Combine an old convent with a 125-year-old bank, former spa retreat for honeymooners and a what was once a basic campground and you have the recipe for four memorable NSW luxury escapes – within two-hour drives of Sydney.
At these unique luxury escapes, guests are invited to step back in time and relive the days where horse and buggy was the main form of transport. Then again, they will have access to wifi and other mod cons.
THE HYDRO MAJESTIC, BLUE MOUNTAINS
For almost six years, the doors, gates and very much everything else had been bolted shut at what was once one of the most historic and famous holiday resorts in the Blue Mountains.
Much conjecture had been made on what future lay ahead for the grand Hydro Majestic Hotel.
Now that the retreat has been re-opened for more than two years, the answer is as clear as the brisk mountain air on a sunny winter’s morning.
With a fresh coat of paint and in the new ownership of the Escarpment Group which also has Lilianfels, Echoes and Parklands under its Blue Mountains umbrella, this heritage-listed hotel is well and truly back in business – in far better shape than ever before.
The Hydro Majestic’s mix of Art Deco and Edwardian style architecture – and the ornate late Victorian Italianate wedding cake-like roof – is matched by the same views of Megalong Valley which impressed such notable past guests as Dame Nellie Melba, Sherlock Homes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton and, in more recent times, actor Russell Crowe.
Step inside, and you will be impressed by a contemporary décor which hasn’t detracted from the hotel’s historic roots.
Centrepiece – the Casino (meeting hall, not for gaming) – is a grand entry point for the Wintergarden fine dining restaurant, a magnet for the view of the valley as much as for its cuisine and day-time Hydro Majestic High Tea experience.
The hotel’s famous Cat’s Alley, linking the suites to the Casino, has been brightened up with new furnishings and oil paintings from famous department store owner Mark Foy’s personal collection.
It was Foy’s vision for a spa retreat in the Blue Mountains which led to the creation of the Hydro Pavilion so many decades ago. These days the retreat’s Majestic Ballroom hosts regular weekend concerts, attracting such artists as James Morrison and Christine Anu.
One of the Hydro Majestic’s newest additions is the Pavilion, a cafe which also boasts shelves filled with local produce, intermixed with historic memorabilia such as old cash registers, advertising signs and even the familiar green uniforms worn by past staff. Another addition is the Salon Du restaurant which offers a refined Asian inspired menu and a range of cocktails and wines.
Across the car park from the pavilion is the old Boiler house, once responsible for providing power for much of Medlow Bath. Today it’s a two-story casual restaurant, the menu Italian.
Guests are catered for in rooms of the Belgravia Wing, the site of the original Belgravia Hotel. The attractively furnished and decorated rooms may be compact, but the large windows are rewarding for the view of the valley at first light – worth framing for the home.
KIMS BEACHSIDE RETREAT, CENTRAL COAST
Fronting the quiet Central Coast beach on Toowoon Bay, tucked away in a small rainforest beneath a canopy of century-old Norfolk Pines is Kims Beachside Retreat, a family-owned luxury retreat which thrives on spoiling its guests.
From humble beginnings as a campground more than 130 years ago, this adults-only sanctuary attracts discerning couples seeking a romantic escape from the city – in tranquil leafy surrounds.
Kims is plush without being formal, the casual buffet-style dining experience with its plentiful evening seafood, traditional hot dishes, array of desserts and cheeses, and family-made conserves one of the retreat’s prime drawcards.
The bungalows, villas and spa suites are tastefully decorated with immaculately polished timber floors and spacious Italian tiled bathrooms, Nine Beach deluxe spa suite a favourite for its absolute beach frontage, outdoor Jacuzzi, pool and sauna.
Understandably, under the ownership of long-time yachting enthusiast Andrew Strachan and his wife Maryjane and managers Diana and Peter Kershaw, Kims has nautical characteristics, from the giant mast decorated with flags of the guests’ nationalities to a ship’s bell, rung to signal meal times.
As any guest would vouch, it’s time to ignore the waistline when you holiday at Kims Beachside Retreat.
THE CONVENT HUNTER VALLEY
It’s more than two decades ago and ambitious plan was hatched to move a disused convent 600kms from country Coonamble to the winegrowing Hunter Valley.
Today, what was once the home to the Brigidine order of nuns is a boutique hotel for wine-loving guests seeking a truly memorable stay in luxurious surrounds.
Significantly, the main building was meticulously reconstructed and lovingly curated with lavish décor on a property which also had a slab cottage which dated back to 1876 and is today a very popular “farm to fork” award-winning restaurant known as Circa 1876.
With a tree-lined lane leading through the property past the acclaimed Pepper Tree Winery’s cellar door and its landscaped gardens, The Convent is the very essence of boutique retreat luxury.
Combine the ambience of a grand historic two-storey building with typical Australian country hospitality and you have a hotel worthy of manor status.
As many as 19 elegantly presented guest rooms and suites are featured both inside the original building and an adjacent single storey dwelling.
The décor is of Baroque style with elements of the days gone by, hanging chandeliers and polished timber furniture featured in the lounge with its fireplace.
On the grounds is a private swimming pool along with tennis court and an area to play boules.
Dining centres both on The Convent’s Restaurant Eighty-Eight, where breakfast is served and High Tea is fashionable on weekends, and Circa 1876, with its menu of modern Australian cuisine.
Executive chef Trent Barrett – not to be mistaken for the Manly Rugby League coach and former Australian star – is as passionate for the restaurant’s nearby private vegetable garden as he is for the kitchen, the use of organic produce a priority.
In addition to growing – and nurturing – a range of vegetables, herbs and spices, Trent is fond of the honey his bees produce along with the free-range chickens and quails for their eggs.
And to enjoy such a memorable dining experience is only a five-minute walk along the lane from The Convent.
OLD BANK, SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS
Derelict and in danger of being demolished as a dilapidated pigeon coop, a former stately bank in the heart of the Southern Highlands‘ Mittagong, has a new lease of life – 125 years since first opening.
A seven-year restoration program by local heritage lovers Warwick and Barbara Wainberg has seen a dramatic transformation which combines mod cons with a window into a bygone era.
The Old Bank Boutique Hotel, as it is known, is now one of the finest historical buildings in the region south of Sydney, the welcome mat inviting guests to “withdraw from the present and deposit themselves in the genteel ambience and grandeur of yesteryear”.
Step inside and you will see walls decorated with images and artefacts from the pioneering days.
Behind the front room with its leather lounges and one of three of the hotel’s open fireplaces is the original door to the bank’s vault, converted into a wine cellar stocked with local wine.
As history has it the Victorian-Romanesque-styled property was built in Mittagong in 1892 as a branch of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney with the bank manager and his family living upstairs. (The building ended its career as a bank in the 1970s and fell into disrepair).
Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the Wainbergs, cash has once again been deposited into the bank and the original polished cedar staircase now leads to a number of holidaying guest rooms.
Behind the grand old building original stables and a convict-built coach house have also been lovingly restored and converted into accommodation.
During restoration work a collection of old pennies and half pennies was unearthed to be on show with other artefacts uncovered during those seven years of toil.