When Sydney is sweltering, head inland for higher-altitude cool temperatures, unique wines, fine dining and historic towns that look straight from a movie set.
Duration: Four to six days
Distance: 700km loop
Best time to go: Late spring or summer
The Great Western Hwy is the most direct route from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, but the spectacular Bells Line of Road is far more rewarding. It's less congested than the highway and offers fine views towards the coast from Kurrajong Heights on the eastern slopes of the range, and magnificent sandstone cliff scenery all the way to Lithgow. To reach the Bells Line of Road, head northwest from Sydney on the Windsor road, then take the Richmond road west; it becomes the Bells Line of Road after Richmond.
Leave Sydney mid-morning and you'll be in Kurrajong Heights in time for lunch at NSW's most endearing regional restaurant, Lochiel House. Set in a little cottage dating from 1825, it's all open-fire cosiness and warm hospitality. The menu offers fine dining with clear flavours: the signature steamed custard with smoked eel, scallops and truffles echoes chef Anthony Milroy's background at Tetsuya's.
Clear your head with a stroll through Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, 24km further west, between Bilpin and Bell. Both native plants and exotic species thrive at this cool-climate annexe of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens; its grounds are so extensive (and hilly) that you'd need more than a couple of hours to see everything.
On the road to Mudgee
Set the GPS for Mudgee and enjoy the drive as the rugged mountain ranges give way to rolling hills, vineyards and fertile pasture. Mudgee doesn't stand out as a country town, but it's central to the emergence of the Central West as a food and wine getaway. Every hotel, cafe and restaurant in town will offer you a map of the local wineries, but a good starting point is Pieter Van Gent, where tastings can be taken in old choir stalls in the atmospheric Cask Hall.
One of the most carefully restored and extended buildings in town is the Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel, once a coach stop, now stylish accommodation and home to the Wineglass Bar & Grill. It's well located for an overnight stay, and you'll love its proximity to Roth's Wine Bar, hub of the town's wine scene.
Wining and dining in Orange
Continuing on to Orange via Wellington, evidence of the area's fertility surrounds you, especially if you're here in spring. Bright yellow canola crops form a patchwork landscape and the air is strong with the buzz of native bees and the smell of newly cut forage. Lambs graze next to their mothers over the rolling hills, and cherry blossom is everywhere on the roadside.
That bounty of produce is one of the reasons for Orange's abundance of exceptionally good restaurants. You'd need at least three nights here to hit all the highlights dining-wise, but if you have only one or two, don't miss Lolli Redini and the Union Bank, which are almost next door to each other in the centre of town.
The Union Bank is ideal for a long, lazy courtyard lunch stretching into late afternoon – an antipasto plate to share, say, or a rotolo with capers, sage and burnt butter. The list of local wines by the glass is extensive, and if you find one you particularly like, you can buy it by the bottle at the wine shop next door.
Lolli Redini is more formal, but it's far from stiff or starched – the cheery, bright-red interior with dozens of cushions and original artworks sees to that. Service is polished and professional, and the kitchen demonstrates both faithfulness to the classics – a double-baked Gruyere-and-zucchini soufflé, say – and lightness of touch, as in oysters with sparkling wine granita, cucumber and roe. Again, don't miss the opportunity to try some of the cool-climate wines this region is famous for.
Orange has plenty of chintzy B&Bs, but for straightforward contemporary style and a great central location (you can walk to all the restaurants in town), book yourself in to De Russie Suites. Each suite has a well-equipped kitchen; a breakfast pack is provided and the bathrobes and L'Occitaine toiletries are a nice touch.
The quickest way back to Sydney from Orange (255km) is along the Great Western Hwy via Katoomba, completing a 700km loop.
DETOUR: The tiny settlements of Gulgong and Millthorpe look like something out of a Hollywood backlot. Gulgong, near Mudgee, was created during gold rush days; now classified by the National Trust, it's the hub of an established gallery scene. The highlight of Millthorpe, near Orange, is its destination restaurant, Tonic. The most relaxing way to experience both towns is to wander aimlessly around ye olde shops as ye moode takes you.
This article was specially produced for Mercedes by Lonely Planet. For more great road trips around Australia check out our ten free itineraries.