Winding road ends with spectre and a feast
THE name Ghost Hill evokes an isolated manor on a lonely stretch of road, once-grand panelled rooms withering under dust and cobwebs, and malevolent spectres lying in wait for the inevitable passers-by.
As we pass Richmond en route to Bilpin, two hours west of Sydney, we glimpse the gleaming horizon line that marks the northern perimeter of the Blue Mountains. Ghost Hill’s owner Brenda McCartney is at the wheel, telling us the story of the ghost who, according to local lore, is the spirit of an elderly Aboriginal woman who would guide travellers through the area in heavy fog.
Pulling up to our ‘‘ haunted manor’’ on an icy winter’s night, we find a warm and inviting timber cottage with not a cobweb or spooky portrait in sight. Just isolation: wonderful, blissful isolation and, thankfully, no fog.
The 8ha Ghost Hill Road property was opened 18 months ago by McCartney, who has more than 30 years’ experience in health, fitness and yoga, and wanted to offer an affordable health retreat close to Sydney. The key ingredient here is flexibility, with the choice of an intensive three-day detox program or simply a day (or a few) of relaxation and rejuvenation, with the optional extras of yoga, massage and other pampering treats.
The two-bedroom timber cabins are reminiscent of classic Australian settlers’ cottages, yet inside they offer a cosy, contemporary environment with big comfy lounges around a sandstone fireplace, a selection of CDs and DVDs, a spa bath and fully equipped kitchen. There are leafy views from every room of eucalyptus and grevillea.
Having forgone the full detox program, we find the kitchen stocked with organic tomatoes, eggs, bacon and sausages for breakfast; fruit, cheese and crackers, champagne and chocolates. Health retreats never looked so good.
Stepping out on a Friday night in Bilpin, the place to be is the Apple Bar, with its blazing fires and delicious home-made specialties, including woodfired pizza. Our lamb with chilli and mint salsa, and woodfired chicken with homemade peri-peri sauce are tasty, and the woodfired garlic and herb bread is superb.
The restaurant was opened in 2005 by Michael Jaggard, formerly of The Edge and Alife restaurants in East Sydney. We had heard that the service could be slow, but on our visit it’s fast and friendly, and even if it weren’t, on a relaxing weekend in Bilpin, there’s absolutely no rush.
After a sleep-in followed by breakfast to the sound of currawongs and kookaburras on our veranda, it’s just metres to take a stroll through the bush that marks the back of the property and the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park. Or you might like to drive to some of the local sights. Bilpin is known for its apples and, along its main artery, Bells Line of Road, there are abundant fruit stalls and orchards, where you can pick your own or purchase a selection of fresh fruit, berry jams, freshly baked apple pies, or bottles of the noted Bilpin Apple Juice.
Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, featuring the famed Wollemi pine, is a short drive from Ghost Hill or, as we do, try Springside Gallery at Bilpin for a coffee or bite: the views from the two back lounges are long and leafy.
As part of Ghost Hill’s package, guests can take advantage of McCartney’s home cooking, with meals delivered to the cottage. The Lebanese feast that greets us is well received after a day’s walking in the crisp mountain air: delicious turkey kibbe, felafel, tabouleh, spiced yoghurt, rosemary potatoes, babaganoush, flat bread and baked cheesecake with berries (healthier than it sounds, made with yoghurt, not cream cheese).
There are two cottages on the property — the second is near the main house— and two more are in the planning stage, the next to be built beside a fern-lined creek at the back of the property. It should be an ideal summer retreat. Sharon Fowler was a guest of Ghost Hill Road.
Ghost Hill Road, 73 Ghost Hill Rd, Bilpin, NSW (off Bells Line of Road). Phone: (02) 4567 2070; www.ghosthillroad.com.au. Tariff: From $180 a cottage, a night. Packages available. Getting there: About two hours by road west of Sydney, via Richmond. Checking in: Couples looking for relaxation; yoga and health devotees; bushwalkers; nature lovers. Bedtime reading: SacredWaters by Dianne Johnson (Halstead Press). Stepping out: Bushwalking at the back door; minutes to Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, orchards or the Apple Bar; Bilpin markets every Saturday. Brickbats: The heat from the lounge doesn’t always extend to the bedroom so some more bedding, electric blanket or hot-water bottles would be nice in winter. Bouquets: Flexibility of meals delivered to the door; yoga and health options or be left to your own devices; spa bath is perfect for a cold night.
Settle in: Ghost Hill Road cottage