaurants and several of the room categories.
The Hydro Majestic hosts special events, including a series of music shows and weekend festivities. I attended the hotel’s Moon Festival, which was organised to honour its Chinese heritage (original owner Mark Foy’s personal chef and chef at the Hydro Majestic for 35 years was Chinese man Louie Goh Mong, known at the time as Charlie). Stalls were set up selling dumplings, moon cakes and noodles, with a dragon dance and drum performance providing the day’s entertainment. The following weekend an event was to be held for Oktoberfest.
Dragon Dance for the Moon Festival at the Hydro Majestic | Belinda Craigie
As for other excursions, a day spent in a Blue Mountains locale could involve perusing vintage and antique emporiums; a spa treatment in the luxury spa at Lilianfels; coffee or a Devonshire Tea at one of the art deco-inspired cafes; or, weather permitting, journeying through the mountains’ various bushwalking tracks to catch some fresh mountain air before heading back to the city (and reality).