David Reyne finds some cosy lodgings, from coastal getaways with open fires to inner-city Italian chic.
Hepburn Springs is spa country and Kudos Temple is a luxurious shrine to all that the spa represents. This villa is built around a spa bath sunk into the polished floorboards in the centre of the room. To one side, a big bed sits on a platform; opposite, a love seat beckons. A fire crackles beneath a big cinematic screen. The bathroom's dual shower heads suggest you shower with a friend, unless that friend has already discovered the outdoor tub and braved the spanking country air for a soak. The design has a subtle Asian elegance but the breakfast provisions of an antipasto platter, freshly baked loaf and farmhouse muesli are purely Australian and remind you that should you manage to drag yourself from the Villa's opulence, the surrounding hills and valleys are groaning with great produce.
4 Second Street, Hepburn Springs. From $375 a couple a night. Phone 1300 579 933, see kudosvillas.com.au.
If you've never spent a night in an enchanting boutique hotel in the heart of Paris or Rome, then go to downtown Richmond, where you'll find a fine example of a sophisticated European-style bed and breakfast. The squeak of the wrought-iron gate and the grand Italian arches of Villa Donati's facade offer a tantalising suggestion of a notorious history but take one step inside and you'll discover refined grace. Lofty ceilings, elegant lamps and the type of carpet that begs you to bury your toes give this place the kind of class to which the best hotels aspire. The smell of Italian coffee draws me to the breakfast room. A Vespa scooter leans gleaming against a marble fireplace and a plate of scrambled eggs and roasted smoked salmon has me dreaming of travel. Villa Donati satisfies vital travellers' desire: to be taken to another place and indulged.
377 Church Street, Richmond. From $225 a couple a night. Phone 9428 8104, see www.villadonati.com.
Point of View
Those looking for a romantic interlude in one of Point of View's five villas might get more than they bargained for. The seductress here is the mesmerising view. The villas sit high above valleys of grass that tumble towards the township of Apollo Bay. There's a spa with a view. A stack of split wood sits beside the fireplace whose glow, although enthralling, competes with the view and, should you find you're unable to tear yourself away and dine out, there's a self-contained kitchen with, yes, you guessed it.
Tuxion Road, Apollo Bay. From $250 a couple a night. Minimum two-night stay. Phone 0427 376 377, see pointofview.com.au.
A dense gum forest clings to a long snaking spur of Mount Buffalo, forcing a shadow across Villa Gusto's stone gates. A white-pebble driveway and a thick, green hedge draw you towards a lush, terraced garden of chestnut trees and pencil pines. Lemon trees sit in earthen urns and a manicured lawn leads to the door of an impressive stone villa. This is Tuscany - Tuscany, Bright. Our room, Limone, has timber floorboards and furnishings, a leather couch and a plump bed. A framed hunk of lemon-coloured marble hangs on the wall. A spa bath sits in the corner of a marble bathroom and sliding doors look across the garden to a thick mist licking at the creases of the mountain spur. Villa Gusto's restaurant has an Age Good Food Guide chef's hat and no wonder. The words "La dolce vita" greet you as you enter. The sweet life indeed.
Buckland Valley Road, Buckland. From $245 a couple a night. Phone 5756 2000, see villagusto.com.au.
The curved corrugated-iron exterior has you wondering if you're about to spend the night in an old water tank. Once inside, such fears are immediately erased. Anderley's design is an impressive celebration of the classic bush huts of the Victorian high country. There's a stone fireplace, chunky timber beams and posts and an expanse of deck that juts out over the Gippsland plains. If I were the man from Snowy River, I'd surely be tempted to mount my steed and spur it over the edge. Since I'm not, I'll just have to settle for comforts the old alpine stockmen could only have dreamt of. The bathroom is lined with corrugated tin but who are they kidding? Which bush hut has a spa bath other than this one? Two of the most extraordinarily comfortable-looking beds face the view and the hospitality is such that just moments after my arrival a still-steaming home-baked loaf is delivered to the door. As the weather rolls in from the west and the lights of distant towns twinkle below, I'm grateful I didn't bring the horse; otherwise, I'd feel the need to hitch him to the bedpost and have him share this high-country grandeur.
312 Old Yarragon Leongatha Road, Yarragon South. From $140 a couple a night. Phone 5634 4276, see anderley.com.au.
A dusty road leads to a cattle grate. Kangaroos lift their heads. The spine of the Grampians looks cold and blue. A long ridge of trim pasture, pruned by the wildlife, is punctuated by five architecturally striking cabins sitting low on the crest. Shadecloth, solar panels and a curved roof line give each a nautical feel. Inside, the design is tasteful and luxurious. Boroka Downs shares a one-kilometre border with the Grampians National Park and the nearest peak is calling. I settle for a guided walk among the property's population of emus, kangaroos and warbling bird life. There's something immediately relaxing about this place. It could be the long soak in the spa as I gaze at the bush. It might be the surround-sound system or the coffee machine. But I suspect it's simply the location.
Birdswing Road, Halls Gap. From $495 a couple a night. Phone 5356 6243, see borokadowns.com.au.
Big Blue Backyard
The tangle of tea-tree is almost impenetrable. Somewhere among it are three cabins. Ours, the Bush Hideaway, is surrounded by the thick scrub. It's a classic beach shack. The timber floor looks as if Jackson Pollock has visited. It is spattered with paint. All of it. A couple of car tyres sit on top of each other to form a bedside table. A timber crate has been bolted to the bathroom wall to create a cabinet. Driftwood serves as a light shade. The back deck and private, open-air shower do their best to hold back the encroaching bush. Another deck supports a large spa bath and the shower inside has a huge rainfall head. You are inspired to wash. At sunset, the bush turns still and silent. A superb dinner is served on the deck. The stereo comes with a time capsule of '70s surf cool: Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, even. It is time to knot the sarong, wax the board and grow the beard.
56 Paradise Drive, St Andrews Beach, Mornington Peninsula. From $319 a couple a night. Phone 5988 6011, see bigbluebackyard.com.au.
Three self-contained cottages sit on a ridge. Vineyards and shadows rise and dip until the foothills terminate their reach. The occasional plot lies beneath a net. Inside, the cottages are all class and charm. They have cathedral ceilings, timber floorboards, plush furnishings and the ubiquitous spa bath and fireplace. It is difficult to drag yourself from the lush bed but as dawn illuminates the neighbouring meadows, the vineyards beckon. The temptation is to trawl the surrounding fields, knocking on their cellar doors, but a lazy lie-in and a fridge full of eggs, bacon and sausages slows the start and stills the busy mind.
97 School Lane, Tarrawarra, Yarra Valley. From $220 a couple a night. Phone 5962 2890, see www.outlookhill.com.au.
David Reyne travelled courtesy of Great Places to Stay. See greatplacestostay.com.au.