So close, yet so far removed … The two biggest factors attracting visitors to the Blue Mountains are related to its proximity to Sydney: at just an hour's drive west of the city, it almost seems to be just down the road but you couldn't find yourself in a more different environment.
The villages strung out along the highway all have their individual charms, although Katoomba, Leura and Blackheath are the bigger ones that are most popular with visitors. Spend your days hiking, horseriding, eating, antiquing or sitting by the fire (even in the midst of summer it can get chilly). Whatever happens, you'll go home relaxed.
The best way to get to the Blue Mountains is by car as it makes getting around easier once you've arrived. That said, there's a good rail service
from Sydney's Central Station which stops at many of the centres.
When you get there
Considering you don't arrive too late from town, drop into the Hotel Gearin
in Katoomba. Owned by legendary board-treader Jack Thompson, it's an old-fashioned country pub. The dining room is only open 'til 8pm and serves a decent steak and burger, there's live music in the bar and the beers are cold. Just what you need to make the "disconnect" from city life to a weekend in the sticks.
Today is all about the great outdoors, but you'll need to fuel up to enjoy it properly. The Conservation Hut
is a cafe serving a classic assortment of brekka dishes at the beginning of some of the mountains' best walks. Once your tummies are full, put your hiking boots to work on the Charles Darwin Walk
, which follows the same route the world's most famous evolutionist trod when he visited here in 1836. It leads to a waterfall with views of the Jamison Valley.
Those who've had enough can take a 90-minute trek along the Undercliff Track back to the car park. Those who fancy a challenge could tackle the National Pass. But remember, what goes down must come up and you should leave about five hours for the journey.
If you prefer a different type of boot, Centennial Glen Stables in Blackheath offers trail rides from a half-hour to a full day for all ages and levels of experience.
Blackheath is a great place to start the afternoon activities. Grab a table outside at Cafe Memento, where there's a European bent to the excellent menu and some of the best coffee in the mountains. Those who love to fossick for treasure should check out the Victory Theatre Antique Centre, where stalls run by individual dealers sell everything from art deco light fittings to fashion and jewellery from the 1960s.
If you're in the area between January and August, head to Logan Brae Orchard (just outside Blackheath on Shipley Road, phone (02) 4787 8440) where you can grab a bucket and pick your own apples. Otherwise, the young-at-heart might want to head further west to Clarence and take a trip on the historic Zig Zag Railway's steam trains.
Normally we wouldn't suggest eating dinner so early, but it's worth it at Katoomba's Avalon. Located in the old cinema, it has floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook the ranges it's spectacular at sunset although the dining is more "casual" than "fine dining". After that, either you can collapse in your hotel room or head to The Edge Cinema, with its six-storey screen and latest releases.
Today, head to the cutest village in the Blue Mountains: Leura
. You'll be won over by its mix of olde-worlde charm and chic boutiques. Stefano Manfredi alumnus Nicole McIlwaine runs funky Stockmarket Cafe
(phone (02) 4784 3121), where you can have free-range eggs prepared any way you like. Afterwards, let your breakfast settle with a stroll along the main street, called The Mall, to check out the shops.
Particularly enticing is The Candy Store (phone (02) 4782 5190), with every type of lolly imaginable lining the walls. Vintage lovers should raid Mrs Peel (phone (02) 4784 3065), and those who prefer old-fashioned communication can stock up on writing supplies at Elizabeth Rose Fine Stationery (phone (02) 4784 1022). On the first Sunday of every month, the Leura Craft Market is held at the school. There are lots of cafes along The Mall, too, should you need a caffeine hit or some lunch.
On the way back to Sydney, stop at Faulconbridge to visit the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum in what used to be his home.
What to bring home
A box of the decadent handmade truffles from The Paragon
(phone (02) 4782 2928) in Katoomba. Apparently some of the recipes date back to 1916, when the art deco cafe first opened.
Where to stay
The eco-friendly cottages at Kanimbla View
offer stunning views near Blackheath. The open-plan Studio-House is good for those on a budget, since it sleeps up to four. From $350 for two people for two nights.
, in the heart of Katoomba, first opened in 1882, and many of the original, graceful hotel features still remain. The rooms range from comfortable but basic with share bathrooms to luxurious suites. From $149 per night.
Choose from three architect-designed houses, accommodating a maximum of 10 people, at Bodhi Cottages
in Wentworth Falls. From $290 per couple per night.
There are many cottages for rent throughout the area. Find a good selection at Blue Mountains Getaways.
What to splurge on
The Blue Mountains has been recognised by the Cittaslow
organisation, an Italian initiative that emphasises slow food principles. That means there are many chefs in the area committed to providing great meals using local produce. If you're committed to testing their skills, book in to Vulcans
in Blackheath (phone (02) 4787 6899) for dinner on Saturday night.
Acclaimed chef Phillip Searle uses the old wood-fired oven for slow cooking his mod Oz fare. Make sure you leave room for his outstanding desserts. For Sunday lunch you can't beat the elegant surrounds of Darleys at Lilianfels. Enjoy Hugh Whitehouse's seasonal menu while looking over the historic garden.
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