A Picturesque Escape from Sydney - The Blue Mountains
Updated: Jul 20, 2021
I won't lie and say that Sydney was the worst place to be stuck during a lockdown. For all intents and purposes, we were very lucky throughout Covid-19 and Sydney, pandemic or not, is a very beautiful city. Irrespective of this, as many of you would undoubtedly understand, when you have the travel bug, you have the travel bug and you need you need to keep moving.
And I, I have the travel bug!
So, as soon as it was safe to do so, I hopped into the car for a road trip with my favourite travel partner, my mum, and we headed to the beautiful Blue Mountains, just 1.5 hours out of Sydney.
I have been on many day trips in my life to the Mountains but I haven't actually stayed in the area since I was kid. At the time of the trip, and writing this blog, the state borders of Australia are still largely shut and whilst regional travel is now allowed again, it really is predominately within your own state. This was immediate cause for a return to the Mountains in my mind and with this new blog to boot, I couldn't wait to get up there.
The drive from Sydney to the Mountains is very easy so if you are not from Australia but want to rent a car to do this trip, you'll find that this is one road trip that really should not cause you any strife. Essentially it is pretty much one straight one from Sydney's Central Train Station and then up the Mountain (again, just follow the road).
There are tolls so you will need to hire a car with an E-Tag as we only have electronic tolls here. An alternative is to pay the toll by phone after the fact but don't forget or there is a fine.
Another option is to take the train from Central Station up to the various stations of the Blue Mountains. Depending on where you're going and what you want to do when you get there will depend on whether you need a car when you arrive there. The train from Sydney to Katoomba will take you approximately 2 hours.
The Blue Mountains can be easy day trip or, if you have the time, it's really lovely to spend a few days there.
The Blue Mountains consists of many towns on the way up the mountain and they all range in size, attractions, quality hikes, etc.
Some of the bigger towns that you may want to look for accommodation for if you're choosing to stay in the Mountains are:
The hotels in the Blue Mountains, by and large, are your older, more homestead or retreat type of hotels, or there are many motels and hostels available too as the area is particularly popular for backpackers and hikers.
We chose to stay in Medlow Bath at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, a beautiful, large 4 star hotel that, though older in its features of multiple sitting and tea rooms, and gardens for the guests, has been more modernly appointed. The rooms were simple but nicely finished and we had a very comfortable stay for the night.
I'd also like to try the Lilianfels Hotel in Katoomba so I think that will be next on the to do list.
We drove up to the Mountains on a Friday and by the time we arrived we were just in time for the High Tea that we had booked at the Hydro Majestic's Wintergarden Restaurant. We had read a lot about this high tea and as big fans of this beautiful tradition, we were absolutely not going to miss out. With that said, this is one of the Mountains' most popular high teas so advanced booking is absolutely essential to guarantee a table.
The best part of this experience is the setting - it is absolutely serene as the restaurant features floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Megalong Valley with the most breathtaking view. We each had the classic high tea, though I had a glass of bubbles with mine. I also chose to add a flower to my tea because, well because that sounded exciting and I wanted to see it blossom!
Though absolutely gorgeous, I must admit it was not the best high tea I've ever had - mainly because of the service and also because of the scones (they were pretty hard) - though the finger sandwiches were unique in flavour and very delicious and the desserts tasty. We had a really beautiful afternoon but I cannot say I would rush back to this high tea again.
Trying to make the most of our relaxing getaway, we took time to explore the grounds of the hotel, sit by the fireplace in the main sitting area, brave the cold outside to enjoy the magical valley views below and eventually chill in our room for a couple hours watching old re-runs of Frasier and Seinfeld (forgot how classic non-streamed tv is! So great!).
Later that night we drove down to Katoomba (about 5 mins drive) for dinner at Avalon Restaurant. If you are planning to go to Katoomba, book your table now so that you don't miss out! I loved this place!! It was eclectic, it was quirky, it had such a family/homey vibe but had great food - all round, such a fan!
Nothing at Avalon matches - it's like grandma's house, meets high end thrift shop. You walk in the front door to an old cinema ticket booth on one side, and shelves of type writers on the other. Head up the stairs and you'll find a dining room of mismatching chairs and tables with different table cloths, even different plates and glasses, but it just WORKS! It is so cool and fresh, it feels like the sort of place you're always looking for!
The staff were divine, each of the people we spoke to more of an asset to the team than the next, until eventually we spoke to the owner for a lengthy chat too and just listened as his passion for this place oozed out. He spoke of each member of his team with such respect and was grateful too that we had noticed and commented on how wonderful they were. That's the sort of memory you leave with about a place - that sort of comradery and kindness.
Also to remember, our entree - an oven-baked camembert that was to die for! Mum had the chicken in dijon mustard cream sauce and I had the special beef stroganoff for main and to say that we had no room for dessert would be an understatement! The menu is hearty - it's not your fine dining pretty type of food, it's homely and it's great! See the menu here.
One of the best things about this restaurant, especially in the current climate of absent theatre, is that there is a live musician playing throughout the night. On our night, we were lucky to have a glorious singer, accompanied by her father, playing throughout our dinner. As theatre lovers really missing live performance, this was a HUGE win in our eyes.
Cassiopeia is a specialty coffee roastery based in the Blue Mountains. I wanted to try their coffee because each month or so they create different blends and have different specialties from particular regions of the world. I must admit, the particular coffee that I had was not to my taste, however, the store was cool and rustic, and smelt incredible! I would definitely go back as I would love to try a whole selection of their blends and better get to know their products! Love the concept and loved the vibe - I'll be back!
We thought we would kick off our morning with some sightseeing. The Three Sisters is undoubtedly the most famous attraction in the Blue Mountains. There are a number of ways that you can see them - the lookout at Echo Point is the easiest option as there is parking right there and the site is accessible for all.
There is a walk from Echo Point that actually provides access right up close to the Sisters - it's not a hard walk and gives you a great opportunity to see them up close. Though I've done this a few times, this time I must admit that I skipped the walk (in pursuit of breakfast...I know, I am terrible) and just enjoyed the view.
If you're interested in going on the cable car, steep train or other attractions with views of the sisters, Scenic World is fantastic and offers all of that in one place. I have personally done that all so many times (many school excursions and day trips in school holiday/vacation periods) so again, I didn't take up that option this time...maybe next time. If it's your first time to the Mountains, this is something definitely worth looking into.
I also had the unique opportunity to fly over them recently in a small plane - that was extremely cool!
However you see them, the sisters are worth seeing! Let me tell you briefly about the legend of some of the most famous rocks in the world. There are multiple legends, you can read about here, but here is one: "The Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and 'Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe.
These beautiful young ladies had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry.
The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle.
As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed. As only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come."
- Sourced from www.bluemountainsaustralia.com
On our way to Echo Point we drove past an old Church that had a big gingerbread sign out front - definitely needed to go back there!
When we did we were so pleased to find that inside this old church was the most gorgeous, storybook-like coffee and gift shop. With a full menu and plenty of large tables to sit down at, we quickly grabbed a seat, very pleased with this find of ours for breakfast!
We went old school and had a jaffle and a scone to share - both absolutely delicious! As well as the cafe is a gift shop with all things gingerbread.
The Gingerbread House - definitely worth the stop!
Frankly My Dear
Another great 'drive past and definitely stop at' find was Frankly My Dear on the main drag of Katoomba. This sweet little coffee shop is obviously well known in the area for its coffee because the coffee menu was extensive and the place was packed (in a socially distanced manner). I got a great pink Lamington whoopee pie to go with my coffee (which was delicious) and again, will be going back to this place in a heart beat but next time, to dine in.
I tasted multiple coffees in Katoomba, this was my favourite.
Leaving Katoomba, we drove down the mountain for about another 5 minutes to hit the little town of Leura. The main drag of Leura is a single street lined on both sides with stores, arcades, cafes and restaurants. Though Leura is still quaint, it is not as charming as it was when I was growing up and every shop was boutique or local. Many of the stores now are chainstores like Bed Bath and Table or Witchery (no shade to either of those shops - I happen to love them both! I just miss the old Leura), The excitement of shopping in Leura back in the day was that often you wouldn't find it anywhere else and obviously that isn't the case anymore. Still, I really like Leura and though we only spent about an hour there this time, we both said that we would want to drive up soon just for lunch (the Gingerbread house left us too full!)
The Candy Store is a must in Leura. It's an old fashioned lolly shop that still has all the old goodies, as well as the imported stuff that not too many places keep (think Wonka Bars, Reeces, Duff Beer, etc). With every nook of the store lined with a jar of old lollies, you really do feel like a kid in a candy store - it has never once lost its excitement and I have never been to the blue mountains without a pit stop at the Leura Candy Store. It is essential.
Along the main drag, many of the stores are more than one thing. Let me elaborate. A cafe, is likely also a deli and a mini grocery store. A storefront is likely to have a hidden art gallery downstairs or a library in the attic, etc. It's really cute and makes walking around very exciting - it is a treasure hunt to see what you find. For example, downstairs in the basement of Moontree, a candle and crystal shop on the street front, is a gorgeous art gallery and homewares store continuation to the shop - I loved it!
Also in Leura is a beautiful wall mural that anyone looking for a cute photo spot may want to take note of. You'll find it just behind the arcade with the candy store or off the Main Street to the left about a block from the end of the road.
On our way down the Mountain towards Sydney we made one more stop in Wentworth Falls where we stopped by two shops - one just to look into and the other to buy out the store to bring home it would seem.
Schwarz is a bakery and patisserie that is known throughout the Blue Mountains for its delicious cakes. It is a German bakery and they offer a nice mix of real European cakes and also some more traditional Aussie pieces too.
We bought a number of things to try and brought them all home to Sydney with us. Hands down, the best was the cake we went for in the first place (this was not our first time there) which was a White Chocolate Mud Cake - almost like a pound cake in consistency and topped with a similar icing. It was so delicious!!
Along the same road, right next to the Wentworth Falls station, sit a number of other cafes and restaurants, and tucked in amongst those was a flower shop I just had to run over to have a look at. Floral Ink is one of the most beautifully designed stores I have seen in a while with a stunning, enormous floral arrangement taking centre stage and interesting. Australian made gifts that have been perfectly curated filling the store. A great place to pick up something Aussie but nicer than a souvenir if you're in the area!
We had the most wonderful night in the Mountains and all I kept thinking was how crazy it was that I didn't come here more often. I can tell you, it will not be long before I go back!!