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

 

 

The Henry Jones Art Hotel

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

Occupying a prime position along Hobart’s blustery harbour, 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 heritage flourishes: raw sandstone walls alongside sleek opaque glass walls; exposed tin ceilings alongside silk bed covers and black leather furniture; hefty steal pylons competing with an extensive collection of artworks sourced from the neighbouring Tasmanian School of Art. The hotel’s obliging staff will happily walk you through it, or join the in-house tours each Friday evening which end with a glass of bubbly or two.

For an extra dash of drama, book the dramatic H. Jones Suite, the former owner’s office. Local legends say that before fruit picking season, Sir Henry would stand at the window and throw 300 tickets out to a crowd of thousands; whoever caught a ticket got a job.

25 Hunter Street, Hobart; +61 3 62107700; www.thehenryjones.com; double rooms from US$182

The Islington

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

The art alone is worth the visit: Walk through the front door and turn right for a Prussian Biedermeier couch, or left for Japanese lacquer antiques. The library hosts an 1840’s tapestry, said to be Australia’s oldest; the foyer has a Brett Whitely, a David Hockney and Picasso etching.

Five of the 11 guest rooms are housed in the original Regency-era house, all with Persian carpets, lavish silks and period details: one has a pressed tin ceiling; another has a century-old Austrian pear-wood bed. Accommodations in the new wing are more modern, with Huon Pine bed heads and shimmery glass tile bathrooms. The gardens are glorious, but in winter best observed from the soaring glass conservatory offering fabulous views across to Mount Wellington, big open fire and an honour bar stocked with local wines.

321 Davey Street, Hobart; +61 3 62202123; www.islingtonhotel.com; double rooms from US$280

The Priory Country Lodge

Work on the Tudor style Clifton Priory started 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 quarryman from Durham in England, was sent to Tasmania for seven years of hard labour after stealing a coal pick.

These days Bothwell is better known for its trout-filled lakes, Australia’s oldest golf course and the convict-built Clifton Priory which for generations served as Anglican Church and is now an elegant little inn.

It’s an unusual setting for such a sophisticated project: The farming community of Bothwell, known for its rough and tumble locals, can often seem like a ghost town until you happen across the pub. Just as incongruous is the genial manager-cum-chef Stuart Davis, who spins around in a city-slick Mercedes Benz convertible and whips up guest meals: baked trout, local cheese platters, and what could quite well be the island’s best Eggs Benedict.

Operating more like a private house, Priory guests get the run of both floors. Up a flight of Huon Pine stairs are four small but cosy attic rooms with plush beds and pastel fabrics (request the Peacock Suite for its big bathtub and study overlooking the town). Downstairs, the elegant reading room is apparently haunted, so close the door and cosy up in the smoking room stocked with Cuban cigars, or in summer, the specially-built barbeque room peering out over the countryside instead.

2 Wentworth Street, Bothwell; +61 3 62594012; www.thepriorycountrylodge.com; double rooms from US$326 half board

Quamby Estate

Local legends say that in 1828, a time when Tasmanian estates were restricted to 3600 acres, the enterprising wife of freed Irish political prisoner charmed the then governor into granting her as much land as she could ride around in a day. Stationing at intervals the fastest horses she could find, crafty Anne Dry galloped in relay to claim her 12,000-hectares prize.

Set amongst the rolling, poplar lined hills of Hagley, a small village outside of Launceston, Quamby Estate is the fruits of Mrs Dry’s riding skills. The grounds are now a fraction the size they were in the 1800’s but the lavish Anglo-Indian homestead has become one of the island’s finest places to stay. Inside, the only clue to the mansions storied past is the rack of servant bells hanging in the hallway: Sir Richard Dry, son of Anne, went onto become the first Tasmanian-born premier.

Guest rooms are individually designed with Tasmanian timber furniture and bed spreads. For now there are only ten rooms; the upstairs floor and various outbuildings- stables, a granary- are set to be converted into accommodation and a restaurant soon. For now, in-house guests indulge in home cooked dinners of local trout or lamb topped with a selection of wines from the nearby Tamar Valley, after which they retreat to the lounge or magnificent wide veranda with views stretching across to the Ben Lomond ranges.

1145 Westwood Road, Hagley; +61 3 63922211; www.quambyestate.com; double rooms from US$24g, including breakfast

Tarraleah

Flanked by ancient rainforests and wild rivers deep in the heart of the rugged Central Highlands, the township of Tarraleah was established in the 1930’s to house the engineers and workers of the island’s first hydro-electric scheme. Abandoned decades later, Tarraleah became a ghost town –until British-born entrepreneur Julian Homer brought was left of the town and set about transforming it into an interactive tourist experience. The old church is now a conference centre; the offices a pub; and 15 exceptionally restored candy- coloured art deco houses are self contained bungalows. But its the sumptuous nine-suite Lodge, once a chalet for visiting managers, which is the star attraction: think mohair throws, open fires, a 200 bottle whiskey collection and two cliff top hot-tubs. Better still are the hiking and fishing opportunities at your doorstep: the wilderness surrounding the lodge is home to a beguiling array of animals, including echidnas, wallaby and spotted quoll. For a tamer experience, you can spend time with the resident Highland cows who provided the inspiration for the house wines, Two Tails Pinot and Dizzy Blonde.

Wild River Way, Tarraleah; +61 3 62890111; www.tarraleah.com; double rooms in the scholars house from $80; Art Deco houses from $100, double occupancy; doubles from US$925 half board

This article was published in the November 2009 issue of DestinAsian Magazine.