It’s cold. Snow is falling in the mountains and we’re all pulling out the extra doonas. So what better time to celebrate Christmas in July. We sent Janeece Keller, three-month-old daughter Evie and her husband Adam to experience Blue Mountains Yulefest.
I love Christmas, it’s my favourite time of the year. I love bad Christmas sweaters, bon-bons, decorations and wrapping presents. My husband Adam has more than a bit of Clarke Griswald from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation him.
So when we were offered the opportunity to visit the Blue Mountains during Yulefest with our three-month-old daughter Evie we jumped at it.
Christmas in July, known as Yulefest, has been a Blue Mountains tradition since the 1980s. It’s not just in July. The festivities start in June and run through until August. Many venues offer Christmas meals, singalongs and you might even get to meet Santa.
Winter in the Blue Mountains is beautiful – think crisp air, warm log fires and the occasional snow flurry. Add traditional Christmas in July festivities and the Blue Mountains become magic.
Our first stop is Bygone Beautys, a treasured teapot museum with tearooms in Leura. This place has one of the world’s largest private collections of teawares, including more than 5500 teapots on display. Owner and host Maurice Cooper, known as Mr Teapot, is instantly recognisable in his bowtie and rimless glasses. He tells us he has even more teapots in storage with the collection fast approaching 10,000.
Bygone Beautys serves Yulesfest lunch Monday to Friday during July and August. As we dine, we are surrounded by thousands of brightly coloured unusual teapots in all shapes and sizes. But it’s the glittery, colourful bauble Christmas tree table decoration in the tearoom that steals Evie’s attention.
Yulefest lunch at Bygone Beautys is a traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas-style feast. It begins with a canape platter and soup, followed by a traditional roast with seasonal vegetables and plum pudding or pavlova dessert. with tea or coffee and homemade shortbread. It costs $79.50 per adult and $29.95 for kids under 12. Bygone Beautys a minimum of four people per booking.
If you’re visiting Bygone Beautys outside of Yulefest season, their traditional high tea is worth stopping for, as much for the theatre of the experience as for the tea and tasty morsels.
After our Christmas feast, we felt the need to walk. Scenic World is a 10-minute drive from Bygone Beauties. It offers stunning Blue Mountains views and the chance to stretch our legs on a pram-friendly path – no need to navigate stairs or rocky bushwalking tracks.
The Scenic Skyway cable car travels 720 metres across the gorge. Each of the cable cars has a see-through floor and panoramic windows offering 360-degree views over Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and Jamison Valley. We could wheel the pram the whole way as Evie napped.
You can also ride the Scenic Railway. With a thrilling 52-degree incline, this is the world’s steepest passenger railway. The glass-roofed carriages descend 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel. When they emerge you find yourself surrounded by ancient rainforest at the base of the Jamison Valley floor. From here you can take the Scenic Walkway, a 2.4km walk that winds through the valley floor.
The Scenic Walkway is graded and easily accessible with a pram or wheelchair. Although we decided to make use of the pram parking area prior to boarding the train and carry Evie in the Baby Bjorn so that we both had our hands free to take photos of the spectacular views.
This lush forest is home to more than 250 species of birds. If you’re lucky (as we were) you may even spot a male lyrebird on top of his mound performing imitation bird calls in an attempt to find a mate.
To return to the top, we rode the Scenic Cableway – a gentle 545-meter journey with across the Jamison Valley to Mt Solitary, the Three Sisters and Orphan Rock.
Mobile phone service in the Jamison Valley is patchy, but the Cableway has WiFi.
Christmas in July accommodation
You are spoilt for choice with Blue Mountains accommodation. We opted for a self-contained apartment where we could cook our own breakfast and not worry about disturbing other guests if Evie screamed in the middle of the night. St Raphael’s, The Chapel is located on a quiet street in Leura, a 10-minute walk from the train station and the cafes and boutiques of the Leura Mall.
As we walked in the door at St Raphael’s, The Chapel we could tell that it is owned by Maurice from Bygone Beautys.
The studio apartment is furnished with antiques and historic photos of the Blue Mountains. St Raphael’s has an impressive selection of tea and mugs in the well-appointed kitchen. The lounge and dining area can comfortably accommodate six – more than enough for our small family. We had plenty of space for our port-a-cot.
The outside temperatures dropped to minus two degrees on the night we stayed, but we didn’t notice thanks to the effective indoor heating.
Christmas in July Dinner
We could have comfortably cooked a full meal at The Chapel. But we chose to try the new Miss Lillian Teahouse at Lillianfels.
We sat at a corner table with plenty of space for the pram (and they had high chairs available had we needed one), we had a great view of the restaurant adorned with a colourful collection of birdcages.
The menu offered some of the most sought-after comfort foods of Asia – just what we felt like after our Yulefest feast earlier in the day. My beef pho was light, flavoursome and helped warm me from the inside out in the sub-zero temperatures. Adam chose the egg fried noodles with chicken and said that it was as good as the version of the same dish he’d had in Singapore a few months earlier.
Whilst dumplings, noodles and Asian spices don’t reflect the Yulefest experience we visited the Blue Mountains for, the welcoming smiles, scents of star anise, cloves and cinnamon and the buzzy atmosphere at Miss Lilian Teahouse meant we still felt festive.
Blue Mountains morning
After a very sound night sleep (we needn’t have worried about a screaming baby – she was clearly very comfortable at St Raphael’s, The Chapel and slept better than she does at home), we set off to explore the Leura Mall and soak up more of the wintery, festive feeling.
Kitted out in down jackets and beanies, we were rugged up against the cold as we ambled in and out of the boutiques that line the very pretty main street.
Leura has some stores found in most major centres, such as Bed Bath & Table and Witchery. But most of the shops are boutiques that reflect the artistry and country aesthetic of the town and the Blue Mountains overall.
My favourite has always been the Leura Candy Store, and I don’t think it’s changed since the first time I remember visiting, almost 30 years ago.
The essential hot chocolate
Winter calls for hot chocolate, and we’d heard that the best place for it was Blue Mountains Chocolate Company, near the Three Sisters.
The deconstructed hot chocolates are thick and creamy thanks to a special Belgian couverture. With each element plated separately, you can adjust the strength to your exact specifications. It’s also fun to add the milk chocolate buttons into the orange mug as the milk is warmed over a tea-light.
Sipping a silky smooth, individually blended perfectly warmed drink, next to a cosy potbelly fire while watching owner and chocolatier Adam Preen moulding a new batch of pralines was the best way to round out our Yulefest 24 hours experience in the Blue Mountains.