Smoko, a tiny hamlet in the Ovens Valley, has always intrigued me.
Not only is it a picturesque spot with views to the snow-covered mountains, its history has always captured my imagination.
We used to go fishing occasionally with family and friends when we were young and one day we met an old drover who told us how the area got its name.
Back in the days when miners flocked to find their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they stopped in the area for a break, lit up a rolly (home-made cigarette) and made some billy tea.
We were always fascinated by the image of these gold miners all lighting up in unison and drinking their brewed tea.
These days, Smoko is just as pretty, no matter what the season.
Winter, summer, spring and autumn, it’s a picturesque spot, which plenty to offer those looking for a short break.
Home for several nights is a beautiful property, The House at Smoko, where the Ovens River flows gently on its boundary.
We don’t need any excuses to relive our childhood and head to the river to see who can catch what.
Suddenly competition is keen as we vie for the honours.
There’s even a touch of “fish envy” going on as I hook my first trout for the morning, while fellow anglers look on in amazement.
I admit I used to think fishing was about as exciting as watching paint dry but I have suddenly had a change of heart.
The size of my fish, however, calls for a “Rex Hunt revival kiss” and I toss it back and re-bait — with no further luck.
After a riverside picnic of local goodies purchased in the nearby tourist town of Bright, we head back to the house that lies in the shadows of majestic Mount Feathertop.
From the moment we pull into the driveway we are impressed with our self-contained accommodation, set on 11 hectares of grazing land, located between Bright and Harrietville.
The seductive retreat is nestled among a magnificent garden, with chestnut trees, red geraniums, colourful flower beds and towering Dutch elms and English oak trees — perfect for games of hide and seek.
Built from local stone, recycled timber and galvanised iron you can spot the design influences — the architecture reflects the shape of tobacco drying kilns and high country mountain cattlemen’s huts.
The house has a great history; it was built by Anthony Foubister and Lou Pullar who lived at Beechworth and drove past and saw a wild elm grove and lots of blackberries. Over the years they built a small hut in the style of high country cattlemen’s huts, then expanded while always retaining a philosophy that it should be sympathetic to its surrounds.
Richard and Amanda Morell purchased the property, made some alterations and redecorated, leaving their stamp on it.
Amanda, the daughter of Border family John and Anna Atkins, grew up in the North East and Richard spent lots of holidays at his grandparent’s property at Echuca.
They fell in love with the property and renamed it The House At Smoko.
“We always loved the name Smoko when we’d drive through the valley on our way up to Mount Hotham and the house itself was so striking that we felt it all blends perfectly,” Richard says.
The three-bedroom, three-bathroom house, is all cosy chic with plenty of spacious light-filled rooms.
The well-equipped galley kitchen has red gum benches that contrast with the blonde hues of the Baltic pine timber floors.
It is stocked with pantry staples and extras such as T2 Teas and a coffee machine with pods.
There’s a welcome gift of Fair Trading chocolate and a note inviting guests to pick ripe vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden.
The open plan extends to a vibrant living room with both a split system for instant heat and an open fire place with plenty of wood and kindling stacked nearby.
The room features a bright citrus coloured two-seater sofa, a large four-seater grey couch that is hard to leave and a leather chair — all perfect for lounging back to watch a movie, television or listen to music.
The adjoining dining room is fashioned on the lines of a kiln house and features a stunning picture window, complete with a day bed, where you can gaze up at Mount Feathertop.
The heated polished concrete floor provides extra warmth and a circular bookcase suspended from the ceiling and stacked with interesting magazines is a talking point.
Taking pride of place is an eclectic dining table, once owned by an artist and splattered with paint blobs and splotches you can’t help touching. An antique rug is the finishing touch.
The master bedroom with a king bed has views to the garden, a spacious dressing room, large ensuite with bath, walk-in shower and organic bathroom products that can be purchased locally. There’s also a daybed which is perfect for curling up with a book.
The second bedroom has a double bed, ensuite and scenic views while the third bedroom has two king single beds, snuggly throws and there’s a separate bathroom next door.
A wood-fired heater in the hallway ensures all is warm and cosy and there’s a small study where you can escape to.
As well as a concealed laundry, a drying cabinet is ideal for wet ski gear.
For lunch we fire up the barbecue on the timber deck and sit in the winter sun around the stone fireplace. It’s a little like sitting around a camp fire, where many a good fishing story is told and retold again as the sun sinks.
It’s a place where time seems to stand still.
No matter how short the stay you can’t help but slow down, curl up, relax and sit among the towering trees or gaze up at Mount Feathertop and the peaceful rural vistas.
But there’s also plenty to do if action is required. You can hit the slopes at Mount Hotham, 30minutes away, or Falls Creek, a one-hour drive.
Head into Bright and enjoy lunch at Ginger Bakers or dinner at Simone’s excellent Italian restaurant.
Beer lovers should schedule a stop at the Bright Brewery which has won many accolades
Nearby Harrietville is also well worth a visit.
After our morning’s efforts we banish thoughts of catching our own fish for dinner and head to the town’s Snowline Hotel.
Following a delicious regional tasting plate, we try the local trout with preserved lemon, pesto and barley salad, which goes well with a local drop.
Another popular spot in town is Morries Icecreamery and Cafe for great ice cream and waffles or a tasty snack.
Harrietville is a lively town and attracts plenty of hikers in summer with the world-renowned Mt Feathertop and Bon Accord walking tracks departing from nearby. It’s just as busy in winter with skiers stopping en route to the mountains.
Back in The House at Smoko we toast childhood memories, as the fire roars and the temperatures plummet outside.
No one is in a hurry to leave.
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