Yule love the Carrington Hotel

Words by Dorian Mode

The Carrington Hotel opened 1882 and was recently restored - photo Lydia Thorpe

The stock market’s crashed. The gramophone’s on the fritz. The Dunny Man has broken a leg. So why not take a leaf out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s racy new novel and Charleston your way up to the leafy Blue Mountains? For this trip, we stay at the glorious Carrington Hotel. What’s especially appealing for seniors about the Carrington is it’s right on the doorstep of the train station at Katoomba. (It’s one of the reasons we sometimes shout my car-less/careless mother-in-law a gift voucher to stay for her birthday/Mother’s Day.) Indeed, for less mobile seniors, if you’re patient, call the hotel on your mobile and the porter will pop over to the station to fetch your bags and chaperone you to the hotel. Moreover, it’s handy for car-less seniors in general, because all the cafes and antique shops are only a short stroll from your doorstep.

Opened in 1882 as The Great Western, this Grand Old Dame – along with Raffles in Singapore and Chateau Lake Louise in Western Canada – was one of the jewels in the Empire. It soon became a popular summer retreat for Sydney-siders in their sweaty Victorian tweeds and copious girdles. Renamed ‘The Carrington Hotel’ in 1886, in honour of the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Carrington, the hotel was extended by subsequent owner, F. C. Goyder who added the grand dining room.

The dining room still has its Art Nouveau statues and stained-glass doors

Later sold to James Joynton Smith in 1911, who commissioned the magnificent stained-glass facade, The Carrington rapidly became a popular honeymoon destination. Coincidentally, Joynton Smith also introduced rugby league into Australia during that period. If you look carefully, the stained glass facade of ‘The Carro’ has what suspiciously looks like a rugby league ball as its centrepiece. A private joke perhaps?
With the ubiquity of the motor car in the 1960s, long distance travel became more accessible for Australians. This saw Blue Mountains tourism decline. The Carro was eventually purchased by developer Theo Morris in 1968. By then, the old gal was looking tired. She finally closed her doors in 1985 and remained derelict for some years. (Indeed, one caretaker used to practice archery down the corridors.) But in 1998, the Grand Old Lady of the Mountains reopened her doors after eight years of Botox and tummy tucks. Fortunately, by then, the Blue Mountains had once more become a fashionable holiday destination. This time, as a winter retreat: enter Yuletide.

The workers pose for a photo during the construction

As we arrive on dusk, we find our room has a charming view of Katoomba Street. Gazing out the heavy sashed-window (with original turn-of-the-century hand-blown glass) we see distant mountain glimpses, framed by a galah-pink sunset. Before heading out for dinner we enjoy drinks downstairs in the hotel bar. Above us is the most breathtaking Parisian-cafe-style stained-glass dome. The novelist in me imagines the earnest conversations under this dome over the century: will there be another war with the Germans? Will the Wall St crash affect Australia? Will Clive Palmer ever win a seat in the senate? Flanking said dome, is a bespoke mezzanine gallery. This was built for The Duke and Duchess of York to hover over the royalist throng when they last visited the hotel in 1927. Newspapers at the time report the royal couple being impressed with the Blue Mountains, with the Duchess telling journalists that “the clouds are wonderful”. It was reported that the future monarch agreed with his wife and “nodded in his passive manner”. When I recall the film/play The King’s Speech, I find this casual observation rather moving.

The old billiards room

Mrs Pictures imbibes the bubbly and I’m downing delicious black gold from the Carro’s micro-brewery from a long tap at the curling bar. “The porter’s quite strong,” the barkeep whispers. ‘Yes, I saw that when he fetched my bags,’ I whisper in reply. ‘It’s “6%”, he adds, nodding at my glass. ‘Glad you told me. I better have another pint,’ I smile, slapping my snow-ringed glass on the bar.

The horse and cart days - long before Uber

The atmosphere at the Carrington saloon is perfect; from the trickle of Chet Baker crooning Jerome Kern’s ‘Look for the Silver Lining’; to the soft light of the dome, painting the room in pastel hues; to the veiled conversations in cosy fire-lit corners. The Carro is indeed a national treasure.
While these hotels are legion in Europe, they are rare indeed in Australia. We adore the creaking staircase and the turn-of-the-century Otis lift – one of the oldest working lifts in Australia – with its sliding brass cage. (Why on earth would you stay in a McHotel franchise for the same money?)
Breakfast is nostalgic in the grand dining room with its Art Nouveau statues and stained-glass doors, gently lit by the creeping morning sun. I imagine too, conversations of families breakfasting here over the decades: ‘Mum, they have American cereals here like Coco Pops and even pineapple out of a tin!’

The Duke and Duchess of York visited the hotel in 1927

Post brekkie, we make a beeline for Everglades. The gardens are run by those good eggs at The National Trust (psst! members enter free). We soon find the historic house to enjoy a Devonshire Tea with lashings of thick cream and homemade jam. As we drink that wonderful old school CWA-style tea that you can stand a teaspoon in, we watch light shining through the tracery of bare branches and across the biscuit-coloured stonework of the gardens. Even in the winter months seniors will enjoy these historic gardens as the chill lays bare the garden’s structure. Winter bulbs include crocus and daffodils, while pansies, jonquils and daphne blur the garden in muted colour. Less mobile readers may wish to call ahead and chat with staff about access. There are some steps folks! However, garden staff may be able to collect you from the top entrance if you are patient and give them some notice. (Psst! you may wish to time your visit with the rhododendron festival and visit the gardens at Blackheath.)
The following morning these hungover flappers checkout of the glorious Carro to enjoy a river cruise at the foot of the mountains (see below). We can’t wait to return to the Carrington Hotel. It’s a national treasure.

Seniors Special Package
Retirement and Leisure Package
This special package is only available for Australian Seniors Card holders
      $410.00 per room for two people
      $360.00 per room for one person
Valid Midweek only

2 nights accommodation in a Colonial Room
Cake of the Day or Devonshire Tea for two
Continental buffet breakfast each morning, served in The Grand Dining Room
Two course dinner for two, at the award winning Old City Bank Brasserie (1st floor of The Old City Bank building at the bottom of the drive) on one night.
Package is strictly valid midweek only (Sunday to Thursday) and is not valid long weekends or special events.
Package is valid for 2 guests and includes one dinner and one cake of the day
Devonshire Tea for Two Adults.
Extra charge applies for more than 2 guests per package
Packages and prices are subject to change without notice
Details: www.thecarrington.com.au

Nepean Belle River Yuletide Luncheon Cruise, Jamisontown

This renowned heritage-style Nepean Belle paddle-wheeler will be festooned with festive decorations and guests will board for luncheon to the strains of popular carols against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Mountains escarpment.
Tuck into two-course Yulefest fare with all the trimmings, beginning with a shared platter of succulent roast turkey with fruit seasoning and tender roast pork with apple sauce and gravy followed bu a dessert platter of festive favourites all washed down with your choice of freshly brewed tea or coffee.

Cost: Monday to Friday – $59 adults, $53 seniors, $39 teens (13-16 years), $20 children (3-12 years); Weekends – $65 adults, $58 seniors, $39 teens, $25 children. Bookings: nepeanbelle.com.au or 4733 1274.