New South Wales, Australia

The Blue Mountains and Lilianfels

Microscopic droplets of oil from the leaves of dense eucalyptus forests hang in the air, refracting the sunlight to create the misty blue haze that gave this park its name. Just ninety minutes from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are a glorious playground of twenty-six small townships that offer every­thing from antiques shopping to bushwalking.

The mountains are not even really mountains but a vast sandstone tableland whose dra­matic eroded scenery is best enjoyed from lookouts like Govett’s Leap. Echo Point is the best place to view the park’s famous sandstone pillars, the Three Sisters.

Just west of here are two of the park’s highlights: The Scenic Skyway, Australia’s only gondola ride, travels 1,000 feet above the canyon, and the Katoomba Scenic Railway, an open-sided cog­rail incline, descends at 52 degrees but feels twice as steep. If they’re not hairy’ enough for you, there’s still the Zig-Zag railway near the town of Lithgow, an engineering marvel of switchbacks and bridges built in the 1860s.

You can catch a highlight or two on a day trip from Sydney, but the area really deserves a longer stay, and for that, the 19th-century Lilianfels hotel is hard to beat. It’s one of Australia’s best getaway destinations, with a fantastic setting, magnificent panoramas, and Darley’s, a smart, award-winning restaurant where the ingredients of your traditional meal come from the surrounding country.

Looking every bit like a gracious European home, the hotel is perched 3,300 feet above sea level, almost at the edge of the cliff at Echo Point, with the canyons and ravines of the Jamison Valley below. After all the outdoor adventure, you can sit by one of the hotel’s inviting fire­places (even on summer evenings the air is crisp), or enjoy a proper afternoon tea served on a veranda overlooking acres of English gar­dens and the misty eucalyptus forests. Full spa facilities further tempt one to cocoon.

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