Port Fairy is a quaint little coastal town with a great beach and an annual folk festival that is so popular, you need to enter a ballot just to get in. It’s like the Fat Duck Restaurant of regional music festivals... But even if you head to Port Fairy outside of festival time, there’s still plenty to delight your senses and divert your soul.
Better yet, getting there involves a drive along the Great Ocean Road, where beauty unfolds at every bend and the scenery is quintessentially Australian. You’ll pass limestone and sandstone cliffs, windswept beaches, ancient rainforest and lush rolling hills, as well as plenty of cute towns where you can stop off for top-notch coffee, farm-fresh fare and cheese factory tours.
Without further ado, here are six reasons why Port Fairy needs to be your next getaway.
1. From Lighthouses To Nature Reserves, It's Seriously Picturesque
From its fascinating maritime history to its well-preserved streetscapes lined with heritage bluestone and sandstone buildings, there’s so much that makes Port Fairy one of Victoria’s best getaway destinations. If you're planning on keeping things coastal, check out the colourful fishing boats along the wharf, or explore Griffith’s Island by following the Moyne River to the 1859-built bluestone lighthouse. Alternatively, head inland and you'll find the jaw-droppingly beautiful Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, where you'll find koalas, kangaroos, emus and all kinds of creatures amongst the volcanic rock and plantlife.
2. You Can Stay In Unbelievably Epic Accommodation
Every now and again, you experience something that can only be described as epic. Staying at Drift House is one such experience. It is a luxury B&B like no other we have ever seen, and offers four incredibly different but equally dazzling apartment-style suites.
Owners John Watkinson and Colleen Guiney hired Melbourne-based architect and design studio Multiplicity to transform what was once a ruined two-storey Victorian building into an architectural masterpiece that beat several big-name luxury hotels to win Best Luxury Accommodation at the 2014 RACV Victorian Tourism Awards. The best part about Drift House is that it’s quirky and full of character—and the impeccable attention to detail extends to the breakfast hampers, the well-stocked ‘maxi-bar’ and the toiletries from Grown Alchemist. There’s even an outdoor pool, bikes for guests, and a welcome gift of yo-yo biscuits.
3. You'll Find A Gelato Lover's Dream
Move over, Messina, because Poco Artisan Ice Cream is scooping some seriously decadent flavor combos that are silky smooth and melt in your mouth! From salted chocolate and almond to cardamom and pistachio, this quaint gelateria is all an absolute road-trip essential for all you sweet toothed readers out there.
4. There’s A Next-Level Foodie Café
Bank St + Co has only been open a few months, but it already bears all the hallmarks of a hit café: moose art on the walls, a sunny outback courtyard, elaborate terrarium gardens and an all-day brunch menu.
Baristas at the espresso bar pour top-notch coffee from Toby’s Estate, and the gravlax ocean trout with beetroot relish and Persian feta is outstandingly pretty, rivalled only by the brûlée bowl with poached fruit, caramelized bananas and crème anglaise for Instagram appeal. For lunch, you can’t go past the pulled pork burger with apple slaw and wasabi mayo. Rustic-looking scones and dainty little tarts provide quick takeaway options, and the locally-made terrariums can be purchased for a steal.
5. …And Plenty Of Boutique Shopping
It’s practically a rule that when you visit a small town, you have to spend a few hours dipping in and out of every shop at a leisurely pace—and Port Fairy doesn’t disappoint with what’s on offer. Francis&Francis is a fantastic destination for stylish homewares and boutique fashion – you’ll find designs from Elk, Birdie Cashmere and Ella Sanders as well as Palas and Polli jewelry.
In the spirit of ‘living and giving’, Jan Francis leased the previously unoccupied upper level of the shop to her daughter, who founded Frankie Upstairs. That means there are two carefully curated collections of homewares and fashion for style-hunters to coo over within one shop.
Other shops in the area that are well worth checking out include b.e.a.c.h.e.s, which has some of the loveliest boots and woolen knitwear we’ve ever seen, and Luone Jewellery for all your bling needs. And, if you're hankering after a rummage through a market, the Port Fairy Community Market takes place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, with the Farmers Market serving up local produce on the third Saturday of the month, at Railway Place.
6. You Can Try Degustation Dishes You’ve Never Dreamed Of
Formerly known as The Stag, Fen is a twice-hatted restaurant that uses native and coastal ingredients to create innovative dishes with a strong sense of place. Housed within a 19th-century bluestone building, it’s a light, airy space fitted with blonde wood chairs and tables.
The menu sings with indigenous produce: think muntries, quandongs and bunya nuts. Don’t know what a muntry is? That’s okay – Fen has five and nine-course degustation menus which serve as a sensory introduction to the region’s native and seasonal cuisine. Chef Ryan Sessions might start you off with a dish of crayfish with samphire in seaweed broth then introduce you to his signature dish of abalone, which has an umami richness cleverly harnessed by earthy slices of shiitake mushrooms and a buttery mass of caramelized onions.
7. There’s Heaps of Culture!
If you’re in need of your culture fix, Port Fairy’s art trail is a fantastic way to walk off that gelato and check out some local talent, including painters, sculptors and jewelers. The trail itself (download the handy map) meanders through the town centre, leading you along sidestreets to find some of the most well-curated galleries in Victoria.
So, you're all about consuming culture with your ears instead of your eyes? Hop in the car and hot-foot it down to Port Fairy from 7–9 October, when the Spring Music Festival is set to take place, or plan a trip for 2017 when the next annual Port Fairy Folk Festival is up and running. If you're looking to lock in a few gigs at the former, check out the full line-up and pre-book your tickets here.
Melbourne’s an incredible city, but sometimes we all need to get out of town for a weekend. The Urban List has partnered with Visit Victoria to bring you our Get Out Of Town! series — the ultimate guide to Victoria’s regional gems. For more ideas about where to wander in Port Fairy, click here.
Image credit: Michelle Jarni for The Urban List, except Port Fairy Harbour and Lighthouse by Tourism Victoria