Travel: Sleeping with the Classics

  • Brenda Fine

My husband and I had done our travel homework, so we were prepared for the grandeur of Tasmania’s big-sky landscape, the vast scope of its wilderness setting, the stunning mountains and beaches protected within national parks, and the green of vineyards sweeping down to scenic rivers. But no travel guide could have prepared us for Moorilla Estate, a boutique winery that offers five-star accommodations and a world-class antiquities museum.

Since the first vines were planted in the 1950s, Moorilla (an Aboriginal word for “a rock by the water”) has flourished to become Tasmania’s leading small vineyard, consistently producing award-winning pinot noirs, merlots, cabernet sauvignons, and gewurztraminers. The property features a cellar door (Tassie-speak for a tasting and retail shop) and a charming indoor-outdoor restaurant serving a lunch cuisine noteworthy enough to lure foodies from nearby Hobart.

While this may sound fairly predictable—nothing very different from a wine-country success story anywhere in the world—the ho-hum begins to percolate the minute you spot the quartet of steel-framed chalets cantilevered on cliffs over the Derwent River. Inside, you have a sense of floating in air. The wall of glass that frames the river view in the living room continues into the granite loo-with-a-view, which has heated floors and a spa tub-for-two.

What captivated us the most, however, was the chalet’s decor. While touring our new digs, we spotted a curiously authentic-looking mosaic hanging rather casually on the wall. It was indeed real: an ancient Syrian stone mosaic design of a tiger attacking a gazelle, created sometime between ad 300 and 600 and discovered in a Roman villa. Now it hangs—without protective covering or armed guard—on the wall of a Tasmanian chalet.

Closer inspection revealed other artistic marvels scattered about the rooms. A shadowbox in the hallway showcases a shiny wealth of ancient Roman gold coins. And the stubby stone object on the granite countertop is actually a pre-Columbian metate, a tool used for grinding maize and for religious worship.

These priceless pieces are on loan from Moorilla’s own museum, which happens to have one of the world’s finest private collections of antiq-uities. It is housed amid the nearby fields of grapevines in a Mediterranean-style villa designed in 1955 by Sir Roy Grounds for winery founder and art collector Claudio Alcorso, who lived there for years. In 1999 the house was converted into a museum to display some of his extensive collection of antiquities.

We wandered through the museum, marveling at such gems as a circa 600 bc Egyp-tian sarcophagus, a circa ad 1000 Costa Rican gold pendant depicting two dogs fighting over a bone, a beaded handbag from 19th-century West Africa, a Babylonian terra-cotta barrel from 2000 bc, and an entire room glittering with gold coins from all over the ancient world.

Our discovery of Moorilla—its wine, its restaurant, its accommodations, and especially its treasure trove of antiques and artifacts—was extraordinary, even in this land where extraordinary is the norm.

Moorilla Estate, +03.6277.9900, www.moorilla.com.au

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