By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
The chirp of cicadas competing with Christmas carols, an awe-inspiring backdrop of towering golden escarpments and dramatic valleys and a cooling breeze carrying the subtle scent of eucalyptus. Welcome to an Aussie bush Christmas and summer holiday season in the Blue Mountains.
Begin the Christmas countdown early with lantern-making workshops for kids aged four to 12 at Leura Garage funky eatery off the top of Leura Mall from 3pm to 5pm on November 28 and December 4 and 13 in the lead-up to Leura Village Association’s December 15 Christmas festival. Cool prizes from upmarket local shops. Cost: $10 per child (must be accompanied by an adult) includes lantern kit and drinks and nibbles. Bookings: (02) 4784 3391, firstname.lastname@example.org or leuragarage.com.au/lantern.
Give your adult loved ones some grown-up time with a Faeriestorm Nanny Service voucher. Available in hourly blocks (minimum two hours *conditions apply), the fully qualified nannies will care for their kids while the adults enjoy some down time. Purchases: Brenda Edwards 0417 448 318 or email@example.com.
A night away with a day spa pamper package at a blissful retreat such as Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges or dinner at a swanky restaurant such as the Wintergarden Restaurant at the Hydro Majestic Hotel are always popular.
A truly unique way of sightseeing in style is with Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs from within a vintage Cadillac car. Dressed in formal attire, your local driver will collect you from and return you to any location in the Blue Mountains. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or Donald on 0455 352 976.
Tuck into a sumptuous feast with all the trimmings, decorations, bon bons, beverage package and even a visit from Santa for the children at the 5-star Lilianfels Resort & Spa near Echo Point or a seven-course degustation at the multi award-winning hatted Darley’s Restaurant. Bookings: escarpmentgroup.com.au or (02) 4780 1200.
NEW YEAR’S EVE:
For an unforgettable Auld Lang Syne moment, feast in the New Year at the chic Echoes Restaurant at Katoomba or the world-famous Cat’s Alley at the Hydro Majestic Hotel after watching a sublime sunset over a blue haze-shrouded valley while sipping a cocktail and resolving to take more time out in 2018. Bookings: escarpmentgroup.com.au or (02) 4780 1200.
SCHOOL HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES:
Talisman Gallery, Hartley historic village, Great Western Hwy (400m before turn off to Jenolan Caves heading west): Try your hand at the time honoured art of blacksmithing and make your very own fire poker on the forge and anvil on January 26 and 27. Cost: $25 includes materials and tuition. Decent footwear required. Bookings essential: Ron 0407 723 722 or email@example.com.
Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura: Kids aged three to six can learn about heritage conservation and the natural environment in one of the most enchanting historic properties in the Blue Mountains through the My Adventure at Everglades activity book ($10 and $5 per subsequent book). Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free. Details: (02) 4784 1938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* All businesses mentioned are commercial clients of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
From thrilling interactive history, magical adventures, lolly stores overflowing with sweet treats, exhilarating physical activity and gourmet delights, the Greater Blue Mountains and Lithgow region has the autumn school holidays sorted for frazzled parents and bored kids.
Whether you visit for the day or stay a night or more, families can experience an activity-filled break together throughout the Blue Mountains, out to the plains of Lithgow and back again.
Make memories together from this list of affordable activities:
Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura: Children can learn about heritage conservation and the natural environment at one of the most enchanting historic properties in the region through the My Adventure at Everglades program. Activities include matching, drawing, colouring, identifying component parts, labelling and drawing from their surrounds along with counting, exploring and contemplating. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free. The children’s activity books cost $10 and $5 per subsequent book. Bookings and information: (02) 4784 1938 or email email@example.com.
Blue Mountains Chocolate Company, 176 Lurline St, Katoomba: Treat yourself to the ultimate sweet indulgence with a visit to this scrumptious venue. Just minutes’ walk from the world-famous Echo Point Lookout and Three Sisters rock formations, the shelves are dripping with an extensive range of luscious hand-made goodies. Sip a hot chocolate drink melted over a romantic candle and nibble on a luxuriant cake while watching the in-house chocolatier create mouth-watering decadence.
Blue Mountains Mystery Tours (throughout the region): Shiver in ghoulish delight at deliciously dark tales of the sometimes bloody history behind the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Greater Blue Mountains as you explore haunted buildings, abandoned cemeteries and other bereft locations. The experience can be tailored to suit children during the day or conducted at night for adults for spine-tingling effect. Cost: from $75 to $200 per person, includes all fees and charges. Bookings and details: phone 0418 416 403 or (02) 4751 2622 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lolly Shop, Great Western Hwy, Little Hartley: Stock up on confectionary from more than 2000 products available from around the world including jelly belly, rock candy, choc coated, sugar and gluten free lollies, novelty items, gourmet food items, lollipops and more. Visit during the weekend and have a go at making your own fairy floss. Details: (02) 6355 2162.
Hartley Historic Site, Old Bathurst Rd (just off Great Western Hwy), Hartley: Soak up the atmosphere of one of the best examples of colonial Australia when you picnic among the 17 historic buildings, wander the Kew-Y-Ahn sculpture walk and visit the Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery, the only dedicated Aboriginal art gallery in the NSW Central West. Cost: Free. Details: (02) 6355 2117 or email@example.com.
With more than 400 bushwalking tracks throughout the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, there’s a walk for everyone in the family – even some accessible by wheelchair, and be sure to check out the breathtaking views from some of the many lookouts such as Wentworth Falls Lookout and Govetts Leap at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains and Hassans Walls and Pearsons Lookout in Lithgow.
Those looking for a more urbane pastime can trawl the eclectic shopping strips for unique bargains and indulge in leisurely dining at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants.
Check out the painted panorama at Aitken’s Panorama in the Round at Glenbrook; grab a sweet snack at Rust & Timber Chocolate Bar at Lawson; share dishes of regional bounty or tuck into pizza at Leura Garage; graze on fine fare at Bon Ton Restaurant at Leura; dine with the locals at Victory Café at Blackheath (enjoy breakfast at any time of day); or try a takeaway food box filled with wholesome rustic mountain food from Vesta Blackheath.
- Businesses mentioned above are commercial clients of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity
By Ellen Hill for Vesta Blackheath Photos: David Hill
She’s warm and gentle with a loving embrace: the honorary maître’d of Vesta Blackheath has been at the heart of the popular eatery for more than a century.
Executive chef of the upper Blue Mountains restaurant, Misha Laurent, said the 120-year-old Scotch oven influenced the menu and set the tone for the atmosphere and décor.
“This oven is gentle, loving, warm, a matriarchic, an oversized mama. But she’s not temperamental at all. We just put the fire on and she warms up and ten hours later the food is cooked. Literally, the lamb shoulder is always perfect.’’
Guests’ first experience of Vesta is crusty bread made daily in the oven and served complimentary with homemade labne and local olive oil.
In fact, most dishes on the menu are cooked in the oven.
“It would be ridiculous not to because it’s there,’’ Misha says.
Vesta’s use of the enormous oven harks back centuries when wood-fire ovens were present throughout Europe in Italy, Tuscany, Spain and even Turkey and North Africa.
“They would kill the goat and put it in the red wine from their own vines and then add vegetables from the garden and shove it into the oven and come back ten hours later after a hard working day and serve it up to the family.’’
Misha uses the same techniques with local and regional produce at Vesta.
“You’ve got this amazing cut of meat from Rydal and it’s soaked in wine and vegetables for 24 hours, then it’s put into pots and covered with that liquid and vegetables and herbs and put in the oven for 12 hours and pulled back out.
“Then you’ve got all this fresh organic local vegetables with it that has been roasted or blanched and this amazing sauce that you’ve got from cooking this lamb for 12 hours.’’
The Vesta oven is part of one of the first buildings in Blackheath, the bakery.
“They would make their bread and distribute it around town door-to-door and people would bring dishes into the bakery and cook them in there in return. It was a sort of barter system.’’
When the bakery closed the oven was ignored for many years. The building was used as a retail shop before it became Vulcan’s Restaurant in the 1980s.
Current owner David Harris was adamant that the oven would become a crucial feature of Vesta Blackheath when he opened the restaurant in 2011.
Built of double brick with a wall of sand between its layers to retain the heat, the oven can hold 180 loaves of bread.
The fire is lit on Wednesday morning when it heats to about 180 degrees Celsius ready for service. It is kept going until Sunday.
Food served from the oven’s belly is infused with the smoky flavours of a century’s subtle perfumed woods and ancient coal.
By embracing the historic oven and allowing her to dictate the food style and influence the menu, Vesta (meaning “goddess of the hearth’’) has become a second home for many locals and substitute Grandma’s kitchen for those searching for the warmth and comfort of rowdy family oven dinners of hearty food in intimate spaces rather than frigid venues offering plates of absence and pretention.
“Who wouldn’t want a slow cooked local lamb shoulder with vegetables grown in Hartley and great wines and good service?’’ Misha says.
This kind of thing is actually missing in Australia, whereas in Italy they have Agriturismo which promotes local food experiences at farms. It’s phenomenal food and it’s everywhere.I want to try to recreate that in regional Australia: an extension of home combined with a special occasion of going out while not being posh and uptight.’’
The oven at Vesta allows Misha and his team to “cook from the heart’’ rather than rely on modern gadgets and technology.
“Unfortunately these days chefs rely on electronic devices monitoring humidity, temperature, time of cooking etc and it removes the feeling part of cooking – looking, smelling, tasting, touching.’’
Diners are also steering away from the complicated eating of the past 20 years and craving a return to the simple, wholesome cuisine of the past, Misha says.
“The trend is to go back to the early days of cooking, all the old recipes are coming back.
“I like to bring in a modern touch, not so much in the decoration but old style cooking was quite heavy so I modernise it by keeping it light.’’
Food has always been at the heart of French-born Misha’s life. His father Toma who is now a Blue Mountains food supplier, is an avid cook and owned restaurants and espresso bars in Germany.
While food on his mother’s side of the family “wasn’t very relevant’’, Toma was on a perpetual food safari.
“My dad used to grab us on the Friday after school when I was a child, drive from Munich to Modena four hours away, to his favourite restaurant. We’d have dinner, amazing stuff, and then drive back.’’
Outings and holidays centred on eating – golf and food.
“We’d go skiing in Austria, we’d go to Faro in Portugal, we’d go to Italy, Switzerland. It had to have good food.’’
Friday evenings were spent at the table of Misha’s Jewish step-grandmother Rachel.
“She’d prepare homemade breads and duck and chicken and fish and there would be porcelain and crystal glass on the table. She spent two days in the kitchen preparing for what we call shabbat.’’
Misha began his career with an apprenticeship at the Sheraton Hotel in Munich followed by positions with the Eastern Oriental Express luxury train through South East Asia and The Road to Mandalay river cruise in Burma.
He then solidified his techniques in his father’s upmarket Italian restaurant, Il Borgo, in Toronto, before being the opening chef at Leura Garage in the Blue Mountains where he created the menus, its concept of shared food and designed the kitchen.
Misha took over the Vesta kitchen in 2014.
Vesta, 33 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Details and bookings: (02) 4787 6899 or vestablackheath.com.au.
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
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
Artists can take their talent right to the edge with one of Australia’s top painters at a workshop retreat at Parkland’s Country Gardens & Lodges in September.
Renowned landscape painter Warwick Fuller will lead an intimate three-day outdoor oil painting workshop for a select group of 10 energetic artists with experience in oils at the luxurious Escarpment Group property at Blackheath from September 15 to 17.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The Blue Mountains has been recognised as a `city of the arts’ and Escarpment Group properties have featured in artworks for decades, especially Darley’s Restaurant at our Lilianfels Resort & Spa property and the very famous Hydro Majestic Hotel.
“So we are delighted to continue that tradition and offer the Parklands property as a luxurious artists retreat.’’
Fuller, who lives at Little Hartley, has had more than 60 solo exhibitions throughout Australia and internationally, has received numerous awards and is represented in prominent galleries in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and London.
The plein air painter and Fellow of the Royal Art Society of NSW has paintings hung in private, corporate and institutional collections throughout the world.
Fuller’s style of landscape painting was emotive yet sincere, he said.
“You can read ad infinitum of the landscape painter trying to
paint his feelings’,capture the light’, `render the mood of a scene’. There is nothing particularly new or unique in this ideology, developed in part through a natural progression of a very strong landscape tradition in Australia. It is sad to see these expressions misused, abused and over used to the point of becoming almost meaningless with insincerity.
“Those statements are though, I believe, some of the more important aims and ideals at the core of the genuine landscape painter’s psyche. I, like others, do search for a means of expressing these qualities. I know for me these are genuine and worthy goals. In this, there is a dilemma I feel will test me.
“It has been a long-held opinion of mine that too often the work of the traditional landscape painter has been seen in an over-familiar sort of way. That is, known objects in the picture being seen superficially and assessed according to a preconceived understanding of those objects. How do I express my vision of the subject unambiguously? It’s not a technical thing as for example, in composition. It’s far more elusive than that.
“I am doubting more often whether the direction I am taking can adequately reveal, for example, the thrill of gazing at the last rays of sunlight in the tree tops. I can paint something of what it looks like but I am trying to paint how I feel! I want my pictures to sing the songs I sang when I painted them. My hope is that if I can paint with the joy of that moment, something of my emotional responses to the moment will shine through.’’
Mr Bruegger said: “We look forward to seeing how the magnificent Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area location inspires each artist under the tuition of one of the greatest Australian landscape painters of our time.’’
Warwick Fuller will host an artists’ workshop at Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges, 132 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath, from September 15 to 17.
Workshop cost: $400 for three days. Special accommodation packages available: $259 per room per night for twin share with hot breakfast for two adults; $200 per room per night single share with breakfast plus $25 for working lunch including fruit and juice.
Phone (02) 4787 7211 or go to www.parklands.com.au to book accommodation and dining options.
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
The Escarpment Group collection of hotels has further cemented itself as the premier luxury accommodation provider in the Blue Mountains with all four of its properties named finalist in a prestigious industry awards.
The group was named finalist in 12 categories in the Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) NSW 2015 Awards for Excellence.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “This is a fantastic result – all four properties making the finalist list, especially for the Hydro Majestic which has only been open since October 2014 and Parklands which opened in September.
“I am very proud to represent such a great team of hard working tourism and hospitality professionals whose commitment to providing the highest benchmarks in the area shines through in everything they do every day.
“In fact it’s great to see the Blue Mountains tourism and hospitality industry well represented at the awards with our colleagues at Fairmont Resort and The Carrington Hotel also finalists.
“This is an indication of the standard of visitor experience throughout the Blue Mountains, where visitors can be assured of world-class accommodation, customer service and dining.’’
Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant is a finalist in Regional Superior Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year categories.
Lilianfels Resort & Spa Blue Mountains is a finalist in Chef of the Year, Front of House Employee of the Year, Regional Deluxe Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges is a finalist in Health Club & Spa Facilities of the Year and Regional Superior Hotel of the Year.
The Hydro Majestic Hotel is a finalist in Chef of the Year, Function Venue of the Year, Redeveloped Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
The TAA awards this year received its largest number of submissions ever, 281 from 67 top accommodation venues in NSW across more than 30 categories ranging from outstanding community service, best environmental practice and redeveloped hotel of the year through to the superior and deluxe hotels of the year categories and a range of individual staff awards.
TAA NSW chairman Nigel Greenaway said: “These venues really do showcase the best the NSW hotel industry has to offer – they quite simply are second to none and that is shown in the high quality of all the finalists.
Category winners will be announced at a gala awards night at The Westin Sydney on July 29. TV personality Catriona Rowntree will be emcee, with an after party at the Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney.