The enchantment of opera at a legendary party palace, river cruising along a mighty waterway, belly laughs at timeless humour, the intimate luxury of crackling fireplaces and even the possibility of snow-dusted landscapes. Yulefest in the Blue Mountains is the most magical season.
After the exhilarating zing of a chilly day spent exploring the lookouts and bushwalking tracks of the magnificent Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, shopping at charming villages and visiting attractions, sojourners are warmly invited indoors for steaming drinks, fireside dining, festive decorations, music and rousing entertainment.
A regional tradition since 1980, Yulefest is held mid-winter (officially throughout July but often beginning in June and extending into August), with many hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and restaurants taking part.
Escarpment Group of luxury hotels guest services manager Meagan Iervasi encouraged visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere by staying at least one night: “Yulefest in the Blue Mountains offers the European-style atmosphere people associate with Christmas – a chilly landscape outside and cosiness inside, but without the stress and frosty relatives. Sometimes there’s even snow.’’
Here’s an early bird Yulefest list to choose from:
Mountain Whispers, Leura and Katoomba
French champagne on ice, handmade chocolates, scattered fresh rose petals, a private chef to cook a three-course festive dinner and a personal waiter to serve it, followed by an in-house massage and/or facial in opulent surrounds. Yulefest equals romance, an escape with the girls or a group of great friends at Mountain Whispers MW Collection, where every minor detail matters.
Owner Lorraine Allanson said: “While Christmas is about family, Yulefest is a great time to take a mid-year break to focus on romance or time with your friends to indulge and escape the daily grind.’’
Each of the multi-award winning self-contained immaculately restored heritage properties – Varenna, Leura Rose and Strawberry Patch in Leura and The Gatsby and Chatelaine in Katoomba – promises a luxurious getaway in total privacy and comfort for couples and small groups.
Details: mountainwhispers.com.au or 1300 721 321.
Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
A Night in Vienna: In the lead-up to Yulefest, relish the romance and nostalgia of Austria’s operatic golden age led by Opera Australia, Oper Köln, Opéra Comique & Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris and English National Opera tenor Brad Cooper against the magnificent backdrop of the Megalong Valley on June 1. The Wintergarden Restaurant performance will be matched with a five-course degustation dinner. Tickets: $135pp. Bookings: (02) 4782 6885.
Diesel Live@theHydro: One of Australia’s favourite adopted sons, Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel) will entertain fans on July 20, three decades after he stepped off a bus with his band Johnny Diesel and the Injectors and set off on a chart-topping 15-album career. Cost: $150pp dinner and show, $40pp show only. Bookings: hydromajestic.com.au/events/diesel.
Traditional high tea: This elegant three-tier serving will feature nostalgic flavours such as ginger, cranberry and roast pork in the elegant Wintergarden Restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley. Accompany you repast with a delicate blossom tea, freshly brewed coffee or a glass of sparkling wine.
Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Katoomba
Sink into the refined 5-star surrounds to nibble on delicate finger sandwiches, fluffy scones with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, and a selection of Yulefest sweet treats beside a cosy fireplace.
Darley’s Restaurant, Katoomba
For the ultimate Yulefest decadence, the hatted restaurant in the historic home of former Chief Justice of NSW Sir Frederick Darley will serve five and seven-course degustation dinners each Friday and Saturday throughout July with special winter flavours.
Nepean Belle river luncheon cruise, Jamisontown
`Tis the season to cruise the tranquil waters of the Nepean River aboard the regional aquatic icon on your way to or from the Blue Mountains.
The heritage-style Nepean Belle paddlewheeler will be festooned with festive decorations and guests will board for luncheon to the strains of popular carols against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Mountains escarpment.
Tuck into two-course Yulefest fare with all the trimmings, beginning with a shared platter of succulent roast turkey with fruit seasoning and tender roast pork with apple sauce and gravy garnished with honey-roasted vine tomatoes and accompanied by creamy sautéed potato; a selection of hot seasonal vegetables; steamed broccoli, carrots and peas; and a Greek salad with feta.
A dessert platter of festive favourites will follow, with White Christmas, chocolate rum balls, fruit cake, chocolate mud cake and rich butter shortbread biscuits washed down with your choice of freshly brewed tea or coffee.
Nepean Belle owner Carol Bennett said: “We love Christmas so much that we’re holding it again in July – but without the in-laws, expensive pressies and weather that matches the heat of the roast dinner.’’
Cost: Monday to Friday – $59 adults, $53 seniors, $39 teens (13-16 years), $20 children (3-12 years); Weekends – $65 adults, $58 seniors, $39 teens, $25 children. Bookings: nepeanbelle.com.au or 4733 1274.
The Goon Show LIVE! Dinner and show
The cult comedy tour de overacting incorporates loads of sound effects, silly voices and a platoon of crazy characters which promise to have audiences belly laughing all evening.
It regales the stories of Neddie Seagoon, a good-natured and hairy sort, albeit short and rotund and the victim of a terrible weakness – greed. Coupled with his innate gullibility, Neddie’s covetous nature makes him easy prey to confidence schemes courtesy of the conniving cads Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty.
Peppered with one-liners, the high energy show will feature a plethora of characters including the world’s most famous idiot Eccles (yes, even more infamous than Neddie), the squeaky-voiced boy-scout Bluebottle (who reads his stage-directions out loud), Major Dennis Bloodnok a devout coward, and Miss Minnie Bannister the sexy senior citizen who lives in sin with crumbling, fumbling old man Henry Crun.
The dinner and show will be held in le Salon Grand at the Palais Royale, Katoomba, each Saturday night from June 29 to July 20, with a special afternoon tea on July 14. Tickets: $135 Saturdays, $80 Sunday afternoon tea, seniors and group discounts available. Bookings and details: www.goons.com.au.
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group Photos: David Hill
The Hydro Majestic Hotel will revive its most mischievous traditions and host the ultimate day-long vintage revelry on Saturday, February 24.
The Roaring 20s Festival celebrations will high kick off with a community Charleston Challenge for Charity dance in front of the Majestic Pavilion at 11am.
The naughty knees-up will be an opportunity for art deco buffs to don their most sophisticated 1920s-inspired costumes befitting the elegant venue (eg: feather boas, spats, fedora hats).
There will be prizes galore for best dressed lady, man, couples and hats. Cost: gold coin donation towards Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service.
The Charleston for Charity will be followed by a decadent regional food and wine showcase of shared plates featuring the culinary skills of the Hydro Majestic kitchen team as well as other exceptional local producers.
A fashion parade of exquisite 1920s clothing will add an extra course to the long lunch menu. Cost: $95pp.
Sumptuous high tea will be available in the Wintergarden Restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley throughout the day, along with history tours of the world-famous hotel.
That evening, the grandest of the grand Blue Mountains hotels will again resound with the likes of Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and Bugsy Siegel when the Hydro Majestic holds a Gangster Casino Night in support of Katoomba Hospital.
Guests can play all the traditional games at casino-quality tables with professionally trained casino standard croupiers.
There will be an array of prizes, and money raised at the 18 years plus-restricted event will go towards refurbishing the waiting room in the local Katoomba Hospital emergency department. Cost: $55 per person general admission to Casino includes welcome cocktail.
Visitors are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in the Roaring 20s Festival by staying for at least one night at the Hydro Majestic Hotel or one of its nearby sister properties Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges, Echoes Boutique Hotel or Lilianfels Resort & Spa.
Go to www.hydromajestic.com.au or phone (02) 4782 6885 to book any/all of the Roaring 20s Festival events, accommodation and dining.
- The Hydro Majestic Hotel is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
This article was written for and published in the Blue Mountains Gazette monthly Review magazine on September 16, 2015
“Is there anybody here tonight?”
With the agony of long-gone tortured souls reaching out from the sandstone walls at your back and the sticky black of darkness all around, you nervously prepare to meet ghostly company in the dead of night.
Paranormal Pete’s spooky ghost hunting tools flicker into life as they sense a phantom presence.
The name of someone’s dearly departed mother is distinguishable from the Ovilus or ghost box machine that converts environmental readings into real words.
Someone stifles a shriek as they experience a cold shiver. The wooden benches creak in discomfort as the rest of us shift uneasily in our seats.
The old courthouse at Hartley Historic Site slowly awakens from its supernatural slumber.
Blue Mountains Mystery Tours dark tourism guide Paranormal Pete is comfortable in this “other world” and guides locals and visitors on spine-tingling ghost tours to discover the rich and sometimes bloody history behind the rugged Greater Blue Mountains landscape.
Ghost hunters shiver in ghoulish delight at deliciously dark tales of murder, mishap, convicts, hangings and more as they explore haunted buildings, abandoned cemeteries and other bereft locations.
“With adventures like the first European crossing of the Blue Mountains, pioneering the first inland settlements and establishing the nation’s industrial heart at Lithgow come many stories and, 200 years later, reports of paranormal activity,” Pete (aka Pete Clifford from Springwood) says.
The “energy worker who specialises in dark tourism” has always been interested in the paranormal. His mother and siblings talked about ghost stories and local legends and, as a child, lived in a house that was haunted by what was believed to be his protector.
Pete says his scariest experience happened after one ghost tour at a council reserve.
“I walked up the road and saw a light coming towards me. I continued to walk. By this time the light was on top of me and it’s gone through me and on to the other side. I heard a voice say: ‘Get out of here now.’
“I was the only one that experienced it. I had to sit on a log for 10 minutes to get my composure and energy back. I didn’t go back there for about six months.
“I think I might have actually been walking over the poor fella’s grave.”
However, “the spirit world is very positive — they’re there to help us and guide us and protect us”.
“I’m always into communicating with the spirit world first and if we come across a ghost we’ll do our best to help them cross over if that’s their will. If not, it will go when it’s ready.”
People on Pete’s tours may hear the names of loved ones or other words.
“We’ve had the smell of a loved one’s perfume or their aftershave or they’re rubbed somebody on the face, tickled their ear or something else special they used to do that they would remember them by.
“Our tours are fully interactive. We like people to use their senses of intuition, smell, sight, hearing, touch and then we back that up with our gear to enhance your senses on the night.”
Ghost hunting equipment such as EMF metres, an Ovilus 111, full spectrum video, night vision video and Patrick Boo Buddy Bear help discern between the quick and dead.
Participants travel on Buster the Ghost Bus with the only ghost tour in the Blue Mountains and take morbid glee in hair-raising access to unique, forgotten and secret locations that are off limits to the general public.
They visit historic wells, convict graves, an abandoned cemetery, a convict stockade and colonial buildings oozing tales of shadowy figures from the past. They may even meet the ghost of Victoria Pass (“the lady in black”).
The faint-hearted can lean about phantom figures of the night during the light of day on a scenic tour where they can gaze at the world-famous sites and the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area with its jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery, exhilarating attractions and elusive wildlife.
Sightseeing tours take in Scenic World, Govetts Leap at Blackheath, Coachwood Glen through ancient rainforest to the Megalong Valley for wildlife spotting, as well as historic locations around Lithgow and Hartley Historic Site.
The dark tourism business holds a limited Nature Based Recreation License and National Parks and Wildlife Service Eco Pass, giving them access to secret locations known only to select local residents and off limits to the general public.
Tours leave from the Blue Mountains City Council carpark in Katoomba or participants are collected from accommodation or other pre-arranged locations in the Blue Mountains.
- Gift a loved one a goose bump-filled experience with Blue Mountains Mystery Tours. Gift vouchers are available for all tours. Simply decide on a tour, contact 0418 416 403 or 4751 2622 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange payment and a voucher will be posted or emailed to you. Gift vouchers are valid for 12 months after purchase.
Blue Mountains Mystery Tours is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity