Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld review: Hunter brings bite to the bush

Read our writer's views on this property below

Jeff Glorfeld explores a quiet town with a top chef and a mountain backdrop.

For the past several months, the tiny, tidy western Victorian village of Dunkeld has been an El Dorado for every gourmand worth his or her salt shaker, as foodies from around the globe find their way to the Royal Mail Hotel to sample the cooking of star chef Dan Hunter.

The impressions of Dunkeld one gets from these food appreciation reports is - well - not much at all, really. It's as if the Royal Mail exists in splendid isolation on an island of culinary adventure.

But there is a lot more to Dunkeld; OK, maybe not a lot more to the town - just a few shops, a visitor centre, a school and a stately old war memorial park with community swimming pool and bowls club. But most importantly, it is the southern gateway to the Grampians, one of the most picturesque destinations in this part of the world. And if you are staying at the Royal Mail or one of several guesthouses around the town, you're well placed to enjoy the many bushwalks and scenic drives the area has to offer.

The Royal Mail provides an illustrated map for walks that start from the nicely landscaped hotel grounds. These range from easy to difficult and can take from 15 minutes, for a brisk, pre-dinner stroll, to a four-hour hike that follows the Wannon River and up along the lower flanks of Mount Sturgeon.

The trails are well marked and only occasionally challenging to follow.

Along the trails you come across shady billabongs and magnificent river red gums, pass through scrubby stringybark forests and discover hill-sides of mysterious, skirted grass trees, always watched over by the tremendous rocky towers of the southern Grampians.

It's a good idea to bring a day pack for carrying water, wear sturdy walking shoes and - this is grazing country - bring plenty of fly repellent. Also, be sure to pack your swimming togs because the hotel has a great pool, ideal for a refreshing plunge after a vigorous hike or for some indulgent lounging between meals.

The hotel's guide lists some of the native animals and introduced pests you're likely to encounter on these walks. We see eastern grey kangaroos, swamp and red-necked wallabies and also rabbits, hares and foxes. Two natives we are happy to miss are the eastern tiger and brown snakes.

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The rooms at the Royal Mail are clean and well appointed, with comfortable beds, a small fridge, tea and coffee and a good flat-screen television. The bathrooms are spotless and modern. The small veranda out back is a good place to relax with a book or to simply gaze at the ever-changing panorama of the Grampians.

If food is the main reason for your visit, well, it's all the foodie adventurers say it is, ranging from the remarkable degustation dinner in Hunter's restaurant (this is what all the fuss is about) to the bistro or a pub meal in the front bar. As far as pub grub goes, it'd be hard to beat the wagyu corned beef and mash or the Royal's version of the classic chicken parma. And whichever venue you dine in, set aside plenty of time to peruse the prodigious wine list.

The neighbouring Gourmet Pantry and Izzy's Mountain View Cafe are good alternatives for breakfast and lunch.

If you feel like getting into the car, Halls Gap, in the heart of the Grampians, is less than an hour away, as is Port Fairy, on the coast. The rural centre of Hamilton is even closer and the whole area is dotted with quaint little towns, many with splendid old pubs.

VISITORS' BOOK

Royal Mail Hotel

Address 98 Parker Street (Glenelg Highway), Dunkeld.

Bookings Phone 5577 2241, see royalmail.com.au/.

Email relax@royalmail.com.au.

Getting there About 250 kilometres west of Melbourne on the Western Highway via Ballarat and the Glenelg Highway.

How much Choices range from hotel rooms and apartments to cottages and shared houses for big groups. Hotel rates for a mountain view room are $220 a night peak and $180 off-peak.

Summary By all means go for the food but don't ignore the rest of this beautiful part of Victoria.

Verdict 17.

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable. All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.