BY RODERICK EIME IN ADELAIDE
When the smoke cleared, over 2000 square kilometres of South Australia lay scorched by some of the worst bushfires in over a century. Firestorms comparable to wartime incendiary bombing destroyed many hundreds of properties, tens of thousands of head of livestock and left 28 South Australians dead.
That day, 16 February 1983, became known as Ash Wednesday and James Morgan and his young family, the new owners of Mount Lofty House at Crafers, were fortunate to escape with their lives. They lost everything and the 130-year-old manor home was reduced to a blackened shell.
Devastated, the Morgans sold up and the new owners undertook a three-year restoration and renovation, re-opening the ‘new’ Mount Lofty House as a guest lodge with just eight rooms and a restaurant named after the famous founding family who built the original house, the Hardys. There was also the Arthur Waterhouse Lounge and John Richardson Room with the Tiers Bar and Lounge areas before an additional 21 rooms and public areas were added in 1988.
In 1993, the property changed hands again and further improvements were made which quickly catapulted Mount Lofty House into the limelight as a premium bridal, function and dining venue, gathering numerous awards. Another freshen-up took place in 2002, all of which apparently met with the approval of resident ghost George, a former carriage-man and gardener, whose benign presence some guests claim to have noticed near rooms seven and eight.
Current earthly owners, David Horbelt and Malcolm Bean, both established and well-regarded hoteliers, purchased the 4.5 star Grand Mercure Mount Lofty House in May 2009 from Accor Première Vacation Club and immediately spent a further $500,000 on improvements including the installation of Jessie Sheehan (ex-Rydges Melbourne) as GM with Mat Downs (ex-Sydney) joining soon after as Director of Sales. Horbelt and Bean now maintain the successful Accor relationship under a franchise agreement.
The success continued with revenue growth of 42 percent in the first 12 months and yet further enhancements are planned.
“When we finish at the end of the year, we’ll have achieved the level of Victorian, up-scale boutique property David and I envisaged,” Bean told HM. “In that form we may consider the Accor M Gallery brand, although the local flavour and regional (Adelaide Hills) ‘brand’ is working equally well. There is nothing like this property in Adelaide, perhaps even Australia, especially when you consider it is just 15 minutes from the CBD. ”
Horbelt, a known wine connoisseur, planted a second vineyard of terraced grapes to complement the existing Chardonnay fruit already producing the award-winning Piccadilly Restaurant’s house white. The first Pinot Noir vintage will be served in the next twelve months as a perfect accompaniment to the hotel’s own organic produce and renowned Adelaide Hills food and Tomich wines.
Overlooking the picturesque Piccadilly Valley, Grand Mercure Mount Lofty House is located at 74 Mt Lofty Summit Road, Crafers. The hotel will host the ‘Tasting at the Top’ gourmet food event on 17 June featuring a six-course degustation menu created by Piccadilly Restaurant’s Executive Chef, Girard Ramsay.
For further information, visit www.mtloftyhouse.com.au