Mid-afternoon and all is quiet at Exeter’s historic Vine Lodge – until we disturb a crackle of black cockatoos that screech in protest and take flight. It’s an unexpected burst of activity in this peaceful spot, tucked away down a tree-lined driveway, yet still an easy walk to Exeter General store.
Built in 1839 by Henry Badgery, whose father James was an Exeter pioneer, heritage-listed Vine Lodge is one of those getaway properties that immediately captivates, and you wish you’d booked a longer stay. Viewed from the outside, the buildings are an eclectic mix of architectural styles – the red brick main house is described as Colonial Georgian and has a contemporary glass and timber extension. It sits alongside the white painted outbuildings – once the stables and original kitchen – now refurbished and used as overflow accommodation.
‘Please, help yourself,’ caretaker Elina suggests, as she shows me around the grounds, pointing out well-laden citrus trees, the herb garden with thriving bushes of rosemary and lavender, and a vegetable patch – rhubarb pie anyone?
There is quite the welcoming party with an enthusiastic greeting from the resident chooks, and a pair of curious alpacas who wander up to the fence and peer at us.
The solar-heated pool is a popular feature with families, and long enough to knock out a few laps in the warmer months. An outdoor pizza oven and a regular barbeque (both on the verandah) are available for guests to use, with a range of options for outdoor relaxing, including Balinese-style daybeds and quaint garden benches on the lawn under the trees.
There’s so much to see in the grounds, it takes a moment to notice the views over the valley, breathtaking in all directions. Within hours, a lingering sunset commands centre stage, ending with a dramatic slash of dark red. The perfect backdrop for a pre-dinner glass of local wine.
Inside, the rooms are warmed with hydronic heating and a fireplace in the open plan living area is prepared with kindling – all guests need to do is strike a match. The kitchen is modern with stainless steel benchtops, plenty of cooking utensils, crockery and basic pantry items, plus a large communal island bench, perfect for congregating around. A long timber table just off the kitchen has room for half a dozen diners each side.
The living area connects to the tastefully restored original house via an internal walkway. Continue on past the laundry, the main bathroom and master bedroom, choose a book from the quality selection on the bookcase, and curl up in the more formal lounge room – also with a working fireplace. A faded strip of the home’s original wallpaper is protected by a panel of Perspex, a considerate keepsake of early Australian furnishing. Other preserved features include original timber floorboards, and pull cords rather than switches for the lights. Beneath the glass top of the coffee table is a collection of old curiosities related to the property, including a full-page newspaper ad (dated 7th April 1888), when the original Vine Lodge Estate was subdivided into 38 residential allotments and 18 farms.
From the lounge room, head upstairs to an attic bedroom (older kids will love this) with a spacious ensuite and a nifty window that transforms to a Juliet balcony with valley views. In all, the main house sleeps up to ten (five bedrooms, two with ensuite), and the outbuilding sleeps four (king bed plus singles) with a private bathroom.
Night time in this charming home is blissfully quiet, and if you can drag yourself out of the comfy bed, it’s well worth being up with the sun to see another spectacular Exeter sky. It’s hard to decide whether sunrise or sunset is more impressive. Vine Lodge, with its panoramic aspect, delivers box seats for both.