Winter is coming. For Eddard Stark and his brood in the novels and TV series, Game of Thrones, these words signalled very dark days ahead. Thankfully things are a little less fraught in this neck of the woods.
With atmospheric villages, cosy teahouses and cottages and the spectacular azure mountain range that gives the region its name, the Blue Mountains is an eclectic and always inviting destination. The World Heritage listed region lies just 100 kilometres west of Sydney, and while it can be enjoyed year round, there’s perhaps no time quite like mid-winter to truly discover its magic.
For many Australian cities, summer is synonymous with festival season. The Blue Mountains marches to the beat of a different drum.
Even without snow, you can savour succulent roast turkey, smoked ham, delicate mince pies and plum pudding, with all the seasonal trims. Top it off with a warming mulled wine in front of the fireplace.
For a region renowned for its natural attractions, the Blue Mountains does antiques, boutiques and first-class dining to a tee. In several villages you can unearth unique fashion, homewares, arts and crafts.
Highlights include luscious hand-made chocolates from Josophans, the luxe European homewares of Maison Montage and cute vintage fashion finds in Mrs Peel (all Leura), the antique treasure troves of Mr Pickwicks in Katoomba and the Victory Antique Theatre at Blackheath, and the work of local artisans in venues including the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre shop and The Blackheath Hub.
Dining options range from rustic cafés to contemporary dining rooms and romantic restaurants with stunning escarpment views.
Step back in time at art deco era venues including Katoomba’s Paragon Café. Family friendly options include Clean Slate Café (181 Katoomba St) and Leura Garage, where there are healthy kids’ menus and activity packs on hand to keep young ones entertained. The Gingerbread House in Katoomba stocks all manner of sweet goodies, and there’s a relaxed outdoor café area with a cubby house.
To soak up the ambience, enjoy a pot of tea at the gorgeous Everglades Historic House and Gardens in Leura, or nearby Bygone Beauties Museum and Tearooms.
Browse the world’s largest collection of teaware before sitting down to Devonshire tea served on a silver platter.
For a classic high tea, sink into a Victorian armchair at the lovely Lilianfels Resort & Spa in Katoomba. The historic Hydro Majestic hotel in Medlow Bath, now restored to its former glory, also hosts high tea in the Wintergarden restaurant with inspiring views over the Megalong Valley. Choose from a traditional high tea, an Asian-infused variation or a Mystic High tea, where delectable tiered treats are accompanied by a personal tea leaf or tarot card reading.
Visitors are also spoilt for choice with museums and galleries. The sleek Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba is an expansive light-filled space housing a gallery, library, café and the gift store showcasing jewellery and objets d’art from Australian designers. Step outside for long-reaching views of the Jamison Valley.
Smaller museums and galleries worth a peek include Leura’s Quidditas Textile Museum, with fabrics from around the world, and the Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum. This grand mansion houses the largest collection of toys in the southern hemisphere, side-by-side with unique political curios acquired by then owner Dr HV Evatt – a former Australian politician and president of the United Nations General Assembly. There is an extensive railway collection inside and out, and beautiful, meandering gardens.
Further down the mountain, the National Trust’s Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum at Faulconbridge showcases the works of this popular Australian artist and creator of the classic children’s story A Magic Pudding.
Of course, one of the area’s biggest drawcards is its natural beauty. For many visitors, the image that defines the Blue Mountains is the Three Sisters, the unique rock formation best viewed from Echo Point Lookout. The breathtaking panorama here warrants repeat visits, and the information centre provides details for keen bushwalkers.
Nearby Scenic World is perched on the edge of the Jamison Valley and is home to the Scenic Skyway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Railway and Scenic Walkway. The Skyway is a cablecar that travels 250 metres above ground, offering 360-degree views of the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and Mount Solitary. The Cableway descends 545 metres down to the Walkway, a boardwalk that winds through lush bush to the Railway, the steepest railway in the world (and a treat for older kids).
Further west, the Jenolan Caves are Australia’s most famous cave system, and one of the world’s oldest, with underground lakes and striking limestone formations highlights of the cave tours (some are also suitable for children).
While there are abundant options for busy days and nights, this tranquil destination ensures idleness is never underrated. Relish the relaxation — and romance — by slipping onto a sofa in front of a blazing fire. Just be sure to stock up first on wine, ciders and local treats at Carrington Cellars & Deli at Katoomba, behind the historic Carrington Hotel.
You’ll soon discover magic is alive and well in the Blue Mountains!
A brief history of the Blue Mountains
1,000,000 years ago – The mountains formed
Pre-1788 – Indigenous population inhabits the area
1788 – Governor Phillip christens the area Carmarthen Hills and Landsdowne Hills, but the name is soon changed to reflect the distinctive blue haze surrounding the mountains
1813 – Explorers Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth cross the mountains
1814 – First road is built
1816-17 – First building built at Springwood
1850s – Population growth during the Gold Rush
1867 – First railway line
1874 – Upper mountain village christened Crushes
1877 – Crushes renamed Katoomba
1879 – The Katoomba coal mine opens
1882 – First Katoomba hotel opens (The Great Western)
1886 – The hotel is renamed The Carrington.