Wind­ing road ends with spec­tre and a feast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Australian Holidays -

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.

Check­list

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

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