Australia: Vintage Tasmania

  • original servants’ bells still hang in the main hallway at Quamby Estate.

    original servants’ bells still hang in the main hallway at Quamby Estate.

  •  The rear patio at Bothwell’s Priory Country Lodge.

    The rear patio at Bothwell’s Priory Country Lodge.

  • The contemporary look of the guest rooms at Quamby Estate complements the manor’s historical ambience.

    The contemporary look of the guest rooms at Quamby Estate complements the manor’s historical ambience.

  • The Lodge at Tarraleah.

    The Lodge at Tarraleah.

  • The antiques-filled library at the Islington in Hobart.

    The antiques-filled library at the Islington in Hobart.

  • The antiques-filled library at the Islington in Hobart.

    The antiques-filled library at the Islington in Hobart.

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In Australia’s second-oldest state, a clutch of heritage hotels is giving guests a taste of the island’s storied past.

Story and photographs by Leisa Tyler

The Henry Jones Art Hotel

Born to a poor Hobart family in 1862, Henry Jones was put to work in the wharf-side jam factory at the sprightly age of 12. Clever and industrious, by 29 Jones owned the old row of convict-built warehouses, which he renamed IXL Jams after his personal motto: “I excel, at everything I make.”

Occupying a prime position on the state capital’s blustery harbor, the factory was derelict for decades until 2004, when local hotelier Flora de Kantzow transformed it into a stylish 56-room lodging-cum-gallery. Expect a blend of modern and vintage flourishes: rustic sandstone walls and brickwork juxtaposed with a soaring glass atrium; exposed rafters above black-leather sofas and silk bed covers; and antique machinery competing for attention with an extensive collection of artwork, largely from the neighboring Tasmanian School of Art. The hotel’s obliging staff will happily walk you through the collection, or join the regular Friday night tour, which ends with a glass or two of the bubbly (25 Hunter St., Hobart; 61-3/6210-7700; thehenryjones.com; doubles from US$182).

Islington

Built in 1847 and set among Hobart’s grandest mansions, the Islington changed hands many times before being transformed three years ago into Tasmania’s classiest hotel. The new owners added a modern wing and beautifully landscaped gardens; filled the property with US$5 million worth of art, antiques, and curios; and hired savvy young couple Amy and Nicholas Parkinson-Bates (formerly of the Aman-i-Khas in Rajasthan) to manage the place.

The art alone is worth the visit: canvases by Brett Whiteley and David Hockney hang in the foyer alongside a Picasso etching, and the tapestry in the library, dating to the 1840s, is said to be Australia’s oldest. Five of the 11 guest rooms are housed in the original Regency-era house, all with hand-woven Persian carpets, exquisite silks, and period details: one has a pressed-tin ceiling; another, a century-old Austrian pear-wood bed. (Accommodation in the new wing offers more modern decor and shimmering glass-tiled bathrooms.) The gardens are glorious, though in cold weather best admired from the Islington’s soaring conservatory, which offers views across to Mount Wellington, a big open fireplace, and an honor bar stocked with local wines (321 Davey St., Hobart; 61-3/ 6220-2123; islingtonhotel.com; doubles from US$280).

The Priory Country

Lodge Work on the Tudor-style Clifton Priory in Bothwell began in 1848—only to be delayed when the parish priest ran off with the construction funds. Those were lawless times; the building’s stonemason, Francis Bones, a rough-hewed quarryman from England, had been transported to Tasmania for seven years of hard labor after stealing a coal pick.

These days, Bothwell is better known for its trout-filled lakes and Australia’s oldest golf course. And the hilltop Clifton Priory, which served for generations as an Anglican church, is a newly minted four-room inn. It’s an unusual setting for such a sophisticated project: Bothwell, a farming town with maybe 300 residents and a single pub, can feel a bit like the boonies. Just as incongruous is the genial manager-cum-chef Stuart Davis, who, when not whipping up gourmet meals (including what could be the best eggs Benedict on the island), spins around the country lanes in a Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Operating more like a private house, the Priory gives guests the run of both floors. Up a flight of Huon pine stairs are the cozy attic rooms, outfitted with plush beds, pastel fabrics, and marbled bathrooms (book the Peacock Suite for its big tub and study overlooking the River Clyde). Downstairs, there’s an elegant reading room, a country kitchen and formal dining room, a salon, and a gear room filled with golf clubs and fishing rods (2 Wentworth St., Bothwell; 61-3/6259-4012; thepriorycountrylodge.com.au; doubles from US$326, half-board).

 

Quamby Estate

Legend has it that in 1828, at a time when Tasmanian estates were restricted to 3,600 hectares, the enterprising wife of a freed Irish political prisoner charmed the colony’s governor into granting her family as much land as she could ride around in a day. Stationing at intervals the fastest horses she could find, Anne Dry galloped in relay to claim her 12,000-hectare prize.

Set among the rolling, poplar-studded hills of Hagley, a small village outside Launceston, Quamby Estate is the fruit of Mrs. Dry’s riding skills. The grounds themselves are now a fraction of the size they were in the 19th century, but the homestead, a romantic,10-bedroom Anglo-Indian manor, still stands, and has become one of the island’s most charming accommodations. Inside, marble fireplaces and a rack of brass servants’ bells only hint at the estate’s grand past: Sir Richard Dry, son of Anne, went on to become the state’s first Tasmanian-born premier, and during his administration Quamby was known as the “government house of the north.”

Guest rooms are individually designed, with contemporary furnishings that are understated in their luxury. Various outbuildings—a blacksmith’s shop, stables, granary, and shearing shed—are being converted for use as more accommodation or dining spaces. For now, guests indulge in home-cooked dinners of local trout or lamb washed down with wine from the Tamar Valley, then retreat to the drawing room or outside to the wide, flagstoned veranda, which looks across manicured English gardens to the Ben Lomond ranges (1145 Westwood Rd., Hagley; 61-3/ 6392-2211; quambyestate.com.au; doubles from US$246, including breakfast).

The Lodge at Tarraleah

Flanked by ancient rain forests and wild rivers in the rugged Central Highlands, the township of Tarraleah was originally built in the 1930s to house the engineers and workers of the island’s first hydroelectric system.

Abandoned decades later, Tarraleah became a virtual ghost town—until British-born entrepreneur Julian Homer bought what remained of the settlement and turned it into a singular tourist attraction. The old church is now a conference center; 15 impeccably restored Art Deco houses (some with their original furnishings) are self-contained holiday cottages; and another building has got a new lease on life as a Scottish-themed pub. But it’s the sumptuous nine-suite Lodge, once a chalet for visiting power-company executives, that’s the star attraction: think mohair throws, polished timber floors, a library bar stocked with 200 different whiskeys, and a pair of cliff-top hot tubs. Better still are the fishing and hiking opportunities at your doorstep: the protected wilderness surrounding the Lodge is home to a bewildering variety of animals, from platypus and wombats to quolls, wallabies, and echidnas. For a tamer experience, you can spend time counting the resident herd of shaggy Highland cattle (Wild River Way, Tarraleah; 61-3/6289-0111; tarraleahlodge.com; doubles from US$925, half-board).

Originally appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine ( “Vintage Tasmania”)

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