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FRV TRAVEL MAGAZINE
by Emma Westwood – September/October 2011
At the heart of the mineral springs region of central Victoria and a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the funky township of Daylesford has long been a healing escape for urban Australians seeking respite from the rat race. Its proliferation of organic produce stores, yoga retreats, ashrams and spas have attracted people like proverbial moths to a flame.
Given that creative types adore Daylesford, Monastiraki Guesthouse (translated from Greek as ‘Little Monastery’) is very much in keeping with the area, but hidden behind a residential façade with no signage or anything in particular to identify its ‘specialness’ from the neighbouring properties. This is as close as an international visitor gets to live the Daylesford life – as a local – and within a very Australian, 1920s Federation-style brick house.
Swing open the creaking iron gate and walk through the wooden front door with its art deco glasswork, and what is revealed is a space where imagined, modern and extinct worlds collide; as well as sensuality and religion, ethnicity and 1950s suburban Australia. It is within this beguiling ‘mess’ that an inspirational property challenges what we expect from accommodation.Monastiraki is a home, and one that pulsates with the personality of its owner, artist Tina Banitska.
Before regional tourism in Victoria really found its feet, Tina recognised possibility in Daylesford’s historic convent – originally built during the gold rush of the 1860s – that stood as a matriarch presiding over the town from Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens. With great foresight, she re-imagined the old building as The Convent Gallery in 1991 and, in doing so, created a major attraction for Daylesford that – along with extensive exhibition space for artists – offers a playfully named Bad Habits Café and Altar Bar, gift shop, functions area with chapel, penthouse accommodation, stunning grounds and the possibility of an experience of a paranormal kind if participating in one of their ghost tours.
For Tina, an affinity for sacred places runs in the blood – her great-grandfather having been a Greek Orthodox priest. Surrounding herself with religious iconography has always given her a sense of peace that meant she was immediately enamoured with The Convent. So when a house nearby came up for sale in late 2010 – coincidentally located at the geographical centre of five church spires – Tina did not hesitate to mould it as her home as seen through the eccentric eye that is exclusively her own.
“What is revealed is a space where imagined, modern and extinct worlds collide; as well as sensuality and religion, ethnicity and 1950s suburban Australia. ”
That was before Monastiraki was considered a business enterprise. Tina had hoped to use it as a refuge for both herself and her elderly father; however, these plans were unexpectedly railroaded. With the four-bedroom, two-bathroom property full to the brim with personal trinkets, original artwork and assembled in a way designed to make her personally happy, it was a brave step for Tina to open Monastiraki to the public. But that’s exactly what she has done.
“One of the objectives was to trigger the senses and intensify the experience of solitude, intimacy and personal space,” says Tina of her approach in transforming Monastiraki into a guesthouse. “Style is about conviction in your tastes; putting something mad on top of something stylish – celebrating eccentricity, finding inspiration and personality in the beauty of simple things.”
It is in the details that Monastiraki comes alive – things like an ornate, floor-standing metal birdcage with purple, feathered boudoir lamp as its captive; or 1950s flour bins built into the drawers of a fully-equipped retro kitchen; or a Van Cleef and Arpels lighted countertop sign that doubles as a lamp; or a section of 1920s pressed metal panelling in the bathroom salvaged from The Convent. A poke around the premises keeps revealing further oddities and delights.
Some of the rooms have been themed according to their ‘personality’ – the likes of the glamorous red-walled Shanghai Room, the Parisian-inspired Moulin Rouge Room and the lime green-walled, orange-shagged Cirque Du Soleil Room. While these unexpected colour statements should jar with the house’s art deco period-style appointments, (somehow) everything melds in its own kooky kind of synchronicity– and that includes throwing monastic arches, crosses and other monkish embellishments into the mix.
As an artist and lover of art, Tina has used Monastiraki as an expressionistic gallery, filling it with the work of her favourite artists, among them the audacious feminine forms of Yolanda Pilepich, the colourful characters and clowns of Vlado Kadnar, an angel constructed from tin by Ray Hearn, and a powerful black & white angel painting by Lee Anne Trewartha. Astute guests may also notice the work of a ‘well-regarded’ European artist making a surprise appearance here in Daylesford. The unsuspecting could actually find themselves sipping a glass of ‘Good Catholic Girl’ wine by the gas log-fire without realising this ‘presence’ in their midst, such is the subtlety of the piece in the context of the house.
With an Anglican church across the road, guests with a heightened sense of piety may wish to attend a service, but staying at Monastiraki is more likely to be a religious experience of a secular nature. Anyone of any theological persuasion – or lack thereof – is sure to feel at peace here. That’s the beauty of Monastiraki. Amen.
27 Camp Street
Phone +61 353 483 211