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Historic charm in the NSW Blue Mountains

Drive through history on an alternative route through the Blue Mountains, dotted with sandstone cottages, orchards and elegant gardens, writes Mike Smith.

For more than 150 years, the presbytery in the tiny NSW Blue Mountains village of Hartley has stood the ravages of time, its hillside address very much intact, across from a courthouse where a conviction often resulted in the punishment of 50 lashes.

Neighbouring the equally historic and impressive St Bernard’s Catholic Church, this charming sandstone building was originally the home of the local priest, only to be later leased by families before becoming a visitors’ centre.

Today, after much cost and blood, sweat and tears by the managers – the National Parks and Wildlife Service – it has been lovingly restored and converted into deluxe self-contained accommodation while maintaining a charm from bygone days.

From the moment you open the front door from the balcony, you feel as if you are stepping back to an era where horse and buggies were commonplace and to warm yourself you needed coal-fuelled pot belly stoves as well as open fireplaces.

Of course, today there are a few mod cons such as TV and electric stoves and heating to remind you that you are in the 21st century.

There’s enough space in the two-bedroom property to cater for two couples or a family of four, the prime bedroom furnished with a four-poster bed, the polished timber floors mirroring an elegance which spread into the nearby lounge room with its leathered seats.

Near the rear of the building, near the kitchen show, a worn stone step is testimony to the presbytery’s long enduring life.

From the moment you open the front door from the balcony, you feel as if you are stepping back to an era where horse and buggies were commonplace and to warm yourself you needed coal-fuelled pot belly stoves as well as open fireplaces.

The property is one of the lucky buildings to be preserved under the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage order in a village that boasts as many as 17 historic structures.

In addition to two churches, the courthouse and an old post office (now a café), there is a scattering of quaint cottages, one hanging by a shred and disused, another acting as a visitors’ information centre, complemented by a gallery of old and new local Aboriginal art.

Then there’s Old Trahlee, a beautifully restored cottage which, too, has been converted into accommodation for up to six guests, including a cot for a baby.

Orchards and apple cider on Bells Line of Road

The historic village of Hartley, about a two-hour drive west of Sydney, was once the gateway to NSW’s Golden West, a popular spot for travellers to rest en route to Jenolan Caves, Oberon and Bathurst.

It’s one of a host of highlights on the alternative Blue Mountains route which takes motorists along the Bells Line of Road between Windsor and Lithgow, and through the apple-growing belt of Bilpin, instead of the more common Great Western Highway, via Katoomba.

It’s in Bilpin, within all the orchards, that “Hillbilly” Shane McLaughlin shows how to turn apples into liquid gold, and he has reaped the awards to support his efforts.

With wife Tessa as partner, Shane has created recipes to satisfy the tastebuds of apple cider lovers. And he reveals that by not using added sugar or artificial flavours he is on to a winner.

No Slide Found In Slider.

Regularly spotted at local growers’ markets in the Blue Mountains and Sydney, Shane and Tessa have recently opened the Hillbilly Cider Shed on the Bells Line of Road – an ideal address, just northwest of Sydney.

It’s here that weekend motorists and their passengers are invited to break the journey and sample the fruits, straight from the barrels while looking over the 60-year-old Shields Apple Orchard.

One of the apples he ferments for the barrels is Julie, the first commercial apple discovered in the Sydney/Blue Mountains region since the Granny Smith apple was unearthed more than 100 years ago.

Other ciders to make up the Hillbilly range – which are gluten free – include the traditional apple cider, the Scrumpy cider and a limited release 2014 bubbly vintage cider. There’s also a non-alcoholic version along with a crushed pear cider, another award winner.

Apart from selling the cider in 330-millilitre bottles, the McLaughlins have created two other novel ways for visitors of the shed to take home the crushed fruits of their pickings.

One is in a 946-millilitre vacuum-sealed can where the cider is poured from the barrel for sealing in front of the guest. The other is in a returnable giant-sized bottle, popular with locals and refilled with each visit.

Strolling through the gardens of the Blue Mountains

For a change of scenery, a short drive from Bilpin is the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mt Tomah, where nature lovers have free access to over 21,000 species of local and exotic cool climate plants.

Now 30 years old, the 28-hectare section of public garden with its meandering walking paths is a popular spot to roll out the picnic blanket – all year round.

Prepare for a bird’s-eye view from the garden restaurant before venturing to see such main drawcards as the oaks and birch trees, rhododendrons and the ancient Wollemi Pines.

Another short drive from the garden, in the heart of tiny Mt Wilson township, is a sprinkling of smaller privately owned gardens, of note Roger and Wai Davidson’s Windyridge, a property which dates back to 1877, its plants lovingly nurtured in the rich volcanic soil.

Here, you can enjoy a hot cuppa before or after exploring the tranquil gardens with their cool climate plants, the rose terrace, Japanese Maple terrace, rock garden, ponds and cascades among the highlights on another stroll into the past.

No Slide Found In Slider.

Looking for a luxury getaway in the Blue Mountains? We love Spicers Sangoma Retreat for a romantic escape.