His­tory, beauty and civilised style bring Fairy tale to life

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IUNLEASH my in­ner tree-hug­ger at Vic­to­ria’s Port Fairy. I can’t re­sist the urge to throw my arms around the huge trunk of one of the dozens of Nor­folk Is­land pines that line the streets of this pretty town. My friend takes a photo of me in fond em­brace, then has to go one bet­ter and gives her pine a pas­sion­ate kiss.

It is a wet, win­ter’s day but that doesn’t dampen my ar­dour, nor does it pre­vent me from giv­ing Port Fairy, on the Great Ocean Road, a big tick for charm and liv­abil­ity.

Port Fairy, which be­gan life as a set­tle­ment called Belfast, is a place I’d hap­pily call home. It has a mix of all the things I like, from the his­tory ev­i­dent in well-pre­served 19th-cen­tury inns and blue­stone cot­tages and the fas­ci­nat­ing ship­wreck sto­ries told on in­ter­pre­ta­tive coastal walks to arty cafes with South­ern Ocean views.

It also has wildlife: sea li­ons bask on rocky islets, thou­sands of crazy mut­ton­birds fly 15,000km across the Pa­cific to land on Grif­fiths Is­land within three days of Septem­ber 22 each year, and bearded devo­tees ar­rive in their droves each March for the pop­u­lar folk fes­ti­val.

But it’s the lo­ca­tion, lapped by wa­ter on two sides and tra­versed by the wide Moyne River, that gets my senses buzzing. Oc­cu­py­ing the best po­si­tion on the river is Os­cars Wa­ter­front Bou­tique Ho­tel. This two­s­torey, five-bed­room bed-and-break­fast, orig­i­nally a Melbourne busi­ness­man’s hol­i­day re­treat, was built 16 years ago in the style of a grand Ir­ish man­sion, and in­deed it an im­pres­sive fig­ure.

When host Richard Douglas opens the front door he stands aside to let us take in the stair­case which, set amid a dra­matic atrium-style hall, is GonewiththeWind per­fect. He takes us through a glassen­closed din­ing room, and on to the river­front veranda to the best view in town.

Dozens of painted wooden boats and sleek yachts with tow­er­ing masts bob at a jetty a few me­tres away, and across the river are more hug­gable pines. To the right, to­wards the mouth of the river, are old port build­ings and fish­ing boats that be­long to what is still one of Vic­to­ria’s big­gest com­mer­cial fleets.

The grand draw­ing room fea­tures French pro­vin­cial decor, high ceil­ings, fire­places, Per­sian rugs on pol­ished par­quet floors, comfy so­fas and arm­chairs and re­gen­cys­tripe drapes grac­ing case­ment win­dows.

Douglas and part­ner Sally opened Os­cars in late 2000, choos­ing the name be­cause the ini­tial O made for a stylish logo. A few years later they con­verted a run-down 1950s ware­house on the prop­erty’s street frontage into ex­tra court­yard rooms, one a suite and an­other with a spa bath. How­ever, the main house is the place to stay, and the three river­front rooms are the pick. Af­ter a com­fort­able evening, it’s grey and gloomy out­side the next morn­ing but my mood is lifted by a gourmet break­fast of eggs bene­dict and all the civilised ex­tras. Caro­line Gladstone was a guest of Ship­wreck Coast Tourism.

Check­list

Os­cars Wa­ter­front Bou­tique Ho­tel, 41a Gibbs St, Port Fairy, Vic­to­ria; (03) 5568 3022; www.os­car­swa­ter­front.com. Tar­iff: Court­yard rooms $250 a dou­ble all year; oth­ers, $250 to $275, de­pend­ing on sea­son (peak, Oc­to­ber-April). Next year’s Port Fairy Folk Fes­ti­val, March 7-10. Get­ting there: Port Fairy is 383km west of Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road or 295km via the Princes High­way. Check­ing in: In­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors and Aus­tralians tour­ing Vic­to­ria. Bed­time read­ing: TheBro­kenShore by Peter Tem­ple. Step­ping out: His­toric town and ship­wreck walk­ing tours. Tower Hill, a na­tional park set in an ex­tinct vol­cano, is a 10-minute drive away. Brick­bats: No tub in my river­front room’s en­suite. Bou­quets: Ex­cel­lent lo­ca­tion and fab­u­lous draw­ing room.

Wa­tery rave: Boats moored just me­tres from Os­cars Wa­ter­front Bou­tique Ho­tel at Port Fairy

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