Tourists return to Marysville

Valentine's Day is not just about hearts and flowers. True love is never that neat; it's deep, messy, and complicated. Nor is it confined to two: the ring expands to encircle family, friends, and neighbours. 

Which is why it is the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of a community, burned and broken by the Black Saturday bushfires six years ago. 

Rising phoenix-like from the ashes, the Vibe Hotel and Conference Centre at Marysville has been built on the site of the iconic Cumberland Guest House. This, along with the primary school, police station, restaurants, cafes and almost 500 homes were destroyed, and 40 people killed, on February 7, 2009.

The tiny town's primary industry was tourism – this, too, lay in ruins. Back in the 1920s, honeymooning couples would stay at the Cumberland after catching the train from Melbourne. (These days, it's about a 90-minute drive.)  Over the years, they were joined by bikers cruising the Black and Reefton Spurs, bushwalkers hiking to Steavenson Falls and skiers heading to Lake Mountain. 

With funding from the Victorian government and TFE Hotels, Vibe, which opened yesterday, is set to reinvigorate the town with a restaurant, pub, conference centre, exhibition space, day spa, pool and gymnasium.  The best thing? 90 per cent of the employees are locals, including the executive chef of Radius Bar & Grill, Leigh Colville, whose father is the local police officer.

The paddock-to-plate restaurant sources more than 85 per cent of its produce from within 100 kilometres: each item on the menu indicates the distance from where it was farmed. "We are humbled by both the support of our local farmers and by the quality of their produce," the menu states. For the kids, there's Thin Crust Wholemeal pizza and The Ultimate Sunday Roast, using Free Range Wandin Valley pork.

The two-bedroom suite retreat sleeps up to six people; children under the age of 12 are free if using existing bedding. 

Local art is displayed throughout the property, while a percentage of all profits go to community charities.

In the words of Rachel Argaman, CEO of TFE Hotels, "We want to position Vibe Hotel Marysville as a place to really connect on many levels, personalising guest experiences with the locale".

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The Victorian Minister for Tourism, John Eren, says, "the opening of this stunning hotel represents a major step towards Marysville regaining its position as one of the state's most popular regional tourism destinations". 

I've been struggling to find a term to define this type of tourism. Post-disaster? Lending-a-hand? Community-building?  Glib one-liners aside, it's important to support special places like this. And to send a message to our children: there are many different ways to help those in need.

Vibe's tagline, "It's time to reconnect and stay that way", is not only appropriate for Valentine's Day.  Perhaps it's time for all of us to reconnect with our families – and communities – by taking a weekend away to support local tourism. 

To paraphrase the old American Express ad, a bottle of champagne: $25; bunch of flowers: $50; bottomless cup of compassion: priceless.

Email: tracey.spicer@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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