Back to the mountains

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Breathtaking vistas, funky stops, pottery classes and drool-worthy dishes make a memorable few days

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Snaking up the Great Western Highway to the Blue Mountains, I expected to see scenes of devastation with charred trees and the blackened remains of houses. Instead, not a single singed tree was in sight, just clear skies and roadworks aiming to expand the main artery into the mountains.

My partner and I looked at each other with surprise. Not that we wanted to see any of those sights, but it still is a misconception us Sydney-siders currently have of the mountains, after breathing in the smoke from the October fires. We put the roof down (even managing to get sunburnt on the drive up there) and breathed in the fresh air. We were off to a good start.

Running slightly behind schedule because of the roadworks, we arrived at Scenic World. And we were treated to some breathtaking views over the Jamison Valley, and different angles of The Three Sisters (Aboriginal names: Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo). There’s the view from the Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest passenger train at 52 degrees; the skyway, the highest one in Australia at 270 metres; and the boardwalk, the longest elevated one in the southern hemisphere, at 2.4kms. Oh, and the views weren’t too bad either from their cable car, incidentally the steepest aerial cable car in the southern hemisphere. All of this is most likely why us Sydney-siders drag any friends visiting from another country here.

They’re a friendly bunch at Scenic World, and Andy, our guide for the day sure knows his languages. He manages to find out where each tourist we pass is from, and chats to them in their native tongue, making me feel somewhat inadequate. The staff all seemed like one big happy family, although maybe it was because some of the staff were indeed family members. No really, they are.

The special menu in the café at Scenic World rotates, but the one on offer from Dec 25 – Jan 5 just so happens to be Indian. Another interesting point is the occasional entertainment they have in the forest, as well as riding up and down in the cable car. Andy mentioned a violin player, bands and even a unicycle. Sadly, there aren’t any the day we’re there. I would have liked to see a unicycle in a forest.

There’s also a forest version of Sculpture by the Sea down on the forest floor organised for next year during April 24 –May 18, with artworks being transported down via the Scenic Railway. Quite a challenge for any of the artists involved.

After a change of time in the massage agenda, and my boyfriend missing out on his (yes, I am still being reminded about it), it was time to leave (numerous happy snaps later, of course).

I could still feel the tingling in my feet from standing on the glass section of the floor in the skyway (which the boyfriend thought I was mad for standing on), as I headed into the spa at Lilianfels. He sulked a little, then headed to the pool and spa tub.

I robed up and was treated to a truly relaxing massage that ironed out the kinks in my neck. Even the ‘changing rooms’ have sunken spas in them and there’s also an area to have a fragrant tea and unwind. Highly recommended.

Actually, I would say that Lilianfels hotel in general, is highly recommended. It sits on beautiful grounds which are extremely close to the Three Sisters, also directly opposite Scenic World. Its English countryside charm works its magic on you within minutes of entering, being both cute and elegant.

The degustation dinner with matching wines we stuffed ourselves with at Darley’s was likewise memorable. I recommend starting off with a cocktail on the bar’s balcony as we did, so you can watch the fog roll up the mountains. Quite a magic moment, especially with good company. The meals were perfectly matched to each course and it would be easy to go on and on about it. The Heirloom Spring Vegetable Garden does deserve a special mention however, as does the venison.

The next day we awoke early to get our shopping started. I was surprised by the offerings in Leura village, like the funky vintage shop Mrs Peel, which wouldn’t be out of place in Sydney; contemporary Japanese goods at Touki; With Max & Me’s bits and pieces; kitchenware at Leura Whisk; Leura Gifts & Homewares; iKou for amazing tea and moisturisers; Leura Fine Woodwork Gallery; candles at Moontree Gallery; Birches of Leura; and Josophan’s Fine Chocolates. We could have spent all day in the chocolate making headquarters in Josophan’s alone. It seems that the migrant of Sydney-siders to the mountains is certainly rubbing off on it.

Before we knew it we had worked up a massive appetite from running between all of the shops in the rain, so we headed to Leura Garage. Again, not the sort of place I expected to see in the Blue Mountains. It’s a converted garage, which knows how to work its industrial meets café look, with bits and pieces from cars and herb pots everywhere.

A massive downpour soon followed, so we headed back to the hotel for a relaxing swim, before heading to a pottery class with Lyn Hart at Hart Ceramics.

My partner wasn’t so keen on the idea of making pottery, trying to use the rain as an excuse to get out of it. But once we were there he warmed up to it pretty fast and loved getting his hands dirty on the wheel, making candle holders and pressing shells into clay to make a serving tray. He looked pretty pleased with his creations and I felt like I was back at primary school (in a good way) as I got stuck into it. Lyn talked us through what to do and rescued our clay messes on the wheel when necessary, reminding herself to not take over and end up making them herself! We could barely wait till they’re fired in the kiln and posted to us. After a thorough wash later, as I made the mistake of wearing black to a pottery course (a big no no), before we knew it the two-hour class was up. We choose the glaze colours for our creations and then headed off to the French-inspired Bon Ton Leura. Another satisfying meal with extremely friendly service later and sadly, our last day in the mountains was over.

After being the first to the breakfast buffet the next morning at 7am, (quite literally waiting until they opened the doors), we collected the car, packed all of our goodies into it and headed back to Sydney for one of my close friend’s wedding. The sun was shining and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful sunny day up in the mountains, despite being cloudy down in Sydney.

We ended up leaving the mountains with full stomachs, relaxed minds and shoulders (well, at least I did), lungs full of fresh air and a pot of two (soon to be posted). If only we had a bit more time!

 

ACCOMMODATION:

Lilianfels www.lilianfels.com.au 02 4780 1200. They also have a Summer escape package, stay two nights or more and receive 20% off (includes buffet breakfast) until January 4, 2014. There are also plenty of other great options.

 

DINING:

Darley’s Restaurant www.darleysrestaurant.com.au

Leura Garage www.leuragarage.com.au 02 4784 3391

Bon Ton Leura www.bonton.com.au 02 4782 4377

 

SHOPPING:

Go to Leura Mall for shopping, or antique stores in other areas of the Blue Mountains.

 

ATTRACTIONS:

Scenic Worldwww.scenicworld.com.au024780 0200

Hart Ceramics www.hartceramics.com.au 02 4784 1990

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