In a warm teepee, drinking beer brewed on the mountain and filling your belly with thick French fondue, it’s easy to forget you’re only a metre from ice and snow.
Until the howling wind whips up.
But that only makes the Alpine Nature Experience on Mount Hotham more enjoyable.
Jean-Francois Rupp grew up in the French Alps and wants to bring something different to Australia’s traditionally ski-focused mountain areas.
He gives guests snowshoes and guides them through the snow and trees out to a campfire under the stars in the crisp night air.
There they drink mulled wine around the flames before going into the teepee to learn how to make French fondue.
A warning – this is not for the lactose intolerant.
You will pour an entire bottle of wine into a pot covered in garlic, before dissolving wheels of thick cheese and soaking bread in the mixture.
As the French say: “C’est delicieux.”
The teepee is stocked with local wines and beers, including some from Blizzard brewery, which is located a couple of kilometres away at the end of a ski slope.
There’s more to do in Victoria’s High Country than just go skiing.
Mark Hubbard left the corporate world behind to start Blizzard Brewing, which uses melted snow to create a range of craft beers.
He’s built an inviting pub tucked away among the ski chalets, perfect for an afternoon of trying new beers.
Not too far away is the Cobungra Burger Bar, which has a warm fire and big burgers made for eating after a day in the snow.
Further along the mountain is Yama, the finest dining on the slopes.
The versatile chefs use Japanese influences to prepare an eclectic range of dishes – and they’re also happy to whip up something vegan.
It’s then time to head down the mountain and make a beeline for Beechworth.
This is Ned Kelly country and the beautifully preserved town still looks like it did when bushrangers were nicking horses.
Grab a tasty lunch at the Ox and Hound Bistro and then do a walking tour that explains the history of the Kelly Gang’s involvement with the gold rush town.
Then it’s time to relax.
The Spa Beechworth is tucked away in a beautiful old building on top of a hill, and it’s where you’ll find their “Bush Therapy”.
They make their own oils and creams, using plants from the Australian bush to draw you back to nature in a mud scrub and massage. It’s incredibly relaxing.
After that the Bridge Road Brewers is a true highlight.
Ben Kraus’ international-class craft beers aren’t just for beer drinkers – they’re a treat for people who thought they didn’t like beer.
Settle in with some top quality pub food and try every single beer. You’ll taste everything from coffee to fruit to chocolate to chestnuts.
Stay in nearby Stanley at the Planetrees Lodge, cosy but spacious accommodation among the forest.
Back up on the mountain check out the Moritz Apartments, large and comfortable, with parking out of the snow.
Also do some skiing.
Mount Hotham has excellent runs for a range of skiers.
If you’re a beginner go to Dinner Plain for a friendly and informative lesson on a gentle hill, or try Hotham 365 for an indoor practice session on a snow-like treadmill.
– The Robust Porter beer at Bridge Road Brewers. It tastes like a Melbourne coffee.
– The fondue at the Alpine Nature Experience. Thick, rich and authentic.
– The Gippsland lamb with Sichuan spices. And the Reed Remedy Gin.
– The Bladerunner Pale Ale at Blizzard Brewing. A fruity, smooth beer perfect for the snow.
– The Bush Therapy at the Spa Beechworth. Powerful natural smells and a relaxing massage.
– Ski lessons at Dinner Plain for beginners. If you’ve never been skiing before, this is the place to start.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism North East and Visit Victoria.