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Port Fairy: why the world’s best small town needs to remain a secret

While the western Victorian town basks in plaudits, one former resident prefers the days when the town was a hidden gem

Port Fairy at sunset.
Port Fairy at sunset. Photograph: Karen/flickr

In 2000 I moved to such a town (pop 3,094) on the west coast of Victoria. With my brother and a friend we rented a bluestone double-storey National Trust property in the centre of town for $30 a week each. In our street were some of the best restaurants in Victoria, excellent coffee and boutiques stocking pricey independent designers.

If I ran out of spices when I was cooking, the restaurants downstairs would hand me bags of freshly cut herbs from their gardens – gratis.

Friends lived a short stroll away, and we would meet for freshly caught oysters and locally made wine.

The sunsets were magnificent, the birdlife unusual, the air had a kind of sparkly, fresh quality that one usually associates with alpine regions, but instead it was infused with a heady brininess from the nearby Southern Ocean.

It was, and still is, the most perfect place in Australia: Port Fairy.

Yachts on the Moyne River in Port Fairy.

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Yachts on the Moyne river in Port Fairy. Photograph: Ed Dunens/flickr

Sadly the world has caught on.

In 2012, Port Fairy was voted the world’s most liveable small community (towns with a population of under 20,000) in the UN-recognised LivCom award. The mayor of Port Fairy flew to Abu Dhabi to accept the prize.

Bemused residents of the town, four hours south-west of Melbourne, posed for a photo for the front page of the local Moyne Gazette and the results were reported in the Age.

And now the word of Port Fairy’s charms have spread even further. Across Fairfax websites on Wednesday was the headline, “Aussie small town the world’s most liveable.”

The article described how the “small seaside town has been building a big reputation over the years as one of the country’s premier festival venues, does have a gorgeous seaside setting, has plenty of heritage sites, is full of wonderful cafes with a two-hatted restaurant to boot, boasts a wide variety of boutique-style shops and has myriad natural attractions”.

It seems that the only drawback to Port Fairy, according to Fairfax, is its low-profile. “I think the only problem is that a lot of Australians don’t know the place and have never come here,” a US tourist, Janet Kirby, 55, told Fairfax.

That’s not necessarily a problem – although tourist dollars are not to be spurned. But the attraction of these “perfect places” is in their small scale, lack of crowds and the sense of having somehow escaped the rat race.

One of the delights of Port Fairy is to swim on East beach on a perfect summer’s day and to have no one – I mean no one – else in the water with you.

There are no traffic jams, and the pedestrians on the main street amble with a kind of relaxed lope, suggesting they have no pressing place to be – except maybe, a hot date with the ice cream shop. And that’s at the height of summer.

I left the National Trust house in Port Fairy after six months for a job in a bigger town. I was in my early 20s and all life and excitement seemed to be happening in Melbourne, Sydney and beyond.

There was no work for me there, anyway. The perfect small town was not a great place for someone wanting to work at a big-city newspaper.

Friends stayed though, had babies, built businesses, made lives there. Even my parents moved there. Now I harbour the sort of nostalgia for the place that only someone who doesn’t live there can muster. And my nostalgia says: Port Fairy, don’t change, don’t get too big or too famous. Stay quiet, dark and melancholy in winter and peaceful and pretty in summer. Stay gold.

Original Source : http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/feb/11/port-fairy-why-the-worlds-best-small-town-needs-to-remain-a-secret

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