The concept of “casual luxury” may be a growing trend among travelers, but it’s long been the norm in Sydney and the surrounding state of New South Wales. For many years, luxury here has meant more than mere pampering and indulgence: It involves a gourmet meal followed by a scenic hike and wine tastings focused on an area’s ecology.
In other words, casual luxury means being open to new experiences and pushing oneself in unexpected ways—and this is the perfect region to do just that.
This trip celebrates luxury—with an Australian twist—in Sydney, the Hunter Valley wine region, and the beautiful Blue Mountains. Over eight days, you’ll dive into the culture and cuisine of Sydney, sample some of the world’s finest wines, and ride and walk the trails of the Blue Mountains.
At the end of each day, you’ll return to some of New South Wales’ best hotels, from options in Sydney like the boutique Old Clare in Chippendale, a neighborhood rife with art galleries, cafés, and restaurants, to the opulent villas of the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley. And at the end of the trip, you’ll emerge refreshed and with more formal knowledge about some of Australia’s finest vintages, as well as its more casual luxury.
While Australia’s borders are currently closed, New South Wales looks forward to welcoming you back soon. For further advice on travel to Australia, visit the country’s Department of Health website.
Itinerary / 8 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrive in Sydney
That spirit is embodied in many of the city’s hotels, and you have a wealth of choices for the first two nights of your trip. At the Old Clare Hotel, you can experience the laid-back luxury of two heritage-listed buildings including a rooftop pool and bar, and dining on dishes like crab with fermented chile pasta, black lime and marigold at their Automata restaurant. Over at Spicers Potts Point, you’ll find rooms in the three 1880s townhouses with a light, contemporary look—creating a perfect marriage of old and new.
After you’re settled at your hotel, head out to the Rocks to explore the area where Sydney was born. The cobblestone laneways here are lined with historic buildings, and you’ll find many of Sydney’s oldest pubs here. But it’s far from a staid neighborhood, thanks to places like the Museum of Contemporary Art, where you can see exhibits by leading artists and also dance to top DJs at special events. End your exploration at The Glenmore, which in 2021 will celebrate 100 years of serving great food and drinks. The rooftop deck has stunning harbor views and a festive atmosphere.
DAY 2Sydney’s Cultural Highlights
Next, the Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on painters, photographers, video artists, and others who have challenged viewers’ preconceptions of art beginning in the early 20th century. Artists from around the world are represented in the visiting exhibitions and the permanent collection, but the annual Primavera show, focused on Australian artists under 35, offers a chance to learn about some new names at the beginning of their careers. The museum’s rooftop café and its Graze restaurant, both with views of the harbor, are good options when you’re ready for lunch.
As you enjoy your meal, you can get a good look at the Sydney Opera House, which you’ll visit later in the day. Australia’s most visited attraction is, appropriately, located on a site where the indigenous Gadigal people would gather to sing, dance, and tell stories. The opera house that stands on the site today, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, is a masterpiece of both technology and art—a bold vision with its white “sails.” Follow your behind-the-scenes tour of the opera house with dinner at the one of several restaurants located there.
The Sydney Opera House is only one of many theaters and performance spaces in the heart of Sydney. The Roslyn Packer Theatre has a full calendar of drama, dance, and musical performances. The Bangarra Dance Theatre, with its works inspired by Aboriginal music and dance, recently returned to its home at the historic Walsh Bay wharves. And before or after your show, the Bar at the End of the Wharf is an ideal place to discuss culture over a cocktail or a glass of Australian wine.
DAY 3Broken Bay Pearl Farm Tour
You’ll learn about one of the area’s most beautiful products on a tour of a pearl farm—the prized akoya pearls that have been grown in oyster beds here since 2003. On your way to the beds, you’ll be able to spot many of the other animals common in Broken Bay, including pelicans, turtles, and sting rays.
After seeing how pearls are harvested and once you get back to dry land, you’ll learn how pearls are evaluated and the qualities that jewelers look for—luster, color, size, and other factors—when determining their value.
In the afternoon, continue north to your hotel for the night, the Château Élan at The Vintage Hunter Valley. The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, famous for producing small but excellent quantities of Semillon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz wines. The Château Élan, a luxurious five-star spa and golf resort, is an ideal base to explore the area.
DAY 4Explore the Hunter Valley
The beautiful tasting room at Brokenwood, designed by the innovative architecture firm Villa & Villa, is an ideal setting to sample the winery’s sémillons and shirazes. Circular tasting pods and a sunny outdoor terrace are blissful settings to sample Brokenwood wines, and a museum provides an introduction to the Hunter Valley’s venerable wine heritage. The winery offers a variety of tasting experiences, from ones focused on wines from a single vineyard to others that cover the range of Brokenwood’s production with two whites, two reds, and two dessert wines. Another option, the Brokenwood Journey, follows a tour of the winery with tasting of six different wines, each paired with a canape.
The Tyrrells are one of the most famous families in Australia’s wine world; their family-owned winery has been operating since 1858. You’ll join an exclusive Sacred Sites experience, led by either Bruce Tyrrell (four generations removed from the winery’s original owner) or Chris Tyrrell (a fifth-generation descendant). The so-called sacred sites that you will visit are locations where ungrafted vines have grown for more than a century. You’ll learn about the long history of grape cultivation in the Hunter Valley before sampling some Tyrrell wines. The visit also includes a meal prepared by chefs from Muse, one of the Hunter Valley’s most acclaimed restaurants.
While these visits will be arranged in advance by Islands in the Sun, you’ll also have time to explore on your own, choosing from among the 100 wineries, 150 cellar doors, and 60 restaurants.
DAY 5Drive to the Blue Mountains
By early afternoon, you’ll arrive at the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, one of Australia’s most luxurious properties. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the heritage villas overlook the surrounding reserve, located between Wollemi National Park and the Gardens of Stone National Park. You may want to take a plunge in your private 23-foot-long pool or go for a stroll along some of the trails near the property. This evening, enjoy an artisanal cocktail or glass of local wine at the Valley Bar & Terrace, followed by a dinner of classic Australian dishes at the resort’s dining room.
DAY 6Explore the Blue Mountains
Like the half-day rides, bushwalks are tailored to individual guests’ fitness and ambition levels. Choose a leisurely hike of an hour or two, or take a more challenging ascent up Donkey Mountain. Wherever you travel on your bushwalk, you can learn about the Blue Mountains’ ecology, the various animals common here, and the area’s cultural heritage.
Finally, a variety of conservation programs offer opportunities to learn about the Blue Mountains and help preserve them for another generation. These can range from gathering data in the form of wildlife surveys and conducting water samples to initiatives like planting trees. There are also programs designed with kids in mind, introducing them how to search for fossils and monitor wildlife activity by studying animals’ tracks.
Follow the signs to Echo Point for views of one of the Blue Mountains icons—rock formations known as the Three Sisters. The towers of stone inspired Aboriginal Dream Time stories, and they’re as enchanting today, changing in appearance throughout the day depending on the position of the sun.
Scenic World, also in Katoomba, offers a few different ways to experience the Blue Mountains. The original Skyway was Australia’s first cable car when it opened in 1958; today’s version has a glass-bottom floor, making for even more dramatic views of the Jamison Valley, 650 feet below. The Scenic Railway is the world’s steepest railway incline, and its jaw-dropping journey takes travelers past Orphan Rock, along cliff faces, and through tunnels cut through the Blue Mountains peaks. And the Scenic Cableway is the steepest aerial cable car in Australia, with sweeping views of the Blue Mountains and Jamison Valley.
Return to the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley for a final dinner and one more night enjoying your heritage villa.