A drink with an old flame

Sue Wallace goes indoors to discover some of the most inviting firesides.

As temperatures plummet and skies darken, there's nothing better than thawing out in front of a roaring fire.

French novelist Gustave Flaubert got it right in 1850 when he wrote: "What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright."

There may not be too many lamps burning bright these days but there are some great fireplaces at which to sit back, warm up and contemplate life. Just be wary of fire hogs and fire gazumping - those who nudge you from prime position, without a word.

The Victoria Hotel

The historical hotel known as "The Vic" to locals has a record 34 fireplaces - with two or three blazing most days.

The National Trust-listed building was established in 1868 and even has a fireplace in the cellar, where illegal gambling once took place, and another in the hotel mortuary. Dine in the bistro or the revamped dining room, Mrs Brown's, which features fresh local produce - and a great fireplace.

Best fireside drop Campbell's Classic Rutherglen Muscat.

Winter warmer Salt cod fritters with picadillo vegetables and aioli.

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90 Main Street, Rutherglen. Phone (02) 6032 8610, see victoriahotelrutherglen.com.au. Accommodation: 21 rooms. Open daily from 11am.

All Saints Estate

All Saints Estate is one of Australia's original wineries, established in 1864. The driveway, flanked by 120-year-old elm trees, provides a grand entrance to its castle built in the 1880s. The open fire in the cellar door hosts its share of fire gazumping and romance - someone popped the question fireside recently.

Nearby, St Leonards also has a fire blazing at its cellar door and a band playing on the first Saturday of every month.

Best fireside drop All Saints Estate 2009 Pierre or St Leonards 2008 Wahgunyah Shiraz.

Winter warmer Indigo Cheese platter.

All Saints Road, Wahgunyah. Phone (02) 6035 2222, see allsaintswine.com.au. Open Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm, Sunday 10am-5.30pm.

The Star Hotel

If you've seen the movie Strange Bedfellows, you may recognise the bar where Paul Hogan and Michael Caton raised a glass or two.

The hotel, built in 1863, has a cosy wood fire in the pool room, to which guests flock. You can also warm up to Irish folk music every Wednesday night.

Best fireside drop Lava Lamp cocktail - guaranteed to turn up the heat.

Winter warmer Steaming pumpkin soup.

30 High Street, Yackandandah. Phone (02) 6027 1493. Accommodation: Not until next year. Open for lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday and dinner every night except Tuesday.

Tanswell's Commercial Hotel

Fire hogs are out in full force at the fireplace in the public bar of Beechworth's oldest remaining hotel, dating to 1852. There are eight fireplaces in the pub, which was once a watering hole for members of the Kelly gang.

At the back of the building are the coach house and stables, which were built in 1859 by the American Hiram Crawford, who established his firm and a coach-building works.

In the 1850s, passengers thawed beside the fire - just like today.

Best fireside drop House mulled wine made with local lemons and oranges.

Winter warmer Braised ox tail with crispy polenta and gremolata.

50 Ford Street, Beechworth. Phone 5728 1480. Accommodation: 13 rooms. Open daily from 11am.

1860 Luxury Accommodation

Step back in time in this rustic timber-slab hut that was built in the 1860s by a timber feller, deconstructed piece by piece and then moved from Taggerty to Beechworth in 2003. The open fire - which has a glass safety shield - is surrounded by a drystone fireplace. Recline in a leather chair, put your coffee on a table made from old bellows and enjoy the views to Spring Creek.

Best fireside drop Pennyweight Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winter warmer Fromage des Clarines - from Larder in Beechworth - baked with wine, garlic and oregano for 20 minutes.

4 Surrey Lane, Beechworth. Phone 0408 273 783, see 1860luxuryaccommodation.com.

The Stanley Pub

There is keen competition to get the tables closest to the roaring fire in the bistro. There's also a double-sided open fire dating to the 1850s in one of the guest rooms.

The pub is surrounded by historical apple, chestnut and berry farms - the produce of which often features on the menu.

Best fireside drop Campbells The Barkly Durif.

Winter warmer Twice-cooked pork belly with crisp pig's ear salad and Stanley chestnuts.

6-12 Myrtleford-Stanley Road, Stanley. Phone 5728 6502, see thestanley.com.au. Accommodation: two rooms. Open Wednesday from 4pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11am to late, Sunday from 11am.

Sam Miranda Wines

Huddle around the hearth in the cellar door designed by renowned Sydney architect Alex Popov in 2007.

It features a fireplace you can't help gravitating towards. The building is a landmark in the Milawa area. While you are sheltering from the elements, you can enjoy a tasting and great Mediterranean-inspired food.

Best fireside drop Sam Miranda Tempranillo.

Winter warmer Slow-cooked Wagyu beef and garlic mash.

1019 Snow Road, Oxley. Phone 5727 3888, see sammiranda.com.au. Open seven days from 10am-5pm with lunch available noon-3pm.

Happy Valley Hotel

Often the haunt of cold cyclists hitting the popular Rail Trail and travellers on the Great Alpine Road, the dining room fire is impressive; it has been warming bones since 1888.

The brick hotel replaced an old weatherboard pub built on the site in 1854. There's also a small fireplace in the House Guests Lounge to keep chills away.

Best fireside drop Eaglerange Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winter warmer Veal spezzatino and parmesan semolina.

4994 Great Alpine Road, Ovens. Phone 5751 1628, see ovenshappyvalleyhotel.com.au. Accommodation: six 1920 pub-style rooms. Open Monday and Tuesday from 4-7pm, Wednesday to Sunday from 11am.

Villa Gusto

Snuggle up on the leather couch beside the fire in the Grand Room at Villa Gusto, the Buckland Valley's own little piece of Italy.

Peruse Italian magazines Tempo and Le Ore in front of the fireplace that features Italian tiles. You can also chat to owner-turned-author Colin McLaren about his brushes with the Mafia as a former detective.

Best fireside drop Vinea Marson Sangiovese 2008.

Winter warmer Milawa quail, goat's curd and salsa verde bruschetta.

630 Buckland Gully Road, Buckland. Phone 5756 2000, see villagusto.com.au. Accommodation: eight rooms. Restaurant open Thursday to Sunday from 6.30pm. Service at 7pm.

Harrietville Snowline Hotel Motel

Even experienced derriere warmers can't stand the heat for too long in front of the huge open fire in the front bar - once a Chinese laundry. When it is fully loaded with red gum, locals say it's impossible to stand close.

The bar was moved to its present site after the original Snowline Hotel burnt down in 1957.

The fireplace has a large hole in the side where a reversed vacuum hose was once used to force air into the fireplace like a blast furnace.

Best fireside drop Winter cider.

Winter warmer Omeo bush tomato sausages served on garlic mash.

237 Great Alpine Road, Harrietville. Phone 5759 2524, see snowlinehotel.com.au. Accommodation: 16 motels rooms. Open daily from noon.

Rundells Alpine Lodge

The rustic stone fireplace takes the prize for the biggest open fireplace in Dinner Plain.

Guests are often seen huddling at the hearth and they even line up to have their photo taken in front of it. There is also an open fireplace at Graze restaurant.

Sink into a cosy leather couch or comfortable chair and watch the flames flicker as the snow falls outside. It is the perfect place to "apres" in the alps.

Best fireside drop Jones Road Pinot Noir.

Winter warmer Braised goat shank.

Big Muster Drive, Dinner Plain. Phone 5159 6422, see rundells.com.au. Accommodation: 15 four-star rooms.

The Birches Luxury Spa Chalets

Roast your toes beside a roaring fire in the spa villa at this luxury country retreat, nestled among Russian birch trees.

The open fireplace is flanked by Scottish leather chesterfields that sit among stately antiques, with large windows overlooking great alpine views.

You can also gaze at artwork by some of Australia's leading artists, including Jason Benjamin. Don't be surprised to see fallow deer wander by the window.

Best fireside drop French Grande Champagne Cognac.

Winter warmer Slavic Goose - marinated goose slow cooked for 12 hours with fresh garden herbs.

Top of Ranch Road, Mount Beauty. Phone 5754 1524, see luxuryspachalets.com.au. Accommodation: two luxury spa chalets.

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