As it approaches its fourth birthday, the Emirates-owned Wolgan Valley Resort remains Australia’s premier and, arguably, least known stays for the ultimate splurge.
When the chance to be a guest at MasterCard’s Priceless Surprise to Wolgan Valley – to recognise winners of the debit card’s recent social media competition – pinged into the email it took about half a millisecond to ping back a definite “we’ll be there”. Located a further hour out of the utterly uninspiring Blue Mountains’ city of Lithgow, Wolgan Valley’s a good three-hour hack from Sydney’s centre. But rest assured, the former cattle station, with its $250 million Emirates’ facelift, is well worth escaping to. Oddly, it had a reputation for attracting rich overseas tourist being helicoptered in from Sydney Airport, however, all the visitor stats prove it’s us Aussies that have fallen for its obvious and innumerable charms.
To put everything into context, the resort’s facilities are without peer, it’s a moot point. But the sheer beauty of the Wolgan Valley, its nature, its foreboding, fluoro orange escarpments means anything man-made can’t compete with Mother Nature. And the rooms? They’re as decadent as you’d expect, complete with your own private mini-pool in each villa. Wolgan Valley plays hard on its cattle station roots (staff are decked out in R&M Williams), and the rooms can be a little twee and conservative if you – like this reviewer – prefer more contemporary fittings. But the room’s about the bed – in this instance a monster four-poster that almost needs a ladder to climb into – which you should fall into at a the end of the day exhausted by the walks, the bike riding, the overeating, or long sessions by the pool.
Rumours of Wolgan Valley having arguably the best hotel food in Australia are true and more. On our particular stay, as part of the MasterCard event, none other than famed pan slinger Neil Perry was manning the stoves. After a nine-course degustation on the Friday night (and, what appeared, gallons of matching wines), Perry followed things up on the Saturday with a further six-courses. The menus play hard on the regional roots with chefs that clearly have a disciplined French ethic. Oddly, there didn’t appear an eclectic international feel to the menus, considering its apparent appeal to overseas travellers, namely the Asian market.
Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, what more could you ask? And I don’t think I spotted a staffer older than about 23. On the Friday night, our wine waiter had a stunning knowledge and breadth of the restaurant’s vinos and served each new glass with such passion and zeal it was hard not to get carried along (see: hangover in the morning). She later revealed she was the tender age of just 19. Mercifully, there’s just a great sense of being Aussie and a real down to earth attitude among the staff, sans any of the pomposity and haughtiness typically reserved for hotels with five-stars on the door.
Let’s be honest, there’s not a whole heap to do in a resort, in the middle of a valley, an hour from the nearest town, and we say that as a simply wonderful thing. There are all the trappings you’d expect – spa, gym, tennis court and a tremendous main pool. However, the order of the day is a three-hour hike (all villas come with mountain bikes) through the stunning scenery, an obscenely long-lunch, before collapsing on the pool’s lounge stiff drink in hand.
Value for money 6/10
The one-bedroom villas start at $2000 a night and quickly rise to $6000 for the top suite that sleeps six, so Wolgan Valley is definitely marked “special occasions only”. Remember summer can be hot (and we won’t even mention the flies) and winter’s regularly below zero. The price, however, includes all meals and drinks and again the quality can’t be faulted. Naturally, it attracts its fair share of anniversaries and, I was told, too many marriage proposals to mention. And kids? I didn’t see any on my stay but was dutifully informed the resort offers a number of activities for the little ones beyond the kangaroos that roam the place and the mesmerising rock formations.
This reviewer missed the turn off on the highway (beware: it’s tricky to find) and had to rely on directions from locals to get back on track. The fact that few of them had even heard of the resort is testament to a great sense of modesty and lack of preciousness that can come from hotel’s costing in their thousands for a bed for a night. The downside would be the drive. Sydney’s a good three, three-and-a-half hour commute each way, but the stay in the middle pretty much guarantees you’ll find that tiny thing missing in all our lives – total, utter relaxation. If you have the means or the inclination, Wolgan Valley is a must for any traveller, nature lover, or fan of good, old-fashioned hospitality with a welcome dollop of peace and quiet.
The Nibbler stayed at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley as guest of MasterCard