Robert Upe flexes his mussels near the beach in Portarlington.
Just 90 steps from the beach at Portarlington, the holiday rental "Byron" is a new kid on the block. The two-storey brick house was built in 2013 and listed for rent only in January. Portarlington, 30 kilometres from Geelong, nestles next to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne's CBD can be seen in the distance across the water. The town is sleepy, but things liven up annually during the Portarlington Mussel Festival. Mussels are big business in Portarlington and more than 10 tons of them will be sold at the next festival on January 10 when a crowd of 30,000 is expected.
From the outside, "Byron" is a conservative-looking house, like the type you'd find in Doncaster. But once you go in, stylish holiday interiors take over with stripy-beachy rugs on the floorboards, craypot light fittings, and a long casual timber dining table for eight-plus people opposite floor-to-ceiling windows with bay glimpses. Chic timber boxes are filled with magazines like Rolling Stone and books like Kirstie Clements' Vogue Factor. It's all great holiday reading. Unfortunately, the house doesn't have a commanding position on The Esplanade which runs along the foreshore with uninterrupted views across the bay, but it is just around the corner on Grassy Point Road and so close to the sea that it hardly matters.
The four bedrooms all have queen-size beds. The main bedroom has an ensuite and walk-in robe. Along with a bathroom, laundry and toilet they are all downstairs. Upstairs, there is an open-plan gourmet kitchen and lounge, a large deck with gas barbecue, a cinema room with a 60-inch mounted TV and DVD. There's also a beauty/massage room with a massage table, potions, candles and fragrances just like you've stepped into the day spa at Anantara or some other wonderful resort. One guestbook entry says: "The massage room is a real treat and we had a local masseur come to the house." Out the back, there is a timber deck with fire pit. Another guestbook entry says: "Toasting marshmallows around the fire pit was great fun."
A big tick for comfort. The reverse cycle heating/air-conditioning keeps us warm during a blustery winter weekend. The beds are good, the hot water is steaming and plentiful. The kitchen is well equipped with quality appliances, including a Nespresso machine. There are three televisions and plenty of sitting space.
If you go to New York you must eat a pastrami or Reuben sandwich, if you go to Paris you must have a pain au chocolat, and if you are in Portarlington you can't miss the town's famous mussels. I have a bowl of them at the Jack Rabbit Winery cafe where they are very well done in Thai green curry sauce ($20). This friendly cafe, with a crackling open fire for winter and outdoor eating for summer, is set in rolling hills with bay views, a few kilometres from Portarlington's town centre. There's also a more upmarket restaurant, which another house guest has written about in the guestbook: "New Year's Eve at Jack Rabbit Winery, gorgeous meal and could see the fireworks from Melbourne, Geelong and Portarlington."
Across the laneway from Jack Rabbit, is the equally appealing Terindah Estate winery where the confit trout ($28) is matched by good service in a light and airy eating space called The Shed that also has rewarding bay views. In the town centre, Saints and Sailors is a retro-styled place with tapas, pita pizza and - incongruous for Portarlington - live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Another place with character is the Portarlington Bakehouse, a well-priced rustic bakery/cafe with bare floorboards, open fire and baskets hanging from the walls.
We visit on a weekend that requires storm gear, but if I am to imagine a blue-sky day the first thing that I'd do is borrow one of the five bikes available for guests and cycle along the foreshore pathway that stretches for about 10 kilometres to St Leonards. The kids may jump in the water opposite the house, or we could drive a few kilometres to Portalington's pier where they could take a running jump. On a balmy late afternoon, I'd drag a deckchair and a crisp sauvignon blanc down to the beach near the house and put my toes into the sea before adjourning to the upstairs deck and cooking on the gas barbecue. There are wineries and olive groves close by. The Portarlington community market is on the last Sunday of each month.
Quality interiors and a good place for a quiet beach break. The little things count for a lot too: a bottle of local pinot noir as a welcome gift, handwash at every basin, bed linen and towels provided, and a wine fridge.
HOW TO GET THERE
"Byron" is at 10 Grassy Point Road, Portarlington, via Geelong. It takes about 90 minutes to drive there from Melbourne.
From $380 a night (minimum two nights). See stayz.com.au/146246.
The writer stayed as a guest of Byron.