It may be a friendly B&B or secluded cottage accommodation, top-end restaurant or funky cafe, scenic lookout or picnic spot. It may an adventure activity, gorgeous garden or antiques hub, like the incomparable Victory Theatre in Blackheath.
Whatever you're looking for in the vast heritage-listed Blue Mountains region, the new Volvo XC90 will take you there in effortlessness style. From the remote key tag in a leather fob to the six-way power-adjustable seats with memory – and beyond – the more I drive the seven-seat prestige SUV around this picturesque part of the world, the more I like it. I am up here looking for "hidden gems" but nothing is hidden in the XC90.
For a start, there are no blind spots. It's part of what they call IntelliSafe – a range of intuitive car safety technologies designed to protect passengers from more contingencies than you would even consider. Think Road Sign Information, Lane Departure Warning and Electronic Stability Control, just for starters. All of these – and a lot more – make this sojourn around the Blue Mountains a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
I ask the locals to share their hidden gems and many name a favourite scenic outlook or attraction off the beaten track. Some of the roads up here are pretty narrow and visibility can be poor but I find the XC90 offers peace-of-mind and I can relax and hunt down the recommendations without concern.
There are dozens of spectacular walks and bush hiking tracks of varying length and difficulty in the Blue Mountains and any trip up here should include at least one. The Valley of the Waters trails near Wentworth Falls offer a range of walks and memory card-sapping scenery and you could do a lot worse than spend the night at the eponymous B&B. The mountains also have plenty of rock climbing and abseiling adventures available.
But if you are driving the XC90 and can't wait to get back in the driver's seat – and I wouldn't blame you – just set the on-board GPS to somewhere that interests you and sit back and enjoy the ride. You should definitely check out Leura Mall for its funky restaurants, cafes, galleries and specialty shops. Josophan's Fine Chocolates is here, as are Cat's Meow Interiors and Inner Space Furniture. Megalong Books, Serai Living and the tres chic French Shoppe are also all worth a look. And don't miss the Toy and Railway Museum, just a short stroll from the Mall.
Another hidden gem lies within the most recognisable building in the mountains: the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath. This magnificent edifice on the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the Megalong Valley runs guided History Tours every day so you can really explore it and enjoy the whole heritage story. Stay on for High Tea or dinner in the Wintergarden restaurant, which are more events than meals.
From an enticing list of possibilities, the XC90 and I choose to make our way to Mount Piddington Lookout, overlooking Kanimbla Valley and the reward is total serenity. For half an hour I am alone with the stillness and the dazzling view. One Tree Hill, the highest point in the Blue Mountains Plateau is nearby. When others arrive I climb back into the luxury SUV and head down the road through Hartley and turn off toward Oberon. As I luxuriate in the leathery comfort and interactive simplicity, it becomes clear why Volvo is the market leader in motoring safety and comfort.
Oberon is best known as the nearest town to the Jenolan Caves, a "hidden" gem in the way underground caves tend to be. But I have come to see Mayfield Garden, a self-proclaimed "folly" set on a working farm. It's an amazing endeavour, highlighted by the stunning Water Garden and backed up by an 80 metre cascade, walled kitchen garden, aviary, chapel, rose garden, Islamic-style pond and the Kitchen Cafe. Bravo Hawkins family.
My trip nearing its end, I decide to put the XC90 through its paces by taking the winding Bells Line of Road back to Sydney. As rain – and indeed snow – set in, I find the communication between driver and car is the key to its success. All the instinctive excellence Volvo is renowned for is at my fingertips, the visibility and air-con are superb and I don't have to take my eyes off the road. I try out the four distinct drive modes – Dynamic, Comfort, Eco and Off-Road – that adjust the gearbox, steering and braking. The control is outstanding and the pick-up more than adequate to pass less confident vehicles with total safety. This Volvo SUV handles like a much smaller road car: sharp, efficient and totally at ease in these tricky conditions.
Along the way I drop into The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens. This is not strictly a "hidden gem", showcasing, as it does, 28 hectares of cool climate plants from around the world. But I can tell you the Tomah Gardens Restaurant is wonderful should certainly be better known than it is.
This article brought to you by Volvo Cars Australia. Explore the All-New Volvo XC90.