What’s the story? Perched on high in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba, the hotel opened in 1883 as the Great Western, becoming the first resort-style hotel in Australia’s first tourist destination, northwest of Sydney. It was renamed The Carrington in 1886, in honour of the then governor of New South Wales, Charles Robert Wynn-Carrington (or simply Lord Carrington to the hoi polloi), and is the only 19th-century grand resort hotel still operating in the state.
For the majority of that time it has been one of the most popular hotels in the Blue Mountains, having attracted the elite of turn-of-the-20th century Sydney, overseas tourists, prime ministers and even British royalty. In the early 1900s, it was considered one of the finest British colonial hotels in the world, a rival to Raffles, in Singapore.
What’s it like now? Just another faded Victorian building? Not at all. While it was closed from 1986-1998, the new owners embarked on a long-term, multimillion-dollar renovation, with the aim of returning it to the charm and elegance of its 1920s heyday.
The main architectural features have been kept and the work has been carried out with care, but it’s the retention of the original stained glass throughout the property, contemporary artwork, and the use of vibrant Victorian and Edwardian colours on the walls and ceilings and in the carpets that really bring the building to life. The common areas on the ground floor, including a billiard room with a snooker table that’s more than 100 years old, the former library and the bar area, with its fire places and deep leather sofas, are straight out of Downton Abbey.
And the view? For those staying in the suites on the first floor, the wide, shared balcony offers views across the town to the Jamison Valley. The valley’s original inhabitants were the Gundungurra and Dharug tribes, who are now recognised, along with the Wanaruah, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung and Tharawal nations, as the traditional owners of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
What’s the story with the royal cupola? To commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) in 1927, a stained-glass dome was built in the ceiling of what is now Champagne Charlie’s bar. After admiring the cupola, the couple had lunch at the Carrington before continuing the royal progress to Echo Point, Leura and the Jenolan Caves.
What attractions are there? Echo Point is a good place to start … to start … to start … to start. From this lookout, 2km from the hotel, with its commanding views of the Three Sisters rock formation and the Jamison Valley, a seemingly endless eucalyptus forest disappears in the blue haze created by a fine mist of oil exuded by the trees, an effect that gives the mountains their name.
It’s also a good starting point for trails that skirt the top of the sandstone tablelands and descend to the valley floor, hundreds of metres below. Be warned, though, the viewing platform attracts 5 million visitors a year, so it can get busy. West along the cliff top is Scenic World, where a “Scenic” foursome – railway (the world’s steepest that carries passengers); cableway; walkway and skyway – allow visitors to inspect the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley from all angles.
What’s with the tall chimney? It was originally part of the Katoomba Power Station, which was built in 1913, at the back of the Carrington, and provided power to the hotel and other parts of the town before electricity had reached Sydney. The octagonal brick chimney is the tallest structure in town and is thus used as a landmark. It’s now part of The Carrington Cellars & Deli and the Katoomba Brewing Company, which is owned by the company behind the rejuvenation of the hotel. The brewmasters pay tribute to the tall fellah with their Katoomba Chimney Sweep Porter.
What’s the damage? Traditional rooms, with shared bathroom facilities segregated for ladies and gentlemen, cost from A$155 (US$115) a night, Colonial Rooms start at A$255, while suites go for about A$380 in the Antipodean winter, when all around may be dusted with snow. Prices include breakfast.
Getting there: Katoomba is just over 100km from Sydney. Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Virgin Australia fly direct from Hong Kong to Sydney.