It's nearly 10 years since the Black Saturday fires reduced the Victorian town of Marysville to ashes. Little remains of the devastation today but if you look closely at the lush green canopy of the surrounding forest you can see skeletal reminders of the past, spindly silver spines of the old-growth trees destroyed by fire that poke out above the new growth. It's a small but important reminder of the danger behind such amazing natural beauty.
Marysville is just an hour and a half's drive from Melbourne but feels more remote. Arriving in town, after winding through the Black Spur – towering mountain ash trees skirted with plumes of fern – you feel like you have come to the end of the road, so dense is the surrounding greenery.
In 2015, I came to the opening of the Vibe Hotel and we are staying here once again, its interlocking cubes coming together in a welcoming lodge-like entrance reflecting the fact that Melbourne's nearest ski resort, Lake Mountain, is just a short drive up the hill. The natural forest tones of browns and greens are carried through the halls into the simply stylish rooms, whose soft furnishings pick up the colours of fern fronds and newly fallen leaves.
We drop our bags and wander the main street, noting the biggest change since our last visit: Marysville has a new pub. The Duck Inn sits on the corner of Darwin Street and we walk through the appropriately duck-egg blue interior to the balcony out back with views over the local park; to prove we are not in Melbourne any more a horse is tied to a tree with a beaten-up swag tied to its back. We grab a sundowner as the horse's owner returns and saddles up, then we return to the Vibe for dinner.
The ethos behind Radius Bar & Grill is all in the name – local produce is sourced within a 100-kilometre ring around the hotel. This means your entree of smoked trout with cornichon, pickled zucchini, roasted beetroot and horseradish dressing comes from the Buxton Trout Farm just a few miles away; and your handmade lamb sausage with crushed potato and caramelised onion and pea salad is from the Yarra Glen butchers just the other side of the mountains.
The same goes for our breakfast the next morning when our youngest nearly overdoses on the fresh-baked pastries, and I nearly choke on mine when my wife produces a card for me – it appears I have forgotten our wedding anniversary. Marysville to the rescue: the main street is compact and has a couple of gift stores where I find a pair of appropriately tree-shaped earrings to stave off impending divorce; we then spend the morning exploring the myriad walking trails.
Having done the tumbling waters of Steavenson Falls on our previous trip we instead opt for the Cora Lynn falls which takes us on to the old Yarra Track that carried gold prospectors to the town of Wood Point in the 1860s. It is a wild trek that sees us clambering over the fallen trunks of some of the fire-ravaged trees but we are rewarded with a charming trickle of water over mossy rocks.
You can easily potter away a weekend in Marysville itself with its quirky sculpture garden, modern kids playground, short walks from town or the weekend market full of knick knacks and local food, but we use the afternoon to take a short drive out to Buxton Ridge Winery whose cellar door comes with enthusiastic winery dogs and a cheese platter that could feed you for a week. Owners Lorna and Michael Gelbert offer an informative tasting and we return to the hotel with some bubbles (the Molly Jean Blanc de Noir) and a Michael Wolf merlot.
On a tip from Michael, we drop into Terracotta Restaurant and Bar, one of the newest places to eat here. The original Terracotta dining room was razed in the fires but when a spot at the golf club became available owners Chris and Barbara Muir felt it was time to restart the venture.
There is a function on but Barbara offers us a drink on the deck with views of the fairway, and trees, always the trees. The mountain ash forest surrounds the town, dominates the skyline and very nearly wiped Marysville off the map; but it is this beauty – and the warmth and generosity of the local businesses – that has tourists coming back.
Marysville is just over 90 minutes from Melbourne. Head out through the Yarra Valley and access the town via the very windy Black Spur.
Vibe Hotel Marysville; 32-34 Murchison Street, Marysville, Victoria; 03 5957 7700; doubles from $189, see tfehotels.com
The Duck in is at 6 Murchison Street, Marysville; facebook.com/theduckinnmarysvillepub. Grab dinner at Radius Bar & Grill in the courtyard of the Vibe Hotel; tfehotels.com. Buxton Ridge winery is at 88 Seal Rock Rd, Buxton; buxtonridge.com.au. Terracotta Restaurant and Bar, Marysville Golf Club, 956 Buxton-Marysville Rd, Marysville; marysvillegolfandbowls.com.au
Paul Chai travelled as a guest of Vibe Hotels.