Spa Anise at Spicers Sangoma Retreat
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of relaxation is probably a nice massage. Spicers Sangoma Retreat takes its name from the Zulu word for a traditional healer, and healing is what this luxury retreat in the Blue Mountains aims to do.
For $295, guests can choose a 60-minute treatment at the Spa Anise day spa, such as the gentle, rhythmic signature massage, or the restorative dovadova therapy, designed to alleviate muscle aches. Also on offer is amakhatherapy, which lulls guests into tranquility with botanical emulsions and pure essential oils.
The package includes unlimited sweating and soaking in the sauna and pool, followed by a five-course meal at Restaurant Amara.
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Grand Canyon, Blackheath
Those who prefer to relax a little more actively can take a day-long hike through the Grand Canyon near Blackheath. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains Area, this sandstone wonder has been sculpted over millions of years by the patient forces of wind and water.
The surroundings – home to the Gandangara and Dharug people since time began – host a plethora of ceremonial grounds, stone arrangements, grinding grooves, scar trees and rock engravings, some of which date back at least 12,000 years. A popular site is Red Hands Cave, with its gallery of stencilled artwork from 520 CE.
There are a number of scenic walks in the area, including the Grand Canyon track – a three-hour, six-kilometre loop that follows Greaves Creek through ferns and golden wattle, with spectacular views at Evans Lookout along the way. Keep an eye out for local fauna like superb lyrebirds, bare-nosed wombats and rare brush-tailed rock wallabies.
Spending ten days sitting cross-legged in total silence, concentrating only on the subtle movement of your breath, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But both modern science and ancient wisdom agree that learning the basics of meditation can guarantee tangible improvement to your state of mind.
At Dhamma Bhūmi, visitors learn the vipassana technique popularised by S N Goenka, a student from a long line of Burmese Buddhist masters. Set on 40 acres of bushland just outside Blackheath, the centre was the first of its kind when founded in 1981. The meditation hall, surrounded by established gardens, has room for more than 160 people to sit comfortably, warmed by under-floor heating and dappled with soft light filtering in through lantern windows.
Beginners can only sign up for the 10-day retreat, which can be as challenging as it is rewarding, while old hands are welcomed for shorter (and longer) stays, with bilingual courses available in Hindi, Khmer, Vietnamese and Burmese. Accommodation is expectedly spartan, but the vegetarian food is plentiful and delicious.
After so many attempts at tranquility you’ll have earned a long lunch. Restaurant Amara, at Spicers Sangoma Retreat, provides an ideal spot from which to soak up the valley nearby and the city in the distance.
Inspired by the ultra-local ethos of Christian Puglisi’s Relæ and Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken, everything on the menu is grown no further than an hour away. Community-supported agriculture project Harvest Farms supplies much of the fresh veg, while Mt Tomah provides berries, figs and nuts. A beekeeper tends hives on the property to supply fresh honeycomb. South African-born chef Garth Edas, who joined in May, prefers cooking over fire and charcoal, and keeps his seasonal menu in tune with the garden.
A five-course lunch might start with a tart apple gel accompanied by an earthily salt-baked celeriac, followed by a leek and asparagus parfait, moving toward a hearty dish of locally-grown beef with artichoke and snow peas. Dinner – seven courses – might begin with heirloom tomatoes under a cloud of smoked ricotta, followed by charred asparagus with custard and lemon, reaching its zenith with tender spring lamb accompanied by sour-sweet rouleaux de chou. Both finish with Amara’s signature Bilpin Lemon: an extraordinary lemon mousse encased in a turmeric-yellow chocolate shell, embedded in a sable crumb.
Glow Worm Cave
Last on the list – though you could do it any time during your Blue Mountains stay – is a visit to the enchanting Glow Worm Tunnel, an abandoned railway line that’s been reclaimed by the incandescent fungus gnat.
These luminous larvae emit a phosphorescent light to lure unsuspecting mozzies, but are a harmless – if awe-inspiring – presence for human guests. Day or night, thousands of them blink their blue-green lamps once you switch off your torch. The tunnel walls, though human-made, already demonstrate impressive geological evolution, with dripping stalactites and sandstone formations.
For a longer walk, follow the seven-and-a-half-kilometre Wolgan Valley Circuit, which takes in more of the picturesque park, studded with yellow pagoda daisies in spring, and flowering banksia in the cooler months. Look out for goannas and spotted-tailed quoll among the smooth-barked apple gums.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Spicers Retreats.