By Ellen Hill
Toasty fires, roast dinners and puddings, decorations and Santa: the season the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region is renowned for will once again warm the chill this winter – Yulefest.
Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said: “Yulefest in this region is a magical time when this unique landscape is transformed into an icy winter wonderland yet our hotels, motor inns and guest houses, our restaurants and cafes become warm havens with roaring fires, hearty meals and hot drinks to retreat from the winter chill.’’
The history of Yulefest in the Blue Mountains harks back 33 years to a small group of Irish visitors relaxing in front of a roaring fire at The Mountain Heritage in Katoomba after enjoying the crisp, clear winter climate.
Glancing out through the frosted window panes, they saw snowflakes dancing on the wind and thought of home.
“Celebrating Christmas in Australia during the heat of summer just doesn’t feel quite the same,’’ one of the party said to hotel owner Garry Crockett.
As he listened to his guests, Mr Crockett remembered stories his own Irish father Bill used to tell him about a northern hemisphere white Christmas with traditional cards, sleigh rides, frosted windows, hot feasts and singing.
So it was that the first Yulefest (to differentiate between the religious festival of Christmas) was born to ease the pangs of homesickness for a group of nostalgic Celtic guests at The Mountain Heritage.
That first Yulefest was a hit. Word spread throughout the region and before long, St Nick was doing the rounds twice a year.
Today, many hotels, restaurants, motor inns and guest houses in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region offer Yulefest celebrations.
However, The Mountain Heritage general manager Eric Sward said the hotel boasted “the original and the best’’ Yulefest, with guests returning each season from around the globe.
“Yulefest is not just the five-course dinner, it’s the arrival and the mingling in the lounge before that which creates a party atmosphere,’’ he said.
“Then there’s the cabaret show and carol singing around the piano so everyone is involved and immersed in the spirit of Yulefest.
“It’s not about who you have to have Christmas with – it’s about who you want to have Yulefest with.’’
And for those wishing to deck their own private halls, Rick Rutherford’s Country– The Australian Country Collections Shoppe at Lawson and Leura is stocked to the rafters with decorations under this season’s theme The Traditions of Christmas.
The season will be launched with five catered festive functions on Saturday, June 29, before being open to the public from June 30.
Famed for stocking the largest supply of festive decorations in Australia, Mr Rutherford said customers could be guaranteed of snapping up unique items.
“We ship from all over the world for our Yulefest celebrations and buy a very large variety of festive treasures in limited quantities so once they’re gone, they won’t be repeated,’’ he said.
“Everyone knows this is the place to come for those unique heirlooms and collectables. The reputation of our annual Yulefest celebrations – the largest of their type anywhere in Australia – sees visitors coming from all over the nation each year, making it a highlight of the mountains’ winter calendar.’’
Following is a sample of Yulefest events and packages on offer this year:
Rick Rutherford’s Country (Badgery Cres, Lawson and Leura Mall): Ten showcase rooms filled with festive treasures including twinkling white trees, glass ornaments, gilded collectables, traditional festive wares and more. Yulefest will be launched on June 29 with five private functions and then run every day throughout July. Details and bookings: http://www.rickrutherford.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 4759 3434.
Mountain Heritage Hotel and Spa Retreat, Katoomba (Saturday June 30 and July 7, 14, 21 and 28): The Yulefest Saturday night package (priced from $299pp) includes accommodation, hot buffet breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, five-course dinner, The Moonlighters performing Christmas songs and cabaret show, Alan Johnson on piano throughout the evening, Santa visit with gifts for all, souvenir photo, after-dinner ports, mince pies and other goodies. Two-night packages available. Dinner package only: $154 adults, $66 children (5-12 years), $15 (children 0-4). Bookings and details: email@example.com or 02 4782 2155.
Redleaf Resort, Blackheath (Saturdays July 13 and 20): The special Yulefest package includes accommodation in a resort room on Saturday, traditional Yulefest dinner, entertainment, a visit and gift from Santa and a full buffet breakfast on Sunday. Cost: $340 per couple (two adults), $90 children 12 years and younger, $129 additional person older than 12 years. Details and bookings: 1800 817 011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fairmont Resort MGallery, Leura (June 29 to July 27): Enjoy a sumptuous buffet in Jamison’s each Saturday night with a selection of festive favourites. Along with mulled wine and eggnog ($6 per glass), the package includes dinner, a Santa visit, buffet decorations and table bon bons, festive music and a tree. Cost: $85 adults, $39 children age 5-12 (0-4 free), 10% off for Accor Advantage plus members, no other discounts apply. Choose between the 6pm or 8.30pm seating. Yulefest accommodation packages available (refer to Special Offers & Packages). Bookings essential: (02) 4785 0000 or email@example.com.
• Colleagues and clients can also celebrate Yulefest at the Fairmont. The resort will be elegantly decorated in full Yulefest theme complete with a decorated tree, gold fireplace waterfall, life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby and festive music filling the air. The Yulefest-themed buffet menu has been designed by executive chef Rebecca Kaye. Cost: from $74 for day packages or $229 with accommodation. Bonus offer: choose a complimentary gift for your guests. Details and bookings: contact the conference and events team directly on (02) 4785 0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to http://www.visitbluemountains.com.au for more information about Yulefest events and packages in the Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon region.