Living in the heart of Sydney, weekend escapes are often few and far between.
And yet, just a two-hour car karaoke session north of Sydney, you can find yourself in an entirely new world. A world where skyscrapers and suburbs give way to misty pastures, historic villages, magical gardens and gourmet eats. A world where 48 hours is really all you need to feel refreshed, recharged and ready for another busy week of city life.
With a full tank of petrol and the road-trip playlist loaded a girlfriend and I headed to the Blue Mountains, and kicked off a two night stay at the charming St Bernard’s Presbytery in the Hartley Historic Site.
Stepping into St Bernard’s is like stepping back in time. Nestled in the hills of Hartley, the solid sandstone cottage has been beautifully restored to its original glory but upgraded with all the comforts of modern living.
We arrive at a roaring (gas) fire and I settle in for a power nap on the broad Chesterfield lounge in the living room. My companion takes the opportunity to completely unwind in the ultra-modern spa bath, overlooking rolling pastures and heritage orchards at the back of the Presbytery.
Dinner is at Cinnabar Kitchen in Blackheath, headed up by award-winning restaurateurs Corinne Evatt and Mary-Jane Craig. A rich crimson feature wall, half dome lights and intimate table settings make for a cosy yet sophisticated atmosphere. The food is fresh, fun and innovative, inspired by flavours from all over the world.
A melt-in-your-mouth smoked eel strudel with red pepper purée is paired with a fresh and fruity Riesling from New Zealand. Pork meatballs in a saffron broth make for the ultimate comfort food and come served with a side of snow peas tossed in ginger butter. A real hero of the night is the harissa labneh, piled high on honey roasted beetroot and fresh greens.
Gasps emanate from the surrounding tables as we’re presented with dessert – a lemon curd meringue sprinkled with pecan praline that’s almost too pretty to eat. We tuck in any way. And we’re not disappointed.
The next morning, we take a leisurely drive through fresh green farmland and eucalyptus forests for a day at Mayfield. For those travelling from Sydney, Mayfield is located about 2 hours and 45 minutes away, and 40 minutes from Bathurst and 10 minutes from Oberon.
Mayfield, a privately-owned garden open to the public, has a rich history. Originally a sheep farm, the heart of this rolling 5,000-acre property has, over the past 30-odd years, been transformed into one of the largest cool-climate gardens in the world.
But the past year has seen the Mayfield evolution really reach hyperdrive, with the establishment of bespoke workshops, luxe seasonal festivals, glamping retreats and even goat yoga. (Which is exactly what it sounds like, except that the goats are tiny, cute and very friendly).
We take a mid-morning stroll through the 36-acre public garden, stopping at marvel at the immense stone grotto, cascading waterfalls, blooming lilies and a sky-scraping obelisk, poured in situ in the centre of the original farm dam.
Lunch is served at the Mayfield Café and Produce Store, adjacent to the nursery and veggie gardens. Eighty per cent of the produce served up at the café is grown on site, making a meal that looks as stunning as it tastes.
A Thai style kangaroo and pomegranate salad pop off the plate and on the taste buds, while the Mayfield Vegan Salad is essentially the surrounding gardens on a plate. My beef fillet is cooked to absolute perfection and comes with a hearty dollop of creamy mash and vibrant cherry toms.
We finish with a ‘Dirty’ Trifle covered in chocolate soil and edible flowers that’s equal parts crunchy and creamy. A Honeycomb Bombe with salted caramel is nothing short of a sweet sensation.
Needless to say, we’re in need of a bit of a walk after lunch. Luckily, Mayfield’s 124-acre private gardens (open to the public for two weeks of each season) leaves plenty uncharted.
We explore magical pine and birch forests, rolling orchards and the palatial ‘Chook Hilton’ and glass houses. We then release our inner kids by getting lost in a full-scale Chevening maze for about an hour.
It’s a part Alice-in-Wonderland, part Harry-Potter world where the hours feel like minutes. We return to Hartley as the sun sets over the mountains, more than ready for a good night’s sleep.
No weekend escape is complete without a sneaky cellar door. Ours takes the form of a visit to Hillbilly Cider on our way back to Sydney the following day.
In a rustic shed overlooking the 50-year-old Shields Orchard, we chat with the Hillbilly himself, Shane McLaughlin, sampling his international award-winning range of pear and apple ciders.
With 20 years of wine and cider making under his belt, I’m pleased to learn Shane takes a traditional approach to his craft. All Hillbilly ciders are 100% crushed fruit and fermented with no added sugar, pasteurisation or artificial flavour.
I quickly fall for the Scrumpy, a drier, slightly funky ferment named for the tradition of ‘scrumping’ – essentially stealing other farmer’s apples for your own rough and ready cider batch. Though Shane assures us his Scrumpy apples are NOT stolen.
The game changer of the day is definitely Hillybilly’s Apple Cider Vintage, featuring late season apples double fermented in aged oak. The result is essentially apple champagne and is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. It’s effervescent like a sparkling wine but sweeter and creamier, like Veuve Clicquot and Scrumpy had a beautiful love child.
A little over an hour later, we’re back in the city, a few bottles of cider in tow. Surprising, given the weekend’s activities felt literally a world away.
The whole weekend was easy, relaxing, and pretty as a picture. If you’re looking to make weekend escapes a more regular occurrence, pop the Blue Mountains and the glorious Mayfield Gardens at the top of your list.
Cinnabar Kitchen is open Wednesday to Saturday from 5:30–9pm. Booking can be made via the website.
Mayfield public gardens are open 363 days a year from 9am–4.30pm. Check the website for special events and workshops
Hillbilly Cider Shed is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am–5pm. Check the website for extra opening days and times.
The Carousel would like to thank Camilla Wagstaff for her article. Camilla stayed as a guest at the Hartley Historic Site.