Hydro Majestic Hotel review, Blue Mountains: $30 million makeover brings a certain type of grandeur

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

It takes two full-time staff an average of eight hours a day to dust the objets d'art, huge vases and art deco paintings that grace the reborn Hydro Majestic Hotel. 

The curtains in the Chinoiserie-style Cat's Alley are made of the finest silk, but those with a keen eye will notice they are edged with peacock feathers – delicate little turquoise pieces of whimsy that flutter ever so gently as you walk by. These are "blown" rather than dusted, I'm told.

I stand agog admiring them framing the arched windows, windows that proffer views stretching for miles over the Megalong Valley.

It is impossible for me to decide what's more beautiful – the panorama nature has created beyond the windowpanes, or the luxurious interiors fashioned by interior designer Peter Reeve.

The "Hydro" is plush, opulent and extravagant, and takes my breath away when I arrive to stay in one of the 54 rooms that opened in time for Christmas.

There is nothing bland about the place, inside or out. However, the building's all-white exterior may baffle the casual passer-by with its quirky mixture of 16 buildings and architectural styles that include the Belle Epoch dome, the castellated (or turret-like) roof of the Hargravia, the 1940s Streamline Moderne design of the Belgravia, the collection of abbey-like doors and windows, a porte-cochere or two, balustrades and a curvy pillar that I swear was dreamt up by Antonio Gaudi. 

The Hydro stretches 1.1 km along the escarpment at Medlow Bath, commanding one of the prime positions in the Blue Mountains.  

It also has bucketloads of history: Dame Nellie Melba sang in the casino, author Arthur Conan Doyle stayed during his spiritual lecture tour of the Antipodes, and our first prime minister, Edmund Barton,  had the misfortune to die there in 1920. 

And while there have certainly been ups and downs in its chequered career it has never flown under the radar, even during the past six years when hidden behind hurricane fencing undergoing a $30 million renovation. The credit for its metamorphosis belongs to owners Huong Nguyen and George Saad (whose Escarpment Group also includes Lilianfels, Echoes and Parklands at Blackheath), who bought it in December 2008 and despite the mountains of heritage-listing red tape, took an expensive punt on the grand old dame.

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The Hydro's journey from the 40-room Medlow Bath Hydropathic Establishment, which famous retailer Mark Foy opened with great fanfare in 1904, to today's resurrected gem is told through black-and-white photos and 22 video screens in the newly built Hydro Majestic Pavilion. Or for a pocket history there's concierge Patrick, who will gladly explain it with relish. 

General manager Ralf Bruegger says he gets his gym workout clocking up about 15km a day walking the length of the building, checking on the three restaurants, the guest lounge, the kitchens and how the umpteen scones are shaping up for the multiple high-tea sittings. 

I follow in his wake fascinated to learn which pieces of furniture have been meticulously restored and listening to the stories behind the artefacts discovered in basements and attics.

He dispenses a few titbits: for example, guest books from the 1950s and '60s show an awful lot of "Mr and Mrs Smith", while a curiosity unearthed was a wooden mobile confessional used by a priest apparently on hand to hear guests' confessions on Sunday mornings!

These and other relics are displayed under glass or hanging artistically from the ceiling in the pavilion, a fabulous complex best described as a hip museum-meets-food-emporium.

We begin at the Belgravia lounge, a magnificent room reserved for hotel guests. The look is "1940s Hollywood" – all black, sepia and gold and lacquer. 

Furnished with velvet sofas and armchairs, a glamorous P&O style curved bar, soaring columns and fireplace, it is the place to linger over drinks and a book and take in the view of the valley beyond. It is also a generous compensation for some of the guest rooms (particularly in the attached wing) that while plush, are on the small side. 

My second floor valley-view is, however, a good size, decorated with velvet bedhead, black and gold roll pillows and the comfiest bed I've slept in for ages. I'm instantly in love with the black-and-white tiled retro bathroom, but it needs a retro window dressing, as the afternoon sun and morning light were quite blinding! 

The Hydro's appeal has always been its grand public rooms, and Reeve's mission was to take their nostalgic allure and create a "living and vibrant" hotel, with each room flowing into the next, like a story book with a dozen glamorous pages.

Entering the casino (which was used for concerts, never gambling), I am struck by its scale – the ceiling is dazzlingly high, set with a magnificent chandelier and evocative 1920s paintings of pyramids and deserts. The central yellow circular sofa (or courtship seat with room for a chaperone, as a friend calls it) is a hit with everyone. 

The casino leads into light-drenched Wintergarden (formerly three separate rooms), now opened up and a watercolour of lemon and white. The new palette and name are Reeve's ode to Mark Foy, who dreamed of a Wintergarden but never constructed one. This is where I enjoy a three-tiered high tea and glass of bubbly sitting at a velvet banquette right at the window soaking in the views. At night the room morphs into an elegant restaurant lit by soft art deco lights.   

 From Wintergarden we move into the Passage Bar where the colours become more vivid in readiness for the drama of the Salon du The (tea room) and Cat's Alley, so named because women would sit and gossip about other guests as they made their way to the grand dining room. 

Here the look is Old Shanghai, this time a nod to Foy's fascination with all things Oriental. I adore the five-metre sofas covered in turquoise and gold velvet and the deep magenta walls. I'm drawn to the rather bizarre and brutish series of hunting-scene paintings that speak of the "grand" days of the British Empire. The salon serves dim sum by day and cocktails at night, and with jazz music playing it won't take much imagination to evoke the feeling of an old gin palace.

The mood changes again as we enter the huge ballroom (formerly the grand dining room), whose vaulted metal pressed ceiling and 13 chandeliers are stunning.  This 250-seat space has already held several weddings and a diverse array of concerts featuring Louisiana bluesman Tony Joe White; swing maestro Tom Burlinson and late-1980s band 1927 will play in May.

Along with the Wintergarden and Salon du The, other dining venues are the Majestic Pavilion (coffees, cakes, snacks, home-made gelato and monthly wine tastings) and the Boilerhouse Cafe, the hotel's original power plant now an industrial-chic style eatery situated 50m away at Majestic Point.    

Ralf Bruegger brims with enthusiasm rattling off ideas for the reborn hotel that include regular tastings of local wines and produce, 1920s fashion parades, and hotel tours, of which two a day are planned.

Conferences and lunches for small upmarket tour groups in the renovated Delmonte wing are also expected to bring a new buzz to the place and a dedicated reception lounge has been created for this purpose. 

While the Hydro has some teething problems (lack of signage, not all venues operating and some foreign staff finding English a struggle), I found it a joy just to be there and staff friendly and keen to help.    

While nostalgia is what will bring patrons to the front door, it will be the hotel's connection with the present and desire to showcase the beauty through fun-filled events that will see the old girl kicking up her heels for many generations to come.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

www.visitbluemountains.com.au 

GETTING THERE

The Hydro Majestic is at 52-88 Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath. Telephone: (02) 4782 6885. See www.hydromajestic.com.au  

It is 108 km west of Sydney; approximately a one hour and 40-minute drive. The Medlow Bath railway station is an easy walk. Trains run hourly (two-hourly at night) from Central Station.

STAYING THERE

The Hydro Majestic has 54 rooms; 26 with valley views. Belgravia rooms are over two storeys. As there is no lift, it is advised that guests with mobility problems choose one of the 15 rooms on the ground-floor wing.

Breakfast and bar snacks are served in the guest lounge. Rates start at $179 per night for a heritage without valley view. Breakfast is extra at $35 a person. Rooms offer free Wi-Fi and LCD TV with Foxtel. There is a bar fridge with good teas/coffee/milk, but no mini-bar. Guests are welcome to bring their own wine, as we did. Bar prices are expensive. There is no room service.

DINING THERE

Wintergarden high tea is held daily: prices are $55 midweek and $65 weekend, and $69 (with Australian sparkling wine) and $75 (French champagne).

Dinner from 7pm nightly. A changing menu of local produce. Two courses $65; three courses $85. 

Boiler House cafe: Open from 12pm to 5pm weekdays, and 10.30am to 5pm.

Hydro Majestic Pavilion: Open 9am to 5pm daily, wine tasting first Saturday of the month.

Salon du The: Open 4pm to 10pm Friday to Sunday; cocktail bar and Asian dim sum.

The writer was a guest of the Hydro Majestic.