Winter Wonders: A Cozy Retreat in the Blue Mountains

by LukeAdmin

Words By Dorian Mode Photography By Lydia Thorpe

I do like the cold. It’s a novelty for us living on the Coast, isn’t it? I don’t know about you but our go–to winter playground is the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Blue Mountains.

Leaving the Coast and passing Glenbrook, we feel the temperature gradually ebb as we make our leafy ascent. We note the deciduous trees have already shed their veil of leaves for winter. And the grey eucalypts twitch in the lovely mountain breezes. I can almost smell that cosy log fire as I drive. (Mental note: Check the oil.)

Our first destination is the Norman Lindsay House at Faulconbridge – confusingly called Springwood. This is an ideal pit stop as it’s at the foot of the mountains – just past Glenbrook. Now, whether you are moved by Lindsay’s work or not is a moot point. Lindsay was an utterly fascinating character and a leading figure in the bohemian Sydney of the 1920s. His output was prolific, including the Magic Pudding series of children’s books. We were fortunate enough to have a tour guide with us that day who discussed his work, including Norman’s etching process, which at the time, was cutting edge (pun intended). Psst! When you visit any gallery, always tag along with a tour (included in admission) so you can attach a narrative to the works. Indeed, it was a thrill to stand in the artist’s studio – where they’ve cleverly left his paints and brushes as if the Norm just popped out to smoke his pipe.

In the house we find the main gallery housing his renowned busty nudes. I was amused to see a painting of a well–dressed lady in jodhpurs on horseback amongst the orgy of oils. Had no one told her that ‘dress was optional’? His statuesque model for his work was his muse and later wife, Rose Soady. Working–class Rosie was from the wrong side of the pallet and her story is as fascinating as old Norm’s. And I do like his paintings of cats. He captures their personality so accurately. No wonder. The Lindsays had thirty cats!

Post art, do enjoy some indoor rock climbing at Camp Street Climbing at Katoomba if you are so inclined (pun intended). Or if you have bad knees and hips like us, why not make a beeline for our favourite heritage garden in the Blue Mountains, Everglades at Leura. We adore this place. We especially love the historic house. This gorgeous Moderne–style 1930s Art Deco home was built by the textile king, Henri Van de Velde. The garden was built by Danish landscape designer, Paul Sorensen, who by that time, had established a prestigious clientele and was much in demand as a creator of boutique gardens.

Set amongst 5.2 hectares of elegantly designed heritage gardens, the views over the Jamison Valley to Mount Solitary are sublime. And psst! This ‘devotee’ of a ‘Devo Tea’ will argue it’s the best value place for your scone and cream in the Blue Mountains. Why? Because it’s run by National Trust volunteers and those ladies bake the scones themselves. However, if you’re looking for something more upmarket, enjoy a Silver Service version of the Devo (with champers) at our fabulous digs below. Keep reading!

We’ve been writing travel for over twenty years. But we have a confession to make. We are not supposed to have favourites. But our favourite hotel in the Blue Mountains is the Hydro Majestic: a sublime amalgam of Deco and Nouveau. We first fell in love with the old gal when commissioned by Inside History Magazine to write a complete history of the place upon its grand reopening. And what a fascinating narrative, unique to Australia we thinks. Moreover, the Escarpment Group has done an outstanding renovation: tasteful yet practical, with a clever re–imagining of spaces.

The Hydro started life as two hotels, joined together by the retail baron, Mark Foy (remember the store in town?). So it’s an eccentric castellated shape. From end to end, the hotel is longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge (from pylon to pylon). Of course, this makes for the best views. The Hydro is aptly named. When water treatments were all the rage around the turn of the century, Mark Foy imported water from Baden–Baden in Germany (ironically, the best water in the world was right at Foy’s doorstep). Indeed, Medlow Bath (nee Brown’s Siding) was renamed by Foy to promote his new spa. Foy hired Dr George Baur from a health spa on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland to devise and supervise a program of weird and wacky hydropathic treatments (including chilli–infused enemas). Thankfully, these days the only liquid therapies are to be had at the bar.

Interestingly, the health retreat had working electricity four days before the city of Sydney. And renowned opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, sang at the hotel. While Australia’s first Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton died in the hotel in 1920. And in 1942 the Hydro was a hospital for American casualties from the gritty battles of the Coral Sea and South Pacific.

Besides the extraordinary history, we adore the quirkiness of the hotel. Indeed, one room, Cat’s Alley (so–called because women used to gossip there) is set at a mad incline in–order to join the Belgravia Wing (Art Deco) to the Hargravia Wing (Art Nouveau). I’ve never seen this in a hotel before. And we love the bizarre Sir Walter Scott–esque paintings of knights shooting, clubbing and stabbing wild animals in Africa – perhaps not one for the vegans. It was hip of the Escarpment Group to retain these original oils and underscores the uncompromising heritage eye of the designers.

That evening we dine in the Hydro’s gorgeous Wintergarden Restaurant. Featuring panoramic views overlooking the Megalong Valley, the Wintergarden is a special dining experience. We begin with seared scallops for nibbles, followed by baked red snapper for our mains. This was matched with a regional wine: Black Star from the Marlborough region in NZ. Hey, it’s a region. For dessert, we graze on a cheese plate so we can keep drinking.

Looking around at meal’s end, the romantic lighting, the crackling of an open fire, the tinkling of the grand piano, the sweeping views, and the silver service with modern Asian infused cuisine, all coalesce for the perfect winter dining experience.

Later we enjoy a dessert wine before the open fire in the Belgravia Wing. Here we chat with a wealthy retired couple who, for the first time, have been exploring their own country since lockdowns. Not having stayed here before, they were most impressed with the Hydro.

The following day we drive to the flanking suburb of Katoomba. Now, honestly, how long has it been since you visited Scenic World? Probably donkey’s years, right? You know, a lot’s changed. We visited on a wet Chewsdee and the place was chockers. We can see why. It’s unique. We enjoy the cable car with its glass floor and plunging views of the valley below and a close up of Three Sisters. And the steepest railway in the world is here, too. When you get to the bottom, you can wander and enjoy some history. Katoomba was once a mining community. So we walk through the canopy of winter rainforest while stopping at fascinating exhibits unpacking the miners’ tough lives. Where in Australia can you find a theme park like this? The one newish edition is a cable car experience. It seemed to combine the steep railway ride with the old cable car ride. Once at the bottom there is a senior–friendly walk to the funicular train to the summit. What a great little Aussie success story, employing locals and bringing the beauty of the mountains to folk. Psst! Less mobile readers fear not. Scenic World is very senior–friendly and created with accessibility in mind.

That evening we enjoy a meal at funky Leura Garage. This former mechanical workshop has a rustic–chic decor and industrial car–themed art, offering pizza and share plates. We love the arrangement of tyres and the hoist and petroliana. Great for classic car geeks like me.

The following morning, as we sit with a toe–curling coffee and croissant at the Hydro, overlooking the misty Megalong Valley, we agree that we leave a little piece of our heart each time in these mountains.

Fact box #1: Yulefest Christmas In July 2nd to 30th July 2022

Get into the festive Yulefest spirit with a delectable dining experience indulging in a special 5 course Yulefest inspired degustation dinner menu at the Hatted Wintergarden Restaurant with a glass of sparkling on arrival. Cost
$159.00 per Adult
$139.00 per Teenager
$ 55.00 per Child
(2–course Children’s Menu / 4–12 years)

Fact box #2: The Hydro Majestic Yulefest 2 Night Escape Package*

Package Includes –

  • 2–night accommodation
  • Breakfast in the Belgravia Lobby Lounge
  • Complimentary WiFi access
  • 5 Course Degustation Yulefest – Christmas in July dinner for 2 in the Winter garden (on Sat evening only)
  • Complimentary self–car parking

The package is available every weekend from the 2nd July to 30th July 2022

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