A century-old tobacco kiln, upcycled into a sleek showpiece of textured minimalism, makes a couple’s getaway with a difference. An hour’s drive south of Albury Airport or just under three hours from Melbourne in Victoria’s alpine north-east, Cortes Kiln delivers slow luxury in the bucolic setting of a heritage walnut farm on the banks of the Ovens River.
The High Country is attracting plenty of visitors for its sophisticated food and wine scene – not to mention its all-seasons stunning natural beauty – but you can be sure to escape the crowds at this bijou retreat in the historic town of Gapsted.
“There are a few horses around but not much else,” laughs Ronaldo “Ronnie” Cortes, who transformed a rundown kiln into a stylish one-bedroom retreat with the help of an architect friend and now lists the property on Airbnb. “It’s all about relaxing and decompressing, whether you’re inside or outside.”
You’ll certainly be laying your hat somewhere special. The building is believed to be one of only three kilns of its kind in Victoria, which Ronnie honoured by keeping the design deliberately minimal.
“I felt a lot of responsibility renovating such a historic property but it wound up being just what I imagined: a striking, unfussy building in an acre of grassy paddock surrounded by gorgeous old trees.”
“Cortes Kiln is very much a couple’s retreat – perfect for an intimate getaway for two – with a style inside that’s very Japanese and Scandinavian. It’s a captivating mix of old and new.
“I wanted subtle textures but the overall effect is serene and untroubled. We also brought in small personalised touches, like using walnut wood we milled from our farm for cabinets and a built-in chopping board on the kitchen benchtop.
“There are feng shui principles incorporated into the landscaped internal courtyard. It brings a beautiful sense of flow to the house and there’s a gorgeous bathtub to soak it all in... quite literally! We have a TV with all the subscriptions you could want but guests often tell me they prefer just to gaze out at the walnut trees and the occasional cow.”
“The Kiln is right across the road from my family’s walnut farm. I’m the third generation to live here in Gapsted – the road has our family name, which is a mark of all the old farming families around here.
“My grandfather established the farm in 1923 so we’re looking forward to a huge party to celebrate our century. I’m the farm manager and my mum is always working here as well. Our guests have the free run of the 3000-tree orchard, so if she sees you she’ll probably invite you over for a cup of tea. It’s pretty quiet around here and she loves a chat.
“I’m 37 now. I went away to the city to study but the country drew me back. The city is so hectic and when I drive back from Melbourne I feel the tension melt away as I get close to the high country.
“My family bought the kiln in the 1980s and I always had the idea to turn it into something really special. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted – a lot of it had been eaten by white ants and it was crumbling – but my best friend Kate Fitzgerald is an architect and I just said to her, ‘Go for it!’
“I have to credit her aesthetic for bringing in the Japanese and Scandinavian influences but I’m proud to say I helped build it. As a farmer I know my way around tools and I was here working every day for a full year. Now all the hard work we put into it is forgotten.
“I live on the other side of the property so I’m always available to guests, although the Kiln has been designed to be completely private. Sharing it is one of the reasons I became an Airbnb Host. I just love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they arrive for the first time. It makes me really proud of what I’ve achieved.”
Just for you
“We love to highlight the beautiful produce that’s grown all around us. So when people first walk into the Kiln, we have my neighbours’ freshly pressed olive oil and local Gapsted Wine waiting on the kitchen counter, as well as lemons, oranges, figs, plums and passionfruit straight from the garden, depending on the season. And a bowl full of fresh walnuts, of course, which you can open with my handcrafted 20-year-old Californian walnut cracker. It’s one of my pride and joys.”
Where to eat and drink
“Gapsted is a tiny little town in a beautiful valley. It’s just country: bushland, green grass and trees. I’m afraid to say we don’t have a pub [laughs], but we’re close enough to Beechworth and Myrtleford that you can easily get your fix of restaurants and cafés if that’s what you want.
“My vote for the best cup of coffee in the area is definitely Beechworth newcomer Tiny, which serves Sixpence Coffee beans roasted in nearby Bright, as well as a great little menu of jaffles. Only 10 minutes’ drive away in Myrtleford is the amazing Tú Vietnamese for lunch or Cafe Fez for some Moroccan treats. The valley also has some amazing wineries, including Sorrenberg, Giaconda, Eldorado Road and Billy Button.”
Things to do nearby
“A drive to the top of Mount Buffalo is a must. The national park is home to some epic walks and amazing lookouts over the valley and you can dip your toes into Ladies Bath Falls, a stunning waterfall that cascades into a crystal-clear pool. In winter, the mountain might even have a dusting of snow.
“If you want to explore closer to home, you can jump on the bikes or stroll through the walnut orchard – or if you’d like a guided tour, just sing out. Down on the banks of the river our huge private deck is a great spot to unwind and watch nature.
“You can jump in for a swim, take the kayaks or canoe out for a spin or maybe throw in one of our fishing lines to try and catch one of the elusive Murray cod. There’s a barbecue as well if you do catch that fish but you might want to bring some sausages as a back-up plan. If that all sounds too energetic, it’s also a great spot to just kick back in one of the deckchairs and read a book.”
The Instagram moment
“Having a soak in the white concrete bath in the Japanese-style courtyard garden definitely adds a bit of luxe to the stay. It’s planted with a tree fern and vines and I reckon it’s the most idyllic bathroom ever. It’s a photographer’s dream.”
Soundtrack for your stay
“I’m a fan of the lush, ethereal sounds of Bon Iver, Dope Lemon and Flight Facilities. For me, they definitely set the tone of feeling at home within the dreamy space.”
What guests say
“Each person experiences the Kiln in their own way. Some enjoy the peace and quiet; some enjoy the history of the location and the walnut farm or the nature that envelops you from every angle; while others are all about the architecture – and the bath. But the unifying factor is that everyone leaves remarking about the one-of-a-kind location. No-one leaves stressed or disappointed, that’s for sure.”