For all their beauty and majesty, the Blue Mountains seem to have been going through something of an identity crisis. While they are acknowledged as a place of great beauty and proudly included as one of Australia’s few World Heritage locations, for many the words Blue Mountains conjure up thoughts of days gone by.
The enchanting images of great scenery, fresh air and chilly nights in front of open fires do hostile battle with other tortured memories of pimply school excursions or family holidays in a creaky caravan.
Old yellowing photos in front of the Three Sisters or the screams of tourists riding down the Scenic Railway also don’t help, adding to the sense of over-familiarity and a been there, done that attitude towards the Blue Mountains, with city tourists looking elsewhere for new adventures.
The various Blue Mountains tourist bodies and hotel establishments are determined to turn this attitude around by re-positioning the Blue Mountains as a location worthy of re-examination. Major improvements in quality accommodation, fine dining and luxury spa treatments are now attracting a new clientele to a number of the mountain towns, which have acted as retreats away from the pace of the city since the earliest days of last century.
Appropriately, with the city having partied hard over the past few weeks with the Mardi Gras festival, three major Blue Mountains establishments are also offering Mardi Gras recovery packages to help unwind after all the festivities.
Cliff-top hotels like Echoes, Lilianfels and the recently refurbished Hydro Majestic offer the greatest views of any hotels in the Blue Mountains. Echoes and Lilianfels are located right on the edge of the cliffs of Katoomba’s Echo Point, and offer uninterrupted views across the Jamieson Valley. The Hydro Majestic is further up the mountain road at Medlow Bath and sits atop the ridge above the sweeping Megalong Valley.
Lilianfels is the Blue Mountains’ only five-star hotel, and has a Mardi Gras recovery package called Enliven Your Senses. The package offers three nights’ accommodation, gourmet breakfasts, lunches and dinner each day, a wilderness therapeutic bush walk, three yoga, pilates and tai chi classes, and three spa treatments. The cost is $1,612.50 per person.
The 12-suite Echoes bills itself as a boutique hotel, and offers a very private stay, with little chance of actually seeing fellow guests. The sundeck of the upstairs restaurant, however, is one of the most popular of the high-end fine dining mountains restaurants, with the cliffs of the Jamieson Valley providing a suitably dramatic background to the excellence of the food and wine.
The 100-year-old Hydro Majestic also gets into the Mardi Gras spirit this year with a special recovery deal. The Seventh Heaven At The Hydro package includes return train travel from Central, three nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, welcome cocktails, a picnic hamper and two massages. The package price is $780 per couple, and the offer is valid until 31 March.
The Hydro Majestic is not the only grand hotel of the mountains to have had a makeover in recent years. The other great lady, The Carrington atop the hill at Katoomba, has also undergone a multi-million dollar refurbishment and been restored to the luxury of its former glory.
The Carrington is also offering a Mardi Gras Recovery package, with a one-night stay, full breakfast, two massages, two spa baths, and a limousine tour of the mountains, for $615 per couple for midweek visitors.
One entire wing of The Carrington has also been turned into the Yindi Day Spa, with a full range of therapeutic and beauty treatments. Proving most popular of all the therapy rooms is the couple’s suite, where partners or friends can each enjoy a massage side by side.
The grandness of the Carrington has also proved a major attraction for gay and lesbian couples in recent times, having hosted 12 commitment ceremonies in the past year alone.
While Katoomba is considered the centre of the Blue Mountains, with the busiest shopping strip and main tourist attractions of the Three Sisters and Scenic World, it is the picturesque village of Leura which now attracts the crowds for its elegant, cherry-tree-lined mall of caf? gift shops, interior decorating stores and bookshops, not to mention the character-filled antiques house, Bygone Beautys, with 3,600 teapots on display. Silks Brasserie on the main Leura strip is the acclaimed restaurant formerly owned by entertainer Reg Livermore, but now run by Stewart Robinson and offering an eclectic modern Australian and French menu.
Away from the shopping, eating and pampering, it is the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area which is deserving of another, closer look. Exploring the often-trod bush trails with the assistance of an experienced guide gives an insight into all the features of the amazing natural environment.
Having explored the Grose Valley previously on a number of bushwalks, my half-day walk with Tread Lightly Eco Tours unveiled more details than I had ever seen before of the same area, and proved a fascinating revelation of the range of ecology, wilderness and ancient culture of the deep canyon walk.
But the bushwalk also best exemplified the misconception that, on many previous visits, I had already seen the best the Blue Mountains had to offer. Five hours later while emerging from the depths of the Grose Valley, I realised I didn’t really know the Blue Mountains at all and would indeed return for another adventure -“ that is, along with another foot massage at the Lilianfels Spa!
For more information visit the Blue Mountains Tourism website or call 1300 653 408.
John Burfitt travelled to the Blue Mountains as a guest of Blue Mountains Tourism.