In 2013 Trip Advisor awarded Freeman on Ford the Best Bed and Breakfast in Australia and the third best in the South Pacific. Freeman on Ford has also been awarded three awards for Excellence from Trip Advisor in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
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The distinction between an exclusive boutique hotel and a 5 star Accredited Bed and Breakfast becomes a little blurred at Freeman on Ford, Beechworth’s only 5 STAR Accredited accommodation - 5 STAR rated by AAA Tourism since 2005. Freeman on Ford is also Beechworth’s only Eco Friendly accredited Bed and Breakfast, rated by AAA Tourism. In 2010, the business became one of only two finalists nationally in the 5 STAR Hosted Accommodation section of the HMMA for excellence.
One of its recent claims to fame is being rated Number 1 Bed and Breakfast in Australia in the online, guest rating site, Trip Advisor, in their 2013 People's Choice Awards.
This well respected business is located in the most enviable position, in the heart of town amongst exclusive shops and well-known restaurants. It has been showcased on numerous TV travel shows and it continues to win accolades for its service and attention to detail.
The building itself is a stately Victorian original that has been meticulously maintained and brought up-to-date without sacrificing its character. For most of the structure's existence, having been built in 1876, it has been a bank as goldmining brought fortune to the region. Heidi Freeman and husband Jim Didolis, recognised the beauty of the building and brought it in 2000, renovated for 2 years and recently added an extension that now provides a full complement of seven exquisite rooms, each having its own personality. This renovation also took two years to complete.
This preservation work has also been recognised through heritage awards for the building and the landscape garden in 2010 and 2011. Heidi has also won the inaugural award for the "Heritage Mover and Shaker" by the Indigo Shire for her extensive renovations. Her qualification as a history teacher and her passion for heritage, is certainly useful when advising guests about the historically significant streetscape.
There are four Victorian rooms upstairs in the original part of the building which have been decorated to replicate Victorian grandeur. These rooms all have very high ceilings, double hung windows, and swag curtains with fringe tassels.
All ensuites upstairs have tessellated tiles and ornate French or Baroque style beds with matching armoires. The quality of heritage, pure wool carpet and tapestries blend exquisitely together making one feel as if one truly has stepped back in time. The Victorian paint colours and gold stencilled walls upstairs add to the luxurious feel together with dazzling original crystal chandeliers which are graced throughout the building. Stained glass windows, and individually handcrafted floor to ceiling windows make the building very special.
On the ground floor, there is a new wing which replicates the Art Deco there. The bedrooms downstairs have marble ensuites, fire hearths and unique hand carved beds and bedside tables. These grand and much larger rooms, lead onto a wide, granite verandah which overlooks the swimming pool and landscaped award winning backyard. The yard provides a private oasis. The building and yard go from one block to the other and guests appreciate that each car space has undercover parking and of course, even the car park is designed like an old stable.
Both Jim and Heidi have contributed to the quality of the streetscape by individually sponsoring the herculean renovations and turning this grand building into a sophisticated business. Heidi sums up the establishment as providing "all the services of a city hotel even though we are a bed and breakfast. We like to pamper guests, treat all customers with integrity and provide service which is second to none."
No doubt they have succeeded in doing this, and reviews from many sectors concur including the recent Trip Advisor Award. Freeman on Ford has the certainly earned its motto after years of meticulous renovation: "Expect the exceptional."
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Stars with shine
Sue Wallace settles in for cheesecake and tea at an opulent bed and breakfast.
If there's one place that's always intrigued me in Beechworth it's a grand building that was once the home of the Oriental Bank, where more than 5,000 Chinese put their savings in the 1870's.
As a child, I was spellbound by stories of gold-miners and the Chinese who flocked to the area to make their fortune.
As I step through the front doors of the former Oriental Bank, that in another life was also Australia's second convent for Brigandine nuns and then the home of the State Savings Bank of Victoria, nostalgia comes flooding back.
The facade of the historic two-storey building, now Beechworth's first and only five-star bed and breakfast, has been well preserved. It was designed by architect Leonard Terry, who built the Melbourne Club, Lazarrs and Trinity Chapel at Melbourne University.
Freeman on Ford features four upstairs Victorian-era rooms that were completed in 2002 and retain an old world charm, and the latest addition, two luxurious new guest rooms inspired by the 1930s golden age of Hollywood, were opened in October.
We are in time for a sumptuous afternoon tea of home-made lemon cheesecake, with ripe strawberries and cream, and tea served from a silver teapot, complete with flowery china, linen napkins and tiny crystal encrusted teaspoons.
It's served with style as we site on the veranda overlooking the new granite pool and manicured grounds adorned with Grecian-style statues and classic urns. Finally it all proves too inviting and we change and cool off in the solar-heated pool and test the spa.
There's a massage room near the pool area and a masseuse available but I am happy to return to my elegant bedroom with its Hollywood feel.
There's a bed to sink into and the fine linen, quality furnishings, sparkling chandelier, large mirror and ope fireplace are opulent.
The bed and breakfast is owned and run by Heidi Freeman and Jim Didolis who have worked meticulously since 2002 to ensure standards are equivalent to their city counterparts.
As well as the new bedrooms, a spacious living room has been added with arched windows, comfortable leather couches and polished floors.
It is a perfect place for reading a selection of magazines or enjoying some quiet time.
Breakfast is served in the formal dining room and there's a great menu selection ranging from Didolis's big breakfast with eggs, sausages, tomatoes and fetta to fresh fruit, muffins, thick toast and home-made jams.
I soon discover some nostalgic touches with a quaint nod to the past. Mannequins saved by Freeman, from her late father's well-known shop, Freemans the Draper, which opened in Beechworth in 1952, are displayed in several corners.
Michael Isaac Freeman sold everything from furniture to knitting needles and haberdashery in what was Beechworth's biggest shop with four separate departments.
The mannequins are dressed in period Victorian costume with cute hats that still display a price tag of 26 shillings and 11 pence.
There is also a commanding 24-metre-high bronze and copper statue of bushranger Ned Kelly near the entrance of the bed and breakfast. Crafted by a local artist, it's a talking point among all who pass. Freeman on Ford is well positioned in the heart of the town close to the information centre and the museum where you can discover all you want to know about the town's flamboyant gold rush days, which all started when two shepherds unearthed a gold nugget in 1852. Throughout the 1860s more than 20,000 people lived in the town where you could quench your thirst at 61 pubs.
There are lots of wonderful stories of the past such as when parliamentarian Daniel Cameron had golden horseshoes made for his mount and rode down the main street followed by 80 men.
The event evolved in to the Golden Horseshoe Easter Festival attraction thousands each year.
Walk the main streets and you probably won't get far; there's a line-up of cosy cafes and quaint shops selling everything from old fashioned sweets to jewellery and fashions. But just make sure you return in time for afternoon tea at Freeman of Ford, it's a treat you don't want to miss.
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