Weekend Away: Echuca

Read our writer's views on this property below

Tricia Welsh finds a slice of history paired with modern comforts in Echuca.

THE SETTING

The Steampacket Inn is a two-storey National Trust-listed building in Echuca's historic port precinct. Built in 1864 as a single-storey bakery, it burnt down many years ago and was rebuilt to become the Steampacket Hotel. Because of its proximity to the wharf, its cold beers and ales were the favourite tipple of river workers and stevedores. It remains on the port's main thoroughfare, Murray Esplanade, which today's pedestrians share with a sightseeing coach hauled by a pair of draught horses.

THE SPACE

The B&B offers comfortable accommodation for up to 27 guests in its 10 rooms - five up and five down - and adjoining loft (that sleeps up to six). Our upstairs room is on the corner with river views. There is a comfy lounge upstairs for guests' use. The owners also operate the historic PS Hero, a beautifully restored paddle steamer that once towed barges carrying wool, wheat, flour and copper ore but today is popular for weddings and other special occasions. They also offer accommodation in a lovely two-bedroom miner's cottage.

THE KIT

With its heritage overlay, the property has been sympathetically renovated and furnished to reflect its original era, with period furniture, lace curtains and vases of fresh roses. There are tea and coffee-making facilities in-room, while a mini-bar keeps glasses chilled: if you are lucky, you might even score a bottle of local wine.

COMFORT FACTOR

A queen-size bed, electric blanket, split-system airconditioner and block-out blinds assure a comfortable night's sleep; the screech of a flock of perky corellas act as nature's morning wake-up call. Off-street parking is a boon.

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FOOD

For its size, the "two river" city boasts some excellent restaurants - including the one-hatted Age Good Food Guide restaurant, Oscar W's Wharfside. Enjoying an enviable location on the banks of the Murray River, it lures discerning diners with its contemporary menu of regional produce such as Murray cod, Milawa chicken, venison and wild boar from the fertile Murray Darling. A half-hour paddle-steamer ride down river is Morrisons Riverview Winery and Restaurant, where diners are encouraged to share small plates as they sample estate-grown wines. In summer, ask for a table on the deck overlooking magnificent gums with river views and curious kookaburras. Newest dining sensation is the tres chic American Hotel which, after a $6 million refurb, is a magnet for locals looking for action and visitors looking for city-slick food and good vibes. The Steampacket Inn offers excellent cooked breakfasts as part of a package.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

Locals are getting excited that after five years, the new $14.2 million wharf complex of Red Gum River Walkways, wharf refurbishment and new interpretative centre is scheduled to open in mid-December. As the country's largest inland port in the late 1800s, this once-bustling town handled 240 paddle steamers that brought wool and timber downstream to eight sawmills, for rail transport to Melbourne and the rest of the world. You can take a ride on one of a handful of paddle steamers that still ply the waters of the mighty Murray or borrow a Port Picnic Bike to discover the town by bicycle, picking up local produce as you go for perhaps a picnic by the river. Farmers' markets are also good fun, with home-grown produce, pony rides and perhaps live entertainment.

HOW TO GET THERE

Echuca is 205 kilometres, or about two and a half hours, by car from Melbourne up the Northern Highway. It is also serviced by V/line trains on the Bendigo line.

ESSENTIALS

The Steampacket Inn is at 37 Murray Esplanade, Echuca. Phone 03 5482 3411. Rooms start from $125 midweek. See steampacketinn.com.au.