We’ve just arrived at the historic Hydro Majestic hotel and the Blue Mountains are looking more marvellous than a chocolate box.
So too, is the High Tea being served in the hotel’s spacious and gracious Wintergarden Room, overlooking these famously hazy blue peaks.
Goodbye diet! The three-tiered silver stand is laden with scones with homemade jam and clotted cream, petit pastries, finger sandwiches, crispy duck spring rolls, and steamed dumplings.
It’s a feast, and as we clink our champagne glasses, readying to tuck in, at last we can absorb our magnificent surrounds.
At the next table, there’s the hearty cackle of a bunch of old friends, here for a wedding. And across the room we see two young lovers, seemingly ignoring their scones, they’re so absorbed with the view, and each other.
For we older folk, the scrummy sweetmeats are a treat after the 90 minute drive from Sydney, through ugly traffic (perpetually congested Paramatta Road isn’t getting any prettier) but then on to fairly efficient freeways.
Finally claustrophobic Sydney suburban sprawl is replaced by sweeping hills and valleys, peppered with pretty little towns, and at last we’ve arrived at our famous destination.
Perched atop escarpment in the Blue Mountains National Park, it’s been attracting visitors for 112 years.
The heritage-listed hotel, comprising 16 individual buildings in a range of architectural styles, sprawled across 1.2 kilometres, was built by Mark Foy, an eccentric retail mogul who lived a grand and fabulous life. A frequent European visitor, he’d been inspired by some of the great hydrotherapy spas he’d visited and decided he wanted to build something similar back home.
After much deliberation Foy decided on the ideal spot for his grand plan, buying up three existing buildings in the early 1900s. In1904, the hotel was built. At first, at great expense, Foy would import his own mineral water from Germany and well-heeled guests would head to the mountains to go and sit in baths laden with the stuff so they could wallow away, supposedly healing nicely.
No alcohol was allowed on the premises; it was a health retreat after all! But sadly, business didn’t boom – who doesn’t want a tipple at a mountain retreat – and eventually Foy decided he’d have to lift the alcohol ban.
That promptly did the trick; from then on, visitors flocked. Opera great Dame Nellie Melba warbled here in 1928 on her farewell tour, and other names who’ve popped in include Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and actor Russell Crowe (no phone throwing incidents here, though he reportedly was asked to remove his cap upon entering the dining area.)
We learn more about Mark Foy when we meet the hotel’s informative concierge, who leads us through the hotel on a one hour history tour.
We pass through Art Deco rooms, Edwardian, and a few other styles as well. Each room has its own distinct flavour, our guide explains, as Foy was a man of the moment and liked to decorate in the most up-to-the-minute fashion of the time. (Foy was a womanizer who also liked to dress up in his wife’s clothing, but that’s another story.)
The hotel recently underwent an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation to add a few contemporary comforts.
Our room is cosy and smartly decorated, sporting a comfortable bed and a view of the breathtaking Megalong Valley.
The ‘Hydro ‘is just a ten minute drive from the town of Katoomba and its spectacular drawcard, the Three Sisters, one of the best-known tourist spots in New South Wales.
We follow the well-place signage (outlining the length of different walks so that less fit folk aren’t in for a shock) and soon find ourselves on the world’s most isolated seat. We’re alone at the base of one of the Sisters, our reward after descending umpteen steps. An ideal spot to sit and inhale the bush beauty and majestic rocks – and steel ourselves for the walk out!
We manage, and are soon back in the car, checking out other lookouts and trails that abound in this area.
We then drive to into Katoomba’s tiny heart to meet up with local resident, award-winning journalist and author Glen Williams. Over pasta at the local diner, Savoy Café (once a cinema) he tells us why he loves mountain living. ‘We’re sitting in the wooden booths patrons to the matinee would have had in the Savoy’s heyday,’ says Glen.
‘The Blue Mountains is the ultimate tree change,’ enthuses our informative chum, who once worked in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. ‘Aside from the spectacular natural surroundings, I’m a cockatoo’s squawk from this amazing collection of villages, riddled with colourful characters, groovy cafes, galleries, antique stores and craft shops.
Glen’s favourite local haunt is Blackheath”s historic Victory Theatre café.
“It sports a fantastic mural spruced up by legendary designer Jenny Kee, who also lives here.
Behind the cafe is a huge range of antiques and vintage items up for grabs. ‘It’s a treasure trove of nostalgia! “You can have a cuppa and a toasted sandwich, then lose yourself in all the bric brac beyond.”
And if city life beckons for a few sweet hours, ‘It’s just a jump on the train and you’re at Central Station in two hours.’
In the next Starfish we continue our sojourn in the Blue Mountains with a vintage Cadillac Tour seeing the sites and yet more luxurious accommodation. Look out for it!
Special thanks to:
Ellen Hill from Deep Hill Media
Hydro Majestic Hotel
Starfish Photographs: Peter Rigby