All the places to check out in the Blue Mountains, from a hidden vineyard in the valley to iconic food institutions.
High on client’s to-do lists when visiting Sydney, its proximity beats out the likes of other popular daytrip destinations Hunter Valley and the Southern Highlands. That’s largely because of its dramatic scenery, historic towns and made for pleasure shopping and eating precincts. This is one way of tackling all three elements in two days.
So imagine, after frequenting the Blue Mountains more times than I could count on my hands, to discover a new and beautiful area. That area is the Megalong Valley, which is a winding downhill drive down, ensconced in cliff escarpments every which way. Continue until you feel you can go no further and you’ll wind up on a dirt road through country paddocks and long grass to find a vineyard there: Dry Ridge Estate Wines. The young husband and wife owners are enigmatic and friendly, having packed up their Bondi life to take up the mantle at this property that offers cheese plates, wine tastings, wine, cottage accommodation as well as a labradoodle cavorting among the vines. The location is the ultimate backdrop for a bottle of wine, but the ambience and personalities of the owners and their dog that make Dry Ridge special.
Wine ticked off, it’s time for that next indulgence; the massage. Sanctuary Skin and Beauty is found among the book shops, antique stores and homewares of Leura’s high street. Their signature treatment is a hot stone massage, which will rinse off any residual tension from the road trip and the week that came before.
Leura Garage is generally heaving with locals and weekenders and day-trippers alike. It’s high vaulted space dishes up city-quality espresso, pizzas, salads and breakfasts, all in generous portions. In a former incarnation it was a mechanical garage. Signature dishes include beef carpaccio with chevre, beetroot puree, candied walnuts and soy balsamic. Locally sourced produce includes lamb from Lithgow Valley, as well as beef and greens from Kanimbula Valley.
Vesta is found on the main street of Blackheath and is a bastion of warmth on a chill night thanks to its huge and 120-year old wood-fired Scotch oven. The focus is on local fare, all regionally sourced. Even the wood they burn is local vintage ironbark. This cooking method is responsible for the quality of the self-styled rustic mountain food, from lamb shoulders to tea smoked trout. There’s also charcuterie to match a welcoming wine list. Even better to suit late night Friday night weekend escapades, Vesta does takeaway. Which means you can order while on the freeway and pick it up hot and fresh for a mountains night in at your bolthole.
If you sleep in, make your way to Victory Café in Blackheath, for they offer those magical three words: all-day breakfast. The café is unpretentious and a olocal institution, frequented by well-known artists in the Mountains.
Speaking of boltholes, there are a raft of accommodation options, from classic hotels with golf courses, to quaint bed and breakfasts and self-contained cottages. A new one on the scene offers a rather different experience to your usual country cottage. St Bernard’s Presbytery in Hartley Historic Village is now open for overnight stays. The sandstone cluster of buildings includes St Bernard’s Catholic Church, Hartley Courthouse. Owned by the national parks and wildlife service; that should give you some indication of the history you step into. The large two-tiered building with picket fencing is where you can stay. The sandstone beauty is perpendicular to the church and has only just been converted into accommodation. It’s classic turn of the century architecture, as well as an insight into colonial Australia. The space is large and each region has a door: from the kitchen, the dining room, the lounge and the two bedrooms. The main bedroom has a hefty wooden four poster bed while two single beds are in the adjoining bedroom. The décor is rustic Australiana, with flourishes of wattle and references to the religious history of the balcony. But modern comforts are not overlooked, with a modern bathroom replete with spa tub as well as a new country-style kitchen.
Continuing the dig into the Blue Mountain’s history, Everglades Historic House and Gardens represents the art deco period and is a National Trust property owing to its well-preserved garden design and blooms. The gardens have staggering views over the Jamison Valley and Mt Solitary, as well as a reflection pool and a grotto.