Read our writer's views on this property below
Bruce Elder finds a classic guesthouse on the way to reclaiming its former glory.
Back in 1976, Glenella was the premier foodie destination in the Blue Mountains. It remained so until 1988 and during those 12 years chef Michael Manners's superb food established an enduring reputation for this charming house.
When Manners sold Glenella and moved to Katoomba, the reputation remained but the subsequent owners never quite replicated his flair. When the Good Food Guide reviewed Glenella in 1996, it made the observation: "Despite French antique paintings on silk, a gold mirror, some lovely artwork and the hospitable efforts of owners Christina and Ko Buisman, this rambling 1905 guest house is in need of a fresh coat of paint, pre- ferably in one colour." The restaurant was awarded 12/20.
Last year two Welsh engineers (yes, that does sound like an unusual background for the Australian hospitality industry) bought the property, determined to once again make Glenella a byword for fun accommodation and good dining. Kate Strong and Gareth McAuliffe repainted their grand old home, bought that gold mirror from the previous owners and fitted out the lounge and dining room with new furniture. This included a chesterfield in the dining room, which, at about eight metres, must hold some sort of record.
The first and most critical thing about Glenella is it is a guest house, not a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast. In other words the rooms and ensuites are, by modern standards, small. The furniture in the rooms is simple and basic (there is nowhere in our deluxe room to put the suitcase apart, of course, from the floor) and it is expected that if you want to relax you'll use the lounge or the veranda, whose ambience is an immediate reminder of the pleasures of staying in the country.
The piece de resistance of the modern-day Glenella, as with the original in the 1970s, is the quality of the food. The restaurant, under chef David Smith, who has made his way up the mountain from Mash Cafe and Restaurant at Glenbrook, has a small and simple menu comprising four entrees ($16), five mains including some outstanding rabbit and duck (all $32) and four desserts ($15), as well as a cheese platter. An application for a wine-bar licence has been approved, so non-diners will soon be able to enjoy a drink.
We opt for the "Deluxe Room Dine and Stay" package, which includes two nights in a deluxe room, a dinner for two in the Glenella Restaurant and breakfast for two on both mornings, cooked by Kate Strong. At $350, it is sensational value.
Blackheath has so many desirable attractions that a mere weekend here seems inadequate. In season, from the end of October to the second week of November, the town is ablaze with rhododendrons. There are numerous bushwalks from the town's spectacular lookouts, including the easy and pleasant Fairfax Walk at Govetts Leap and a challenging walk into the Grose Valley from Evans Lookout. The National Parks and Wildlife Service shop at the northern end of Govetts Leap Road has a detailed publication on six Blackheath walking tracks.
A small town, Blackheath still claims a two-hat restaurant, Phillip Searle's famed Vulcans, and the one-hat Ashcrofts. There is a sensational sourdough bakery around the corner (ask Strong where she gets her bread for the restaurant) and several excellent cafes. And there is Josophan's Chocolates, a charming outpost of the cafe and chocolate shop of the same name in Leura. Sublime in-house delights will ensure visiting chocoholics go home rejoicing in their lack of control.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Glenella Guesthouse and Restaurant
Address 56 Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath.
The verdict A delightful guest house with small bedrooms, a comfortable lounge and a superb dining room.
Bookings Phone 47878352 or see glenella.com.au.
Price From $120 a night for a standard room on the weekend to $240 for a family room (two adults and two children); there is a two-night minimum stay on weekends. Midweek prices from $100 a night.
Getting there Glenella is 112 kilometres from the city centre via the Great Western Highway. The drive takes about two hours.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Enjoy the sharp freshness of the mountain air and drive to Katoomba for high tea at Lilianfels - a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.