Four Pillars

There was no better way to cap off our rainy day out than a visit to Four Pillars Distillery, just a kilometre up the road from our accommodation.

1.Four Pillars Distillery

The gin distillery started in late 2013 when three farsighted Aussie blokes, Cameron, Matt and Stuart, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, offering their first batch of Rare Dry Gin as incentive. Two years later, they completed a purpose built distillery in a former timber yard in the heart of Healesville. We couldn’t wait to get inside.

2.Four Pillars distillery door

The first thing we noticed was the enticing tasting table, all set up and ready to go.

3.tasting table

The light, airy space was warm and welcoming

4.distillery door5.retail

with plenty on offer for something to take home.

6.retail

The name Four Pillars relates to the four building blocks that are the foundation of successful distilling; the magnificent copper stills, pure triple filtered Yarra Valley water, a mixture of ten local and exotic botanicals and finally, a hearty helping of love.

7.spices

We didn’t have long to wait to join in a tasting, opting to share the samples between the two of us when we discovered we would otherwise be consuming 2.5 standard drinks during the 45 minute session.

8.tasting table

We learned the history of the distillery, including the purchase of the custom built stills from CARL, the oldest distillery fabricator in Germany, producing only twenty five stills a year. They really are a work of art. The first still was named Wilma after Cameron’s late mother who, apparently, enjoyed her gin. She was joined by Jude (Stuart’s mum) and Eileen (Matt’s mum) and finally, Beth (first full time employee Scott’s mum). Our vision of the distilling room was limited but I’m sure any mother would be proud to have such beauty stand in her name.

11.distillery

The five gins we tasted each had their own unique characteristics and in the past two years, they have all won multiple gold medals at international competitions. In 2015, Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes were added to the tanks of Rare Dry Gin, stirred daily for eight weeks, then pressed before blending with more Rare Dry Gin. A brilliant concept and very drinkable drop, three bottles of 2019 Bloody Shiraz Gin came home with us.

12.Bloody Shiraz Gin

Cinque Terre

An overcast sky accompanied us on the morning of our Cinque Terre boat trip, with storms predicted for late afternoon. We passed Scoglio Ferale, the white cross on top is in memory of Luigi Garavaglio, a navy topographer who died when he fell from the rock while working in 1911.

1.Scoglio Ferale

The cliffs of Porto Venere and Palmaria Island faded in the sea mist as we moved further along the coast.

2.Scoglio Ferale

Farmhouses clung impossibly to cliffs

3.cliffside homes

threatening to crumble with the next deluge.

4.landslides

The first port of call was the village of Riomaggiore, we would come back here for aperitivo on the return journey (that’s another post).

5.Riomaggiore6.Riomaggiore

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are connected by a hiking trail, the 1km stretch between Riomaggiore and Manarola is known as Via dell’Amore or Lovers’ Lane. It dates back to the early 20th century when the railway was under construction and apparently was a place for lovers from the two villages to meet for romantic trysts. Unfortunately, this section has been closed since September 2012 when four women were injured in a rockslide and isn’t set to reopen until 2023.

7.Via dell'Amore

The stone walls and buildings of Manarola are fortress like, designed to deter pirates in ancient times.

8.Manarola

We had decided not to visit Manarola as time is limited on a one day cruise. Instead, we admired the village from the boat along with the stunning ‘zebra’ rocks as we left the harbour.

9.Manarola10.zebra rocks

It wasn’t long before another group of houses appeared in the distance.

11.Corniglia

Corniglia, the middle village of the Cinque Terre, is the only one without a port. Reliant on farming rather than fishing, the terraced hillsides certainly look challenging. Not to mention the 370 steps to the sea.

12.Corniglia13.Corniglia14.Corniglia

The residents of the next village, Vernazza, are no strangers to farming on the steep slopes, either.

15.Vernazza

It was time to replenish with coffee and cake, a perfect reason to explore this village….

Mount Gnomon Farm

We had been wanting to visit Mount Gnomon Farm for years but the timing was always wrong. Finally, last Sunday we drove the short ten minutes from Penguin along winding roads, through beautiful countryside, to experience the recently re-opened restaurant. The rustic simplicity of the exterior

1.restaurant

continues once inside.

2.interior

From quirky door handles and unique light fittings

to walls adorned with animal hides and ‘family’ photos, the ambience is warm and inviting.

A colourful palette of wildflowers is framed by the dining room window.

8.view from dining room

The front verandah overlooks fields of grazing sheep,

9.view from front door

a charcoal spit and bespoke fire pits await the next big event.

10.spit

Resident pooches Cyril and Winston eagerly welcomed us, happy to accept attention without demanding it.

Agricultural scientist, Guy Robertson purchased this magnificent parcel of land ten years ago, principally to raise free range pigs and promote the end product of premium free range pork. Nestled against the forest reserve of the Dial Range, they certainly have no problem with neighbours.

19.Dial Range20.Wild garden & Dial Range

The estate has become much more than a pig farm but I’ll get to that after lunch. Unfortunately for Guy, but fortuitously for us, last minute cancellations meant the three of us were the only guests. Perusing the menu, it was difficult to make a choice, we wanted to try everything. With a little encouragement from Guy and his team, that’s exactly what we did. French chef, Madjid, specialises in charcuterie and so, at the top of the menu, we started with the impressive French Charcuterie shared plate. Ham hock terrine, wallaby terrine, pepperberry cured pork fillet, saucisson sec, saucisson a l’ail, smoked ham, apple puree, garden pickles and sourdough bread.

21.French Charcuterie shared plate

Mount Gnomon smoked chorizo with pumpkin puree & sage, Mount Gnomon smoked bratwurst with house sauerkraut & German mustard and a salad of borlotti beans, celery, fennel & orange followed.

24.salad

The roasted suckling pig leg with sausage stuffing, carrots, garlic crumb & jus convinced us of the superior quality and flavour of Mount Gnomon free range pork.

25.suckling pig

Next came free range chicken served with spinach, roasted pumpkin, burnt butter, lemon & toasted pine nuts.

26.free range chicken

Crispy Kennebec potato with smoked paprika mayo and local green vegetables with a herb dressing, Coal River Farm fetta, preserved lemon & mint completed the feast. (I missed a photo of the greens, trust me, they were incredible).

27.potatoes

I should point out, these dishes were shared between us, we hadn’t really succumbed to an attack of gluttony. The menu changes every week depending on the fresh farm produce available, what a great excuse to return and sample more. Local beers and ciders are also on offer, along with superb Ghost Rock wines. We were confident we could manage the one dessert on the menu with a pause for digestion and so, embarked on a Guy guided tour of the farm. A new lamb had joined the flock of Shropshire sheep that morning, I’m sure he grew more cute each time I looked at him (actually, not sure if he is a he).

The other lambs had a head start and for some, the grass was definitely greener the other side of the fence.

Across the paddock to the west, the traditional Dairy Shorthorn cattle enjoy far reaching views as well as luscious green pasture.

34.views to the west

To the north, the young apple trees of the cider orchard align with the pristine waters of Bass Strait.

37.view to the north

A wild edible garden

38.wild garden

occupies the space between the restaurant kitchen and the most spectacular raised vegetable garden I have ever seen.

39.vegetable patch

My hopes of cuddling a piglet were dashed when we learned the hundreds of Wessex Saddleback pigs that usually reside here had been relocated to enable regeneration of the pastures.

40.pig pastures

I’m sure they will be eager to return to their home beneath Mount Gnomon.

41.pig pastures

For the few that remain, the rich, red soil was irresistible for a spot of wallowing.

I imagine this would be a soothing respite

47.pig in mud48.pig in mud

from suckling twelve large offspring.

49.piggies

Back at the restaurant, I entered the inner sanctum to witness the cured meats awaiting their turn on the charcuterie board.

50.charcuterie

The exercise and fresh air had primed us for the delicious peanut butter chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis & crunchy topping.

51.mousse

If you can’t make it to Mount Gnomon Farm, you can find their products on menus around Australia as well as at farmers markets and festivals across Tasmania. If you can make it to the farm, next Sunday would be the perfect opportunity with a big day planned for the launch of Mount Gnomon Farms very own cider.

52.event

Bruno’s Art & Sculpture Garden

Leaving Steavenson Falls, we had hoped the rain would abate for our visit to Bruno’s Art & Sculpture Garden in Marysville. It didn’t. As we pulled into the car park, the gallery was obviously closed but we discovered an honesty box for the $10 entrance fee to the garden. Grab your umbrella and come for a walk while I tell you more.

1.DSCN6253

Bruno Torfs was born in South America and moved to Europe with the family in his teens. After training as a sign writer, his talents evolved through many trips to foreign lands and he made the transition to a full time artist. Oil paintings and sculptures, reflecting scenes and faces of his journeys, were sold in exhibitions at the family home.

12.DSCN6261

Bruno and his family moved to Australia and in 1996, found the perfect setting to create a permanent sculpture garden in the sub-alpine forests of Marysville. Hand crafted from clay and fired in a kiln onsite, there are now around a hundred and twenty pieces on display.

33.DSCN6288

The path diverges in all directions through the forest and everywhere you look, there is another character waiting to delight.

On 7th February 2009, the bushfires of ‘Black Saturday’ raged through Marysville, claiming lives and decimating the township. Bruno’s home, gallery and gardens were completely destroyed. For two months, no-one was allowed in the town and when Bruno finally returned, he set about rebuilding his home and restoring his garden.

There are pictures on the website taken the day Bruno returned after the fires. Next to this installation, there is a heartbreaking photo of Bruno carrying all that remained of The Lady of Shallot from the stream.

67.DSCN6325

Some figures emerge from the remnants of the woods, melding nature’s work with man’s.

Bruno’s courage and dedication has resulted in a wondrous fantasy land, an opportunity to escape for a while in a surreal environment.

As we left, the remains of Bruno’s 1960 BMW R27 motorbike jolted us back to reality with a reminder of the devastation wrought by the fires of Black Saturday.

96.DSCN6358

Porto Venere

We had an early start for our day trip to Cinque Terre, catching the bus from Le Grazie for the 3km trip to Porto Venere. The winding, narrow road made for an interesting ride, one of the reasons we opted to leave the car behind. We alighted at the Grand Hotel, a majestic building from the 1600s that has seen many incarnations since. The original monastery became the Hospital of the Marine Military in the 1800s and then the headquarters of the Municipality of Porto Venere. A hotel was established in 1975 but closed in the 2000s before being refurbished and re-opened in 2014 as the luxury boutique hotel it is today.

1.Grand Hotel

The tall, narrow houses seemed to defy gravity, as though they were being pushed toward the water by the cliffs behind.

2.Porto Venere

We followed the road along the harbour to the headland, spying a perfect spot for breakfast. Unfortunately, Le Bocche was closed and thoughts of food would have to wait.

3.end of the road, Porto Venere

Climbing the steps to investigate the church at the top of the cliff

4.Chiesa di San Pietro

we found much more to explore. Part of the ancient stone fortifications are still standing,

5.old stone wall

a plaque above a doorway announced Byron’s Grotto through which steep stone steps led to the bay below.

6.steps to Byron's Grotto

English poet, Lord Byron, would swim in these waters and even crossed the bay to visit his friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who lived in Lerici. Hence, the stretch of water is known as Golfo dei Poeti, the Gulf of Poets. The legendary swim is commemorated each year with the Byron Cup swimming race across the 7.5km from Porto Venere to San Terenzo. We were content to remain on dry land and savour the spectacular scenery.

7.Byron's Grotto

High above the sea caves, the remains of Doria Castle dominate the ridge. Built by the Genoese in 1161 for the wealthy Doria family, the military stronghold has undergone major restoration and is now open to the public.

8.Doria Castle

On the opposite side of the cove, the remains of an ancient defensive post balance on a tumble of rocks

9.ancient defensive post

and the views across the gulf are mesmerising.

10.Gulf of Poets

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Just beyond the steps to the grotto, the serene figure of a rather buxom lady sits gazing out to sea. The bronze sculpture, Mater Naturae, is the work of Lello Scorzelli but there is no indication as to how long she has sat here. Her thoughts are summed up beautifully in a wonderful piece of prose, The custodian of Portovenere by Francesca Lavezzoli.

We spied the octagonal domes of the 11th century Chiesa di San Lorenzo, in the centre of the village, arising from the terraced hillside

16.Chiesa di San Lorenzo

before we retraced our steps to explore Chiesa di San Pietro.

17.Chiesa di San Pietro

Dating back to ancient Roman times, the town was called Portus Veneris and a pagan temple, dedicated to the goddess Venus, occupied this site. An early Christian basilica replaced the temple in the 5th century and was consecrated in 1198. The black and white bands were added in the 13th century by the Genoese, though the belltower retains the original stonework.

18.Chiesa di San Pietro

Sculptor Lello Scorzelli created the magnificent bronze portals depicting the handing over of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven by Jesus to St. Peter.

When the doors are closed Jesus, dressed in the robes of a poor man, offers the keys to Peter who reaches up to accept them

21.St. Peter

while intricate figures representing the apostles bear witness to the ceremony.

Morning light streamed into the central apse, the striking vaulted ceiling seemed impossibly supported by black and white marble.

25.central apse with altar

A small pipe organ fills an alcove and a statue of St. Peter resides in an adjacent niche.

We savoured yet more spectacular coastal views from the sheltered loggia

28.loggia, Chiesa di San Pietro

before returning to the town in search of breakfast. Via Giovanni Capellini is the main shopping thoroughfare, stone steps connecting it to the harbour.

31.steps to Via Giovanni Capellini

The street was quiet at this hour, shops were just opening

and thoughts of food amplified in our heads.

Replenished with coffee and pastries, we made our way to the harbour to meet up with friends, Deb & Jim, to board the boat for Cinque Terre.

37.Porto Venere harbour38.Porto Venere harbour

As we rounded the promontory, we could appreciate a different perspective of Chiesa di San Pietro and Doria Castle clinging precariously to their rocky foundations.

41.Chiesa di San Pietro42.Doria Castle