The Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley are just hours from downtown Sydney. Joanna Booth enjoys a rural retreat
Drive for two hours from Sydney, and you’ll find the misty splendour of the Blue Mountains, and the vines and gardens of the Hunter Valley. Two hours from London? There’s Leicester, Coventry, and Norwich. Sometimes, life doesn’t seem fair.
Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge are rightly iconic, but before your clients jump on their next flight, make sure they’ve ventured a little further out into this lovely corner of New South Wales.
A few days of rural relaxation will set them up perfectly for whatever’s next, whether it be the Red Centre, the Barrier Reef or even – as it was in my case – the long flight home.
ALL ABOUT WINE
Forget Jacob’s Creek. The Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine-producing region, is home to small, boutique wineries producing small quantities of high quality wine, many of which aren’t exported to the UK.
But those who don’t count themselves as wine experts shouldn’t be put off. Tastings aren’t intimidating – there’s the usual Aussie down-to-earth friendliness – and the smaller scale of the wineries just means you’re not crammed in with scores of other tourists.
Boutique Tours offers friendly small group trips with a maximum of 14 guests, and those who want something really exclusive and tailored to their needs will love the chauffeur-driven luxury of Aussie Wine Tours.
It’s not just about the swish car; guide Peter Kane is a real expert and knows everyone in the valley. When I said I’d never actually seen wine in the process of being made he called around until discovering that Piggs Peake winery still had some red in the vats, and whisked me over there.
Wine tends to go hand-in-hand with food, so clients won’t go hungry. Peterson’s Champagne House is famed for its Bubbly Breakfast, where you can start the day with a fry-up and something sparkling.
Bimbadgen winery’s Esca restaurant has sweeping views and stunning food, but even if they just want to grab a quick sandwich there are great choices. Hunter Valley Gardens has a lovely cafe, acres of beautiful gardens and you’re next door to Brokenwood Wines.
While it’s possible to come out to the Hunter for a day from Sydney, it’s a much better bet to stop for at least one night to really enjoy the wine – and clients won’t be short of somewhere lovely to stay.
I stayed in Chateau Elan (see review) but also visited Tower Lodge, a fabulously high-end 12-room boutique stuffed with antiques, and Spicer’s Vineyard Estate, a gorgeous luxury guesthouse run by chef Mark and wine-expert Belinda, a couple whose talents are matched by their friendliness.
Wilderness is all very well, but often it’s inconveniently remotely placed from anything else. Not so when it comes to the Blue Mountains. A two to three-hour drive leaves you surrounded by huge, flat-topped peaks liberally coated with a dark green layer of forest.
The relative proximity means there are day tours from Sydney – Attraction World has a Blue Mountains & Wildlife Park trip (£122), and Do Something Different a number of options including a four-wheel drive Wildlife Discovery (£150) and a Bush Walk (£136).
However, whether clients want to get active, walking through the bush, or take in the view more sedately, they’ll enjoy it much more if they linger after the day-trippers have left.
Katoomba is the centre of tourism in the area, boasting two ‘steepest in the world’ title-holders – the Scenic Railway, and the Scenic Cableway. Many visitors take one down and the other back up.
The nearby Echo Point lookout has spectacular views of the Three Sisters, the Blue Mountains’ most famous rock formation, and the nimble can walk down the 800 steps of the Giant Stairway to the valley floor.
Relaxing in the peace and quiet of the area is all part of the charm, and so it’s worth splashing out on a nice hotel. Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is the most luxurious (see review), but other great options include Lilianfels Luxury Collection Resort, a property with old-fashioned charm that Cox & Kings recommends for its easy location for those who want to see both the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley.
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