“Crack. Hiss. Pop.” The fireplace is ablaze, warming me up from the outside in. But the heat of the flames isn’t the only thing keeping out the cold. I’m sinking into a soft, spongy sofa, next to a collection of plush floral cushions and a giant teddy bear named Darley.
I’m sitting in The Lounge at Lilianfels Resort and Spa, Blue Mountains. Darley and I get well acquainted while sipping tea and treating ourselves to piping hot scones with jam and clotted cream, chicken sandwiches, rhubarb tarts and other bite-size treats on the tiered platters that arrive as part of the hotel’s high tea menu.
Now before you pass judgement on a grown woman travelling with a teddy bear, Darley doesn’t belong to me. He is somewhat of a mascot at the resort, named after Sir Fredrick Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of New South Wales and original owner of Lilianfels, who commissioned the grand country house in 1890.
Of course there’s been some changes and additions since then, but a few features have lingered on to tell the tale. Artwork depicting hunting scenes and photos of the Darleys hang on the walls, along with one of Lady Darley’s spirit drawings of her daughter Lillian, who died young from tuberculosis. However I’m told by the hotel’s General Manager, Brian McHenry, that Lillian still makes an appearance every now and then - I only hope he’s joking.
Tartan carpets, a billiards room, and a sun-soaked library where you can sit back with a good book or read the paper in blissful silence set the scene and I feel as though I’m in a stately English home – not in the middle of Australia's (World Heritage listed) Blue Mountains National Park.
The 85-room resort is perched on the very edge of Echo Point in Katoomba, with dramatic views over Jamieson Valley and the legendary Three Sisters. The view really is sublime – just a stone’s throw away from Sydney, but it feels like a world of its own.
As one of Australia’s most recognised landmarks, over time the Three Sisters has transformed Katoomba’s sleepy mining village into a thriving tourist hub, alive with curious city slickers and busloads of international visitors.
But once I enter the Lilianfels estate, all the hustle and bustle melts away in an instant. It’s midday and the sun is shining, but the wind is cold as ice, so a spare jacket doesn’t go astray.
The gardens are lush and green and, beyond its walls, surrounded by untamed bushland. The National Park has a maze of walking tracks that twist and turn around the mountains, and the crisp mountain air is conducive to an afternoon hike – but I don’t wander off too far, the mountains here are made of conductive, iron rock, so a compass is pretty much useless.
Like the rest of the hotel, my room is beautifully decorated to resemble a bygone era. The canopied king bed is most inviting and while I sit behind the large work desk I find myself somewhat mesmerised by the ornate dusty pink wallpaper – its very pretty, featuring scenes out of a fable, repeated over and over until it covers the entire room, the drapes and even a cushion.
I wander off to the hotel’s spa, tucked away in its hushed basement, where candle-lit treatment rooms, herbal tea and freshly cut fruit await. I indulge in a mango and pineapple facial, which the therapist informs me, is part of the new Sothys seasonal range. After 45 minutes of heaven I leave refreshed and smelling indeed like a pineapple.
No detox break would be complete without a leisurely swim, and Lilianfels has a heated indoor and outdoor pool. There’s a tennis court and fitness centre too, but I’m not looking to over exert myself, so I opt for a stroll around the gardens before dinner.
The hotel’s famed restaurant, Darleys, is the place to go for an intimate dinner for two, but if you travel a few minutes down the road to Leura, there are quite a few quaint little cafés and restaurants.
I dine alone at Leura Garage, a former car garage turned contemporary café. Its relaxed atmosphere and rustic decor compliment a menu of pizza and share plates. I order croquettes to start, made with purple potato, pancetta, provolone and confit garlic. They’re simple but tasty, and very colourful. Then onto a scotch fillet steak, sliced delicately and splayed across a wooden board to reveal its pink centre. Wonderfully cooked with echalottes port and beetroot butter, it goes down a treat with a glass of Robert Stein Reserve cabernet sauvignon.
When I return to my room at the hotel, the bed sheets have been turned down and a pair of spongy white slippers placed neatly beside the nightstand. I fling myself onto the bed and dissolve into the puffy, marshmallow-soft mattress – ahhh – if only I’d brought my stuffed bunny along to keep me company.
Lilianfels Resort and Spa
Tel: +612 4780 1200
84 Railway Parade,
Leura NSW, 2780
Tel: +612 4784 3391