There's nothing better than getting away from it all and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life and work.
So grab some friends or the family, hit the road and head west to the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. Make your first stop the lovely town of Leura. When we visit it's spring and the town are in the midst of its Gardens Festival. Cherry blossom trees line Leura Mall in a flourish of white and pink flowers. Leura Garage is the must-try spot for lunch. As the name suggests, this popular spot was once a mechanic’s garage but has been converted rather cleverly by owner James Howarth.
Solar panels have been installed, recycled materials have been used, car hoists have been converted to wine and drink racks and rainwater filtration systems have been added underneath the building, so you are drinking fresh water that Leura Garage staff have filtered themselves.
Leura Garage, which is open daily for lunch and dinner, fills a much-needed gap between the usual café fare and fine dining. The menu is a mix of share dishes and mains. The roasted pumpkin with tahini dressing, crispy kale and roasted pepitas was incredible, as were the pork meatballs with smoked turnip, parsnip puree and crispy beetroot chips. The polenta chips were a hit at our table, and you must try the mixed olives—so soft and fresh.
From here, we head to our accommodation for the night, to let the relaxing begin! Lavender Majestic is a magnificent property in Katoomba, which can be hired out by groups and friends, perfect for special occasions and hen’s weekends.
The three-bedroom house—which can sleep up to 10 people—was originally built in 1890, with a few upgrades over the years. Owner Nicky Vaux has created a marvellous space that welcomes and soothes you as soon as you walk in. A butler is included in your stay so all you have to do is sit back, relax and take it all in, as they bring you your champagne, refill snacks and anything else you may require.
Relaxation certainly is the name of the game at Lavender Majestic because each person gets a massage included in their stay here. As I head to the massage room, soothing sounds fill my ears. My hour-long massage is the perfect antidote after a week in the office at my desk.
The house itself is a two-storey beauty with period touches and a homely feel. There's an outdoor spa you can use, balcony area, living room with fireplace and, my personal favourite, a gorgeous conservatory looking out to the greenery of the back garden. Don’t miss the pretty garden at the front of the house too.
For dinner, we head to Blackheath and the newly opened Cinnabar Kitchen, by Corinne Evatt and Mary-Jane Craig, the team behind the award-winning Ashcrofts restaurant. The menu is a new take on modern international cuisine, with dishes designed to share. Begin with the flat bread and tahini hummus, pimiento and wild olives.
The wild scallop tartare with wakame and pickled ginger was a delicate flavoursome surprise balanced with a kick from the ginger. Special dishes feature from around the world and change each month—when we visited it was the chicken veluto. Cinnabar Kitchen is quickly becoming a local favourite, from a renowned team, and locals are happy to have such high-class fare back in the area.
We head back to the Lavender Majestic for a night in, and choose from their wide selection of DVDs, or you might simply choose to talk to your friends till you all fall asleep in front of the open fire.
The next morning as we awake, breakfast is served downstairs by our lovely butler. A smorgasbord of pastries, fruit, muesli, as well as a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes is on offer. There’s a coffee machine too, so no need to leave the house for your caffeine fix.
After our very relaxing breakfast in the grand dining room of Lavender Majestic, we leave Katoomba to drive over the mountains to Oberon. Just past the main town centre, you’ll find the turnoff for Mayfield Garden. This privately-owned estate, which belongs to the Hawkins family, is a magnificent cool climate garden, inspired by the gardens of Europe.
Before exploring the grounds, we head to the on-site café for sustenance. The café has a garden-to-plate philosophy with 80 percent of the produce sourced from the gardens itself, and Mayfield’s own farm, with the rest coming from local suppliers. A breakfast and lunch menu is available as well as options for the kids. I chose the Mayfield Vegan salad, which was a fusion of freshness and colour featuring ingredients from their kitchen garden.
The 15 hectares of Mayfield Garden are open to the public 363 days a year. Wander through the Water Garden along the boardwalks, then view the marvellous Obelisk and pond. Don’t miss the cascading waterfalls, walk over the beautiful stone bridge and then explore around and through the Grotto. Follow the path to the Copper Tree Fountain, and the soon-to-be-opened Valley of the Five Ponds. Wind your way back through the garden and have a game or two of chess or croquet on the lawns.
We are lucky enough to also tour the family’s Private Garden. The full 64 hectares of private garden is open for several days at times during the year for Mayfield’s seasonal festivals and events (check the website for details). In the Private Garden you can see the beautiful aviaries, chicken houses, croquet court and get lost in the maze—we eventually make it through to the middle, and it is such fun to ring the bell loudly to signal our success.
No matter what time of year you visit here, there is always something to see with different plants in bloom. The spring sights of beautiful tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas and cherry blossoms were breathtaking. If you are feeling inspired, and I have no doubt you will be, you can take home and nurture your own plant from the Nursery near the entrance to the gardens.
Drive back to the mountains and choose from lovely accommodation options at Katoomba, Blackheath or Mt Victoria. The next morning we ready ourselves for the journey back to Sydney.
On our way home, we return via the Bells Line of Road, and take a break at the famous apple town of Bilpin for some cider tasting. We visit the Hillbilly Cider Shed which overlooks Shields Orchard, a working apple orchard. As a cider lover it is fascinating to meet with owner Shane McLaughlin and learn all about Hillbilly’s incredible 100 percent natural cider.
Taste test all their varieties straight from the barrel. There’s Apple, Pear, Sweet Julie and Scrumpy, as well as a non-alcoholic cider and a vintage cider. Sweet Julie is my favourite, while my travelling companion favours Scrumpy. Both aren’t as readily available down the mountain, so we make sure we stock up while we’re here. The Sweet Julie is the only cider in the world made from the Julie apple, which Shane mentioned was the newest apple discovery in the area since the Granny Smith 100 years ago.
While you are at the shed, don’t miss your chance to be a “canimal”. It’s easy with Hillbilly’s (almost) 1 litre “canimal” cans. Choose your cider, then your can will then be filled straight from the barrel and the canimal machine will seal the can shut. As Shane put it, it’s the perfect size for when you are sitting around the bonfire, and don’t want to get up!
As we drive back to the city, I reflect on this trip that has been a perfect, much-needed escape balancing fine food, relaxation and getting back to nature.