History, beauty and civilised style bring Fairy tale to life
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.
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