Impressive landmarks, stunning landscapes and imaginative meals beckon in the land Down Under.
The iconic Sydney Opera House
When we think of Australia, scenes of the Outback from Crocodile Dundee or The Thorn Birds come to mind. Even landing in Sydney, first impressions focus on the physical grandeur that envelops the city at every turn, including towering cliffs; dozens of inlets with hillside homes overlooking boat-filled marinas; and the rainbow lorikeets, sulphur-crested cockatoos and laughing kookaburras in neighborhood trees. But a closer look reveals Australia’s unique style and sophistication—especially when it comes to a refined cuisine that makes you forget all about shrimps on the barbie.
A deluxe double room with a harbor view at The Langham
On a recent visit, a friend and I check into The Langham, Sydney ($418 to $728 per night) in The Rocks, a historic (and walkable) district. We ease into our surroundings with a knowledgeable guide from Splendour Tailored Tours (from $860 per person) and see Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden at Lavender Bay; Manly Beach; and breathtaking distant views of downtown’s skyscrapers from North Head Sanctuary, a coastal national refuge. At the Parisian Bistro Rex in Potts Point, we indulge in a quick glass of Perrier-Jouet and a dozen impeccably fresh oysters before returning to The Langham, Sydney for dinner and a nightcap at the hotel’s cozy Observatory Bar.
Sydney Seaplanes takes off for a daytrip to a restaurant along the coast
The next day, we fly to Bert’s Bar & Brasserie for a four-course lunch via Sydney Seaplanes (packages $393 per person). Soaring over the Sydney Opera House and coastline is a thrill, as is eating delicate seafood (salmon and fennel pollen on brioche toast to start). We feel as though we’ve stepped back in time, sipping Australian sparkling wine amid the cream-hued, rattan-filled restaurant with a Gatsby-era vibe. The following afternoon, we hike near Bondi Beach and lunch at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar with glorious ocean views. Our snapper with lemon, sorrel and olive oil, and a side of peas with biodynamic farro, celery, mint and salted ricotta, are light and refreshing. After a relaxing massage at The Langham, Sydney’s spa, we head to the famed Quay restaurant for a six-course adventure in executive chef Peter Gilmore’s Australian cuisine ($165 per person, wine pairings from $93 per person). Dishes include osetra caviar with smoked eel, walnuts and sea cucumber crackling; and smoked pig jowl with black-lipped abalone, shiitake mushroom and fan shell clams. Coral, a signature dessert, features white mango ice cream, coconut cream and white chocolate mousse that’s topped with yet more white chocolate mousse frozen with nitrous oxide into a crispy coral-like mass.
Quay restaurant’s signature frozen dessert, Coral
While the city is full of surprises, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take advantage of the elegant Emirates One&Only at Wolgan Valley ($1,921 to $7,927 per night) in the greater Blue Mountains. Its remote location among jagged sandstone cliffs ensures absolute quiet, while 40 spacious guest villas are ensconced in privacy. Horseback riding and Jeep-led nature tours (some with picnics) are available for viewing kangaroos and other wildlife. Hiking trails and the Wolgan Warrior 13-mile running route, stargazing, gourmet dining (food and nonalcoholic drinks are all-inclusive), and the best of Australia’s wines and spirits (including local Wolgan gin) are all part of the allure. A spa offers massages and sound baths with gongs (a form of alternative healing we find very therapeutic).
Our Australian sojourn is like experiencing Yosemite and San Francisco at once, or an exciting London whirl with a relaxing wine weekend at the end. The verdict? Sydney is stunning, sybaritic and scintillating.
Photography by: Photos Courtesy of Destination New South Wales; The Langham, Sydney; Sydney Seaplanes, by Nikki To;Emirates One&only; Wolgan Valley