Weekends away are so good for the soul. Especially a romantic weekend away. They replenish and revitalise me every time – and this one really swept me away. Marysville, what a treasure you are.
In a rare getaway for my partner Clint and I, we left our 7 year-old daughter Charli at my parents house in Eltham for a little ‘us time’. I can’t remember the last time we took time out like this, life just seems to get busy.
We headed off down the road with takeaway lattes in hand, some great conversation and inevitably with us, some great tunes on the radio. Before we knew it, we’re rolling through the charming town of Healesville, winding our way through the Black Spur and 90-minutes later we were surrounded by the beauty of autumn leaves that were lighting up the picturesque town of Marysville.
Located within the heavily forested mountains of the Great Diving Range in the foothills of the Yarra Valley, it’s impossible to visit Marysville without acknowledging the devastating bushfires that wiped out 90 per cent of the town and claimed dozens of lives in the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. I hadn’t been since before the fires, and to be honest, had no idea what to expect.
But what I found was a community deeply bonded – a stoic town that has been completely rebuilt looking to it’s future, and one that welcomes tourists with open arms.
And what I especially loved, was the way the town has sensitively kept the stories of that fateful day visible in the community. Everywhere you go, you see ‘before and after’ photos. Honouring the lives lost. And honouring the spirit and mammoth effort it took to rebuild.
Talk about warm-hearted locals, we headed straight to the renowned Bruno’s Art & Sculpture Garden and met the man himself, Bruno Torfs. Bruno is a man with a twinkle in his eye from a life filled with living his passion sculpting and painting, but it wasn’t longer that a couple of minutes before he wanted to show us photos of the devastation of the bushfires.
“The fires are part of this town now. I remember looking through the rubble after the fires flattened my life’s work to the ground, and trying desperately to find a beauty in what was left. There were times of complete despair, but the spirit of the community rallying together was really something else. Everyone pitched in and helped each other. I had people donating plants and trees and everything they could… we all just knew we needed to put our community back together and help each other out. I think we are stronger than before the fires, because they tested us. And it showed what the spirit of living in a small community like Marysville is all about”.
Bruno took us for a tour of his truly magnificent gardens, and showed us how he passionately rebuilt every sculpture from the rubble. You could see his delight when we lingered over a piece – it was like we were transported into a wonderland of different characters filled with imagination, reminiscent of being a child. The pieces are so lifelike that it feels like they will come alive at night when us “adults” aren’t watching.
Back in the car, Clint and I took an easy 30 minute drive up to Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, where we had planned on going for a walk on one of the many trails. But it was raining, so instead we enjoyed a hot chocolate in the Alpine Burger Bar that has floor to ceiling glass windows and enjoyed the magnificent views of the Marysville State Forest.
Clint loves dropping into a winery pretty much wherever we go to sample what the region has to offer, and in Marysville’s neighbouring town of Buxton, the Buxton Ridge Winery certainly didn’t disappoint. You must make an appointment, or ring at the front gate. It’s a family owned, award-winning winery, producing cool climate elegant wines.
We were warmly welcomed by Michael and together enjoyed a tasting with a delicious regional produce plate. Michael shared the story about how his parents bought the land here while they were on their way to a wedding one day. After his father died of a heart-attack on the property, Michael and his mother have taken the reins, where he is chief wine-maker, marketer, and taster all in one.
This family nearly lost the winery during the fires. They were all huddled in the cellar when the firestorm swept through. Michael tells us how they all thought they would lose their lives that day, but miraculously the fire stopped just short of their house, giving them enough time to save it.
Commuting to his full time job in Melbourne to support his wife and 3 children, I am actually not surprised this winery has won awards – the passion and dedication here is in spades.
“Every wine here is named after a family member. There’s the Molly Jean Blanc de Noir, the Katie Maree Sauvignon Blanc and Lorna Grace Pinot Noir to name a few!”.
So, did we like them? Absolutely. We bought 3 bottles – and enjoyed one of them at our next stop – the Marysville Garden Cottages, our home for the night.
I must admit, it was lovely walking inside our accommodation to be able to flick a switch and the fire was lit and the bath was running! The cottages are just 12-months old, so everything is well appointed and extremely well styled, perfect for a romantic weekend away.
We decided on the Black Spurr Inn for dinner, and since we’d been a little swept away by Buxton Ridges fine wine we decided to take up the offer to be picked up by the Black Spurr Inn.
The menu was absolutely superb – the kind of place where the chef sources the ingredients locally and takes great pride in every dish (the barramundi is a must if you go… Oh and so is the chocolate tarte with rhubarb sauce!). There’s a diverse range of traditional and non-traditional pub meals, and pretty much something for everyone.
After officially declaring we had the best nights sleep in possibly 5 years, we checked out of our cottage and strolled down the road to Fraga’s Café (you can’t miss it in the middle of town) for one of those long lazy weekend breakfast you remember from before you had kids!
Owner James, handed us a couple of menu’s and interestingly, a photo album of the café’s history. You guessed it, the spirit of the community and the ‘rebuild’ is pretty much front and centre.
As we dined on a scrumptious and traditional ‘home-cooked’ style breakfast of bacon and eggs we flipped through the pages of this beautifully put together album. Even though the fires were six years ago, the strength of this town has brought me to tears. There’s a closeness this community visibly has that I am not sure we have in the city.
“While the fires were six years ago, we cannot deny they happened. They are part of us now. We are forever bonded by the trauma we experienced. It’s an exceptional place to live and visit, we’re surrounded by such beauty” said James.
We walked off breakfast exploring the main town. It’s quite bizarre to see that pretty much every single building is brand-new, there’s even a large conference centre (the Vibe Hotel) that’s just been opened this week right in the middle of the main street.
But one thing that has been here the entire time are the Marysville Community Markets. Clint stocked up on an array of chutneys and chatted to the operators, some who have been coming here for over 20 years.
“Marysville is such a beautiful place. It always will be. The rejuvenation of nature is incredible’ said a fruit and vegetable grocer from Mansfield.
And if you ever need proof of the rejuvenation, you only have to take one of the many walks in the Marysville State Forest, like the Steavenson Falls Walk.
We took the scenic 3.4km return walk from the heart of town to the base of the falls for an awe-inspiring view of one of Victoria’s highest waterfalls, plummeting 84 metres. (You can also drive to a carpark and take an easy 700 metre walk straight to it.)
Marysville is a place alive with the sounds of life. While there are still traces of the fires etched in the blacked trees, they’re long overgrown with lush green forest. Standing by the falls, I can hear the water gush down the rocks, and the birds up in the trees. Walking across the road I see a peacock with its feathers on show.
On our journey back to Melbourne we both remark what a memorable, romantic weekend away we’ve had. One where we’ve been able to slow down, appreciate life, and enjoy this warm-hearted community shrouded in beauty. #goodforthesoul.
Places We Go was a guest of Marysville Tourism.