As a longtime city dweller (first London and now Melbourne) the offer of an escape to greener pastures is never one I’ll pass up – especially when it means staying at a property as beautiful as The Church House.
In a drive that takes just under three hours, my husband and I wind our way through the small towns of Korumburra and Leongatha towards Fish Creek and in the direction of Wilsons Prom, which can be reached in just 20 minutes from The Church House.
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After scaling the steep drive in our struggling hire car, we feel worlds away from the busy streets of Melbourne. Stunning views of rolling green hills greet us – alongside a warm welcome from resident pooch Sidney! In exchange for a few pats, our new-found furry friend leads us towards the door and into one of the most stunningly unique interiors.
The Church House’s communal dining and living area
I had read a little about The Church House prior to my visit and it has a fascinating history. When owners Mary and Peter heard that St Georges Anglican Church in Royal Park Melbourne (originally built in 1876) was facing demolition, they purchased the structural remains, dismantled it and had the parts delivered to their newly acquired land in Fish Creek.
Timber flooring, trusses – and even a pulpit – have been reused to create a space with sweeping high ceilings and antique touches so unique it even featured on Grand Designs Australia.
We’re met by Peter, who tells us more about this one-of-a-kind boutique B&B over coffee.
Making friends with Sidney the dog
He explains that he and Mary originally built The Church House in 2010 with their six kids and ever-growing number of grandchildren in mind. But with the kids all grown up, and some living as far away as Singapore, they found themselves with a great deal of space that was much too beautiful to keep to themselves.
Converting the rooms into ones fit for guests was no mean feat, with several regulations needing to be met. But Peter, a retired engineer, and Mary, who ran an interior design company, make a dream team and pulled it all off with aplomb, welcoming their first guests in 2017.
Their impressive teamwork continues, with Peter proudly telling us that he tends to the grocery shopping, maintenance of the vegetables, orchard and vineyard and – most importantly – the croissants, which he makes fresh every morning. Meanwhile Mary takes care of interior design touches, cooking/food presentation and most of the bookings and office admin.
The Venetian Suite
Our room for the night is The Venetian Suite, a meticulously decorated space with antiques picked up during visits to Europe. A retro red Murano vase sits atop our wooden dressing table, Venetian art adorns the walls and the feature wall behind our bed boasts a delicate design of flowers and birds.
The bathroom is modern, with a minimalist white sink and rainfall shower that beats our water pressure at home by a long shot. There’s an array of amenities on offer, including premium shampoo and conditioner, vanity kits, facial wipes and even body butter.
In a further testament to how much the little touches matter, a wooden Twinings tea box is packed with flavours including vanilla Chai and lemon and ginger (and the humble breakfast tea of course) and there’s a box with freshly baked brownies. Guests can help themselves to drinks from the complimentary mini bar, stocked with red and white wine, beer, soft drinks and water.
The table is set for dinner
We join Mary and Peter for canapés and a drink before dinner, something they encourage all their guests to do.
“We like people,” they smile. “Most of our guests are very well travelled and also enjoy good conversation and the company of others.”
Dinner is a communal affair (although a private dinner is available on request) and we are joined by our friendly neighbours, a couple from The Netherlands. We drink Shiraz and talk as Mary and Peter serve up delicious home-cooked dishes – all made with ingredients from their very own garden.
A starter of homemade pasta layered with zucchini, tomatoes and cheese is followed by a pepper steak with a ratatouille of fresh vegetables. Dessert is a delight: a pear from the garden, poached in red wine and served with Peter’s homemade ice cream, made with red wine reduction.
Dinner is served
We leave the dinner table satisfied and smiling after a lovely evening of food, wine and conversation. We can hardly believe it when we realise it’s already 11pm!
We wake to the sun shining through our patio doors, which lead out into a lovely private sitting area and access to the shared garden and hot tub. Amazingly, we are hungry again and can’t wait to get stuck into breakfast, which is served on the East Veranda, overlooking the lush green grounds and the distant, undulating hills of Wilsons Prom.
It’s such lovely, personal service from Peter and Mary; last night they’d sat with us for dessert and, as we left to go to bed, had asked what time we wanted breakfast. They’re even happy to accommodate guests wanting to take their breakfast at different times and make sure to have tea or coffee waiting when you emerge from your room.
Peter brings us lattes and his homemade croissants as we enjoy the view. I’d read about his famed pastries in The Church House’s many excellent reviews and I can confirm they are buttery, flaky perfection, served with homegrown, homemade strawberry and fig jam.
Breakfast with a view
Alongside yoghurt, fruit and cereals, Mary is on hand to offer cooked options. I ask for scrambled eggs, laid by the property’s very own chickens.
I long for a relaxing soak in the hot tub or a lazy morning reading on our patio, but we are keen to squeeze in some Wilsons Prom exploration before our drive back to Melbourne.
As we pass the camper vans of fellow hikers, feeling pretty smug about our own night in a comfortable king bed, I reflect on the lovely communal dinner of the night before.
As we’d talked to our fellow guests and hosts, I’d been constantly amazed at how much we – all from different parts of the world – had in common; from the places we had worked to the countries we had travelled to. It leaves me wondering how often our isolated, fast-paced lifestyles stop us from connecting with others in this way – and how special this experience Mary and Peter have created is.
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