Fairmont: the sequel

April 08, 2012

Makeover ... the Fairmont Resort.

Makeover ... the Fairmont Resort.

After a public decline, this Leura resort is back, but has it recaptured the sparkle? Garry Maddox finds out.

It has taken 18 months and $10 million to get the Fairmont Resort in the Blue Mountains back into business.

When the former owners allowed the facilities to decline and staff to dwindle from 300 to just 12, it became a case study in how to run down an iconic hotel.

Three years ago, more than 200 guests signed a petition to have their payments refunded and there were damaging media reports about rooms not being serviced, broken facilities and a raid by immigration officials before the embattled resort went into receivership.

The Fairmont was bought for a reported $26 million by surgeon Jerry Schwartz, one of the country's most prolific private hotel owners, who handed management to the Accor group to rejuvenate it as part of the upmarket MGallery chain that also includes the Grand Hotel in Melbourne and more than 40 other hotels around the world.

Then the makeover began.

Anyone who remembers the resort in its prime or is considering a weekend in the mountains, or a conference, will be keen to hear whether its sparkle is back.

The encouraging news from our visit last weekend is that the Fairmont is buzzing again - with near-full occupancy of the 210 rooms - and management expects to soon gain a 4½-star rating from the Accommodation Association of Australia. The upgrade has brought warmth and friendliness to the Fairmont and even if there are improvements still to come, there is an impressive range of activities being offered, including an eco-bushwalk, a chocolate appreciation course, cross-country Segway riding and a fun session of cupcake decorating as well as the more traditional golf and tennis.

Our deluxe room had a pitched ceiling and views across the grass to the Jamison Valley. It was spacious, stylish and featured a comfortable king-size bed and quality touches such as a Nespresso machine, free wi-fi, a good-size bathroom with bath and ample cupboard space.

The lobby has been upgraded with red leather couches and new tables and lamps in a "rustic country club theme". The executive chef, Rebecca Kaye, has overhauled the kitchens and redesigned the menus using more local produce.

Highlights of the casual dinner on Friday night included tasty entrees of house-made gravlax of ocean trout with fennel, vodka, lemon and lime-and-lemon mascarpone and barbecue lamb cutlets, plus mains of blackened spatchcock breast with herbed pumpkin salad and balsamic glaze as well as seared eye fillet with salsa verde and heirloom tomatoes, oregano and fetta salad.

In the morning, the breakfast buffet was good without being exceptional but a degustation dinner on Saturday featured an impressive saltbush lamb from Bathurst on creamed salsify, baby peas and speck finished with thyme jus and salted caramel. Almost overwhelming was a dessert of jaffa and Cointreau souffle with triple chocolate ice-cream and Nepean mandarin salad.

Where the Fairmont stands out is in its facilities and activities. It has a good-size, well-equipped gym with an indoor 17.5-metre pool, kept a little warm for lap swimming but ideal for families and, on Friday afternoon, a friendly volleyball game. The health and recreation centre also has a spa, sauna, steam room, squash courts and a terrific games room. Outside is another pool with spa, tennis courts and a duck pond surrounded by striking autumnal bushes. The only glitch: after an early morning dip the pool door locked from the inside, which, with the exterior phone not working, meant waiting for a passer-by to get back into the hotel.

In the day's first activity, Tim Tranter from Tread Lightly Eco Tours led a brilliantly informative trek to an outcrop over the Jamison Valley, which included the revelation that the Blue Mountains area is the only place in the world where the trees keep their leaves and shed bark in autumn.

Back at the Fairmont, a "high tea luncheon" included delicate sandwiches and spectacular cakes.

If that wasn't enough sweetness, Jodie Van Der Velden, who owns Josophan's Fine Chocolates in Leura, ran an entertaining workshop on the origins and ethics of chocolate production with a taste test of dairy, dark and compound chocolates followed by a friendly competition to identify samples.

Then came an activity that would be perfect for kids or a corporate bonding session - a cupcake-decorating competition for which each guest was given a personalised paper chef's hat, an apron and a table full of lollies, cream, marshmallows and sprinkles.

Your correspondent's magnificent re-creation of the Sydney Harbour landscape using banana lollies as Opera House sails and a cherry as the light on the Harbour Bridge was sadly overlooked for a poor man's Jackson Pollock.

Riding Segways, first slowly to practise then crossing to a grassy area and taking to a bush track, was another highlight. Still under construction is a 175-seat auditorium, to be followed by an outdoor deck to one of the dining areas and a "destination day spa".

With Dr Schwartz also buying the adjoining Leura Golf Club recently, the clubhouse will get a makeover and, pending council approval, a microbrewery will be built for its own brand of beer and tours.

The writer was a guest of the Fairmont Resort MGallery.

 

Trip notes

Where Fairmont Resort, 1 Sublime Point Road, Leura.

Getting there About 1½ hours from Sydney along the M4 Motorway, turn left at the first Leura exit and follow the signs.

How much Rooms from $175, or from $279 for family packages for two adults and two children with entry to nearby Scenic World. Also Romance and Christmas in July packages (from $349 and $449 respectively).

Perfect for An upmarket weekend away, small business groups and conferences.

Don't forget Swimmers, gym or yoga gear, tennis racquet, golf clubs, if you want to try the facilities or hiking boots if you want to head into the valleys.

Shame about A cistern that sometimes kept running and decaying exterior woodwork framing that is yet to be replaced.

Kudos For the friendly staff and the resort's preparations for Earth Hour, providing candles and glow sticks.

Take the kids Yes. As well as outdoor activities and the indoor pool, there's an excellent games room.

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