Win­ter is a fes­tive time to visit the Blue Moun­tains west of Syd­ney, re­ports Sue Milne

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

ALL it takes is one week­end in the NSW Blue Moun­tains and I’m smit­ten, in­fat­u­ated, to­tally won over. Not with a man but with chintz. And not only chintz but frills and flo­rals, full-blown roses in ev­ery shade of pink and red on bil­low­ing, full-length drapes and well-stuffed so­fas. I drool with de­light at sparkling chan­de­liers, or­nate mir­rors re­flect­ing gleam­ing oak and ma­hogany furniture, vel­vet and faux-fur throws, swags and tas­sels and deep pile car­pet.

My love af­fair with glass, steel, pol­ished con­crete and stark white walls is over. I’ve fallen for all things cosy. Be warned, that’s what win­ter in the Blue Moun­tains can do to you. Se­duc­tive at any time of the year, it’s es­pe­cially so in the coolest months when the scent of woodsmoke is in the air, leaves in ev­ery hue of red and gold lit­ter the ground and moun­tain folk cel­e­brate Yule­fest.

This is when thou­sands of Syd­neysiders and in­ter­state and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors head for the hills. The air is crisp and in­vig­o­rat­ing, the food is hot and hearty and red wine never tasted so good.

Add to the mix the spe­cial magic of Yule­fest and the in­gre­di­ents of an old­fash­ioned Christ­mas: fir trees glit­ter­ing with fes­tive lights, log fires, piles of gor­geously wrapped gifts, roast chest­nuts, turkey and plum pud­ding, hot choco­late, mulled wine, brac­ing bush­walks, even, if you are lucky, a sprin­kling of snow.

Many ho­tels of­fer Yule­fest pack­ages; restau­rants and cafes have spe­cial menus with all sorts of warm­ing sea­sonal de­lights; spas cre­ate fes­tive treat­ments and shop win­dows are dec­o­rated with snow scenes and Santa. The clear skies mean night­time tem­per­a­tures in the high Blue Moun­tains reg­u­larly drop be­low freez­ing but the days are usu­ally warm and sunny and per­fect for out­door ad­ven­tures: bush­walk­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, hop­ping on a Har­ley-David­son for a spin around the lo­cal sights, or a ram­ble through the an­tique shops and gal­leries.

And, at the end of a busy day, what could be more per­fect than a hearty meal at a lo­cal restau­rant (this is nei­ther the time nor the place for a cold col­la­tion of mixed let­tuce leaves) be­fore re­turn­ing to your ho­tel for a night­cap in front of a log fire. But make sure there ac­tu­ally is a log fire be­fore you book; the Moun­tain Her­itage Ho­tel at Ka­toomba ro­man­ti­cally, if alarm­ingly, has open fires in some of its guest rooms. And so to bed: switch off the elec­tric blan­ket, snug­gle un­der a feather-light doona, and settle in for a great night’s sleep.

Best yule­tide beds: For the full Yule­fest ex­pe­ri­ence — ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals and fes­tiv­i­ties — check the spe­cial pack­ages of­fered by most of the lead­ing ho­tels. The Moun­tain Her­itage is where Yule­fest be­gan in 1980 (to cheer a group of home­sick Ir­ish­men who missed a ‘‘ proper’’ Christ­mas in Aus­tralia) and it car­ries on the tra­di­tion through­out July with cel­e­bra­tions in the style of a Vic­to­rian coun­try house party, with carol singers, a singsong around the pi­ano, Christ­mas cabaret, visit from Santa and a six-course Yule­fest din­ner.

There are high­land pipers in Ka­toomba at the Car­ring­ton’s Yule­fest din­ners and the his­toric Grand Mer­cure Hy­dro Ma­jes­tic at Med­low Bath has a Yule­fest pack­age through July and into Au­gust. The or­gan­ised approach is not for ev­ery­one and the Blue Moun­tains has dozens of cute moun­tain cot­tages — such as Wom­bat Hollow Re­treat at Black­heath, Blue­berry Lodge and Chim­ney Cot­tage at Mount Wil­son or the award­win­ning Rus­tic Spirit cot­tages at Kur­ra­jong Heights — with log fires and moun­tain views. Pur­chase fes­tive fare lo­cally (most of the moun­tain vil­lages have a del­i­catessen, or Santa will de­liver), and cre­ate your own ver­sion of Yule­fest. www.moun­tain­her­ www.the­car­ring­ www.hy­dro­ma­jes­ www.therus­tic­ Magic pud­dings and pies: Win­ter in the Blue Moun­tains means hearty food and lots of it. If you book a Yule­fest pack­age at one of the main ho­tels, you can look for­ward to a vari­a­tion on the tra­di­tional Christ­mas din­ner: roast turkey, chest­nut stuff­ing, plum pud­ding and mince pies. But there are many more great eat­ing op­tions, from soup and sour­dough bread at one of the nu­mer­ous small and un­pre­ten­tious cafes (try Ele­phant Bean in Ka­toomba or the Con­ser­va­tion Hut at Went­worth Falls) to fine din­ing at Silks Brasserie in Leura, where win­ter warm­ers in­clude sauteed duck liv­ers with black pud­ding or saf­fron-in­fused seafood chow­der with pre­mium oys­ters.

En­joy sub­lime views and mod Oz din­ing in Ka­toomba at Echoes ho­tel restau­rant or French-style fare at Mes Amis. Soli­tary restau­rant and kiosk at Leura Falls boasts great food and views to the south­ern high­lands. Check out his­toric Col­lit’s Inn at Hart­ley Vale, which is fast gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the best restau­rants out­side Syd­ney.

A trip to the Blue Moun­tains in win­ter wouldn’t be the same with­out a visit to Ka­toomba’s fa­mous art deco Paragon cafe, opened in 1916, with an in­te­rior lit­tle changed since. It still takes the ti­tle for best hot choco­late in the moun­tains (thick, creamy, with a slightly bit­ter fin­ish) but is up against some se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion, not least from Cafe Joso­phan’s in Leura, a shrine to all things choco­late.­ www.soli­ www.col­ www.joso­ Beaten tracks: The 247,000ha Blue Moun­tains is an ad­ven­ture play­ground for grown-ups (and kids) with moun­tain bik­ing, rock climb­ing, ab- seil­ing, white­wa­ter raft­ing and hik­ing at their best dur­ing the cool win­ter months. ‘‘ No hot sun beat­ing down and no snakes,’’ says Craig Al­bery of Ka­toomba-based River Deep Moun­tain High, one of sev­eral ad­ven­ture tourism op­er­a­tors in the moun­tains.

En­joy the moun­tain scenery from horse­back with Wer­riberri Trail Rides, which op­er­ates from the Me­ga­long Val­ley, and caters for all lev­els, from ner­vous novices to ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers. And, with dozens of well­marked trails, some of the state’s best moun­tain bik­ing is to be found in this beau­ti­ful re­gion.

Bush­walks range from easy to chal­leng­ing; the Blue Moun­tains are an ac­ces­si­ble wilder­ness that ev­ery­one can en­joy. Prince Henry Walk, which fol­lows the cliff edge from Ka­toomba Cas­cades to Gor­don Falls, near Leura, is an easy stroll with stun­ning views. In­for­ma­tion cen­tres at Glen­brook and Echo Point pro­vide maps and ad­vice and can ar­range guided walks with Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice rangers.­riberri­tion­al­ Around the gal­leries: The Blue Moun­tains’ bush panora­mas, cliffs and gorges, rivers and wa­ter­falls have pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for artists for a cen­tury or more. One of the plea­sures of a win­ter week­end is a trawl round the gal­leries to see the work of painters, sculp­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers, jew­ellery mak­ers and crafts­men who live and work in the moun­tains. Find some of the re­gion’s best orig­i­nal art­work at Michael White Gallery at Leura, Waragil Stu­dios at Black­heath, Ka­toomba Fine Art and Falls Gallery at Went­worth Falls. See wooden sculp­tures at Leura Fine Wood­work Gallery; John Turner’s Ka­toomba gallery show­cases Aus­tralian panora­mas and wildlife. Volup­tuous nudes are on show, and for sale, at Spring­wood, Norman Lind­say’s house at Faulcon­bridge, where the artist and au­thor lived and loved with gusto. It’s now a Na­tional Trust prop­erty and open to the pub­lic. www.michael­ www.warag­ilstu­ www.ka­toom­bafin­ www.falls­ www.finewood­ www.nor­man­lind­ Cake and eat it: Af­ter­noon tea is a Blue Moun­tains tra­di­tion; ho­tels and tea­rooms vie for the top tea ti­tle.

Tra­di­tion­al­ists should head to By­gone Beau­tys Tea­room in Leura where teas from across the world are poured from sil­ver pots and sipped from fine china cups.

At the Car­ring­ton in Ka­toomba, high tea is served on Sun­day af­ter­noon: ‘‘ a time for un­hur­ried con­ver­sa­tion and del­i­cate cui­sine’’. The menu here in­cludes fin­ger sand­wiches, as­para­gus rolls, mini quiches, cheeses, peach tarts and choco­late truf­fles. Wash it all down with a se­lec­tion from the range of loose leaf teas or take a hot choco­late with cream and marsh­mal­lows.

Af­ter­noon tea at el­e­gant Lil­ian­fels, the Blue Moun­tains’ pre­mier ho­tel, is so pop­u­lar it is avail­able from 10am. Lil­ian­fels’s Re­gal tea in­cludes homemade scones with jam and cream, pas­tries and mini tarts, fin­ger sand­wiches, a range of loose leaf teas or cof­fee and a 200ml bot­tle of Moet Nec­tar Cham­pagne. It’s a snip at $99 for two.­gonebeau­ www.lil­ian­ Sugar and spices: Taste as good as you feel af­ter one of Spa Sub­lime’s spe­cially de­vised Yule­fest treat­ments: a vanilla bean cream body pol­ish, an all-over driz­zle of warmed Bel­gian choco­late, fol­lowed by a co­coa and vanilla mud mas­sage and wrap and, to fin­ish, some hand­made choco­lates to nib­ble on.

The Car­ring­ton’s award-win­ning Yindi day spa also goes in for the full in­dul­gence, with its cou­ples choco­late fan­tasy, which in­cludes a co­coa and co­conut milk spa bath (in ad­join­ing his and hers sunken tubs), and a honey and co­coa mud wrap, fol­lowed by a Toblerone cock­tail in the ho­tel bar. Stress melts away, with­out the aid of choco­late, at Lil­ian­fels, where the spa menu in­cludes its sig­na­ture treat­ment, poul­tice ther­apy, us­ing 14th­cen­tury tech­niques, and a body mask ‘‘ en­riched with the min­er­als of ex­tinct vol­ca­noes’’.­sub­ Golden oldies: There are no malls in the 26 pretty towns and vil­lages that dot the moun­tains and shop­ping is a leisurely browse rather than a fran­tic dash and grab. Best buys are vin­tage cloth­ing, an­tique jew­ellery and sec­ond­hand books in Ka­toomba (Mr Pick­wick’s Fine Books is one of the best). While in Leura, find fes­tive can­dles at Moon­tree Stu­dios or check out qual­ity kitchen­ware at Leura Whisk and the Cat’s Meow, which spe­cialises in faux-French pro­vin­cial home­wares. There are nu­mer­ous an­tiques shops in the area: one of the best is Vic­tory Theatre An­tiques in Mount Vic­to­ria, which show­cases furniture, porce­lain, jew­ellery, books and col­lectibles.

A high­light of Yule­fest is the Blue Moun­tain An­tique Fair, held next week­end (July 7-8) at the com­mu­nity hall, Black­heath.

For Christ­mas bells and baubles, visit Santa’s Hut in Blax­land and the Christ­mas Cot­tage in Leura, which are open year-round and crammed with fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions.­pick­ www.vic­to­rythe­ Spade work: Even in win­ter there is plenty to see and en­joy in the fa­mous gar­dens of the Blue Moun­tains. Fore­most is Mount Tomah Botanic Gar­den, the cool-cli­mate cousin of Syd­ney’s Royal Botanic Gar­dens. Sit­u­ated on the Bells Line of Road, at an al­ti­tude of 1000m, many plants un­suited to Syd­ney’s warmer cli­mate are grown here. There is a dis­play de­voted to Wollemi pines, the world’s rarest and old­est trees, dis­cov­ered in 1994 not far from here. Other not-tobe-missed gar­dens are at Mount Wil­son and Mount Irvine and the Na­tional Trust’s Ever­glades Gar­dens at Leura.

For a gar­den on a much grander scale, head out to the 12,000ha Gar­dens of Stone na­tional park, 30km north of Lith­gow, where ero­sion has carved out strange bee­hive-shaped domes and lime­stone pago­das. www.ev­er­glades­gar­ Sue Milne was a guest of Blue Moun­tains Tourism.


Sea­son’s greet­ings: Santa drops in and ho­tels, restau­rants and cafes en­ter into the spirit of Yule­fest, the Blue Moun­tains’ cel­e­bra­tion of all things win­try

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