In the Blue Mountains on Sydney’s western fringe, the winter solstice is marked by an annual celebration. As the frost settles over the azure mountain range, the streets fill with costumed mythical characters and The Winter Magic Festival parade envelops the main street of Katoomba. Not far away at Medlow Bath, inside the opulent walls of the 112-year-old Hydro Majestic Hotel, a much grander winter celebration takes place.
Initiated in 1980 by one hotelier who recreated ‘White Christmas in July’ for a group of homesick Irish visitors, the tradition of Yulefest has been adopted and carried on by numerous hospitality venues throughout the Blue Mountains. For the past two years, the Hydro Majestic has produced the pinnacle of the Yulefest celebrations: The Hydro Majestic Winter Ball.
Designed by world traveller and retail baron Mark Foy, the hotel originally opened in 1904 as a hydropathic establishment (the health and wellness properties of the 20th century). Despite the initial interest, visitor numbers dwindled due to the ‘no smoking’ and drinking regulations; so Foy rebranded and The Hydro Majestic went on to become a renowned party palace in the roaring ‘20s.
The Winter Ball sees the same glamorous spirit return to the recently refurbished property. Dressed in glittering finery and black tuxedos, no more than 200 guests gather in the grand ballroom for this annual cultural event. Entering beneath the magnificent dome, which Foy had prefabricated in Chicago and shipped to Australia, attendees parade down the infamous corridor Cats Alley and into the grand dining room for cocktails and canapés.
At this year’s event, guests sipped rum flips and enjoyed fig and blue cheese arancini and smoked chicken and leek tart with goats curd whip beneath the decades-old barrel vault ceiling. On exhibition was a series of Blue Mountains landscape paintings by plein air painter Warwick Fuller, who went on to speak about his work and his time as official tour artist for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, during their tour of Australia. Among other VIP guests were the NSW Tourism Minister, Stuart Ayres; Federal Senator, Marise Payne; and a descendent of the first general manager of the Hydro Majestic Hotel.
Upon announcement of the lucky draw prize, guests filed inside an elegant white marquee adorned with glittering chandeliers and bathed in a soft blue light. The evening of old-world extravagance was complemented by a gourmet two-course meal, a surprise marriage proposal and the largest classical music performance ever held in the Blue Mountains.
Not two metres away from the dining tables, the Metropolitan Orchestra treated guests to a program of O’Boyle’s Rhapsody on a theme of Mendelssohn, Horn Concerto no 1 by Strauss, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Symphony no 4 Italian by Mendelssohn.
For the complete VIP experience, book a room at the Hydro Majestic Hotel and spend the weekend exploring the historic grounds and gazing out over the spectacular changing blue hues of the Megalong Valley.
All-inclusive tickets for the 2016 event were priced at A$150 per person. Ticket enquiries for the 2017 Winter Ball should be directed to the Hydro Majestic Hotel.