When I roam a short distance from Sydney, my thought process is: ‘I can’t believe how close this beautiful place is.’ Invariably followed by: ‘Why haven’t I been here before now?’
Whether you seek small-town seasonal charm, world-class Food and Wine, family-friendly outdoor adventures or high-end hotel pampering, there are a multitude of charming destinations within three hours drive from Sydney. Pick your pleasure, pack the car and hit the road. The city skyline will seem a world away.
What’s better than a mountain vista that will take your breath away? Seeing that vista fresh from a night spent in heritage opulence. The magnificent view of the Three Sisters rock formations from Echo Point, Katoomba is, in itself, worth the 90-minute drive from Sydney. Just a glimpse and you’ll return to the city feeling flushed with mountain goodness.
Accommodation nothing short of marvelous is one of many ways to amp up your short Blue Mountains stay. Lilianfels (Katoomba) and the Hydro Majestic (nearby in Medlow Bath) refuse to be dwarfed by their stunning surroundings. They truly are destinations in themselves.
The five star Lilianfels, built around a restored Victorian homestead on the edge of the Jamison Valley, is in equal parts cosy and luscious – its welcoming English country trimmings will have you diving for your canopied bed. Take a dip, have a massage, stroll down to Echo Point at sunset or visit the ‘one hat’ Darley’s Restaurant. Or, simply sit around and congratulate yourself on your choice of lodging.
The Hydro Majestic underwent a major renovation and was reopened in 2014. If it was formerly glorious, today, it’s astonishing. The watercolour hues of the Megalong Valley pour in through floor-to-ceiling windows to perfectly juxtapose the bold, bright art deco design and furnishings. Mill about the lavishness, have high tea with a difference (mystic tea leaf reading included) or savor regional food and wine in the market-style Hydro Majestic Pavilion.
Neither of these dazzling establishments comes cheap. My advice? Save your pennies, concoct an occasion and go.
The Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley presents a high-quality problem: how does one narrow down the array of fantastic wineries, eateries and places to stay? One approach: Attend a fabulous annual food and wine festival – The Lovedale Long Lunch, held each May – to find some favourites. Lovedale is flush with superb accommodation (casual to high-end), top-notch nosh and of course, great wine.
Lovedale’s wineries are of the boutique variety and for me, that’s the charm. A few continually draw me back. Sandalyn Wilderness Estate is a foodie’s paradise. Sample the impressive range of wines, a wide selection of olive oils (tasting available) and other gourmet goodies. You can even take a pasta or sushi cooking class.
At the warm and welcoming Gartelmann, you’ll find noteworthy Semillon and Shiraz, plus Great Food and coffee at its Deck Cafe. If you like a sweet tipple, taste Gartelmann’s dessert Ambrosia.
Lovedale Long Lunchers won’t easily forget Wandin Valley Estate’s picturesque grounds, with its beautiful cricket pitch and pavilion. It’s the perfect function spot, but also great for an impromptu tasting or a meal at the Wandin Wine Bar & Diner. If you’re feeling festive, a glass of the slightly sparkling Cricketers Pavilion Moscato will hit the spot.
Great food is also plentiful in Lovedale. Have the family try the Sardinian flavour of Lillino’s Bar and Trattoria, set above the vines of St Clements Estate. For something fancier, don’t miss Mojo’s on Wilderness. A group of my British friends insisted we visit because chef and former Londoner Adam Baldwin is a legend of the gastropub movement. His sophisticated yet hearty fare is simply delicious. Be sure to book.
Pacific Palms (mid north coast)
When you’re headed north, stretch yourself to a (just over) three-hour drive to really get away from it all. In Pacific Palms on the Mid North Coast, you’ll find some of the state’s most spectacular beaches. And they’re a pretty well kept secret.
The aquamarine water of Boomerang Beach and the neighbouring Blueys Beach is framed at each by towering headlands and craggy cliffs. These are surf spots, but well worth a visit for the outlook alone. Nearby Elizabeth Beach is family friendly and patrolled in busy periods. For me, the real charm of this area is its unpretentious, laid-back vibe. You won’t find a lot going on in the seaside hamlets here, but you’ll be free of crowds and free to really relax.
That’s not to say there’s a shortage of activities. Two national parks and two state forests offer bushwalks galore. The crystal clear Wallis Lake is fantastic for swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing and the smaller Smiths Lake offers waterside camping. Nearby in Myall Lakes National Park is Seal Rocks, known for surfing, fishing and the sensational Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse. Have a look, take a walk, or stay – the lighthouse keepers’ cottages have been restored as accommodation.
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