Q&A with Esperance Chalet Village Owner Fiona Shillington
From run down holiday camp to uber stylish chalet village. Get the lowdown on bike rides amongst wildflowers and toasting marshmallows over the firepit. Relaxation sorted.
The secret to a perfect getaway? Feeling like you've left your world behind and stepped into another. An easy thing to do at Esperance Chalet Village, nestled near the white beaches of Esperance, Western Australia. Owner Fiona Shillington and husband Matt have completely transformed the existing site to cater for the ultimate chill out session. A Studio Chalet starts at just AUS$160. All that's left is to grab a few friends and head on over - your chalet awaits.
Tell us about the Esperance Chalet Village story — how did it all get started, what’s behind the design of the place?
I grew up in Esperance and, after living in Sydney for 25 years, came back for a holiday with my husband Matt, and our four kids. Matt stumbled across this rundown holiday camp, instantly fell in love with it and said, “Let’s buy it!” And here we are. The original Chalet Village was built 35 years ago, back in the day when A-frames were cheap to build. They weren’t built for their aesthetic, but now they’re one of our most popular categories because they’re so cute and photogenic! We’ve breathed life into the original owner’s dream and he loves it. It’s been an amazing lifestyle change — we haven’t looked back since.
What does a perfect experience at ECV look like?
Arriving at a chalet or a shack that is cosy and comfortable and all yours. Dropping your bags and then heading out to explore the Village and beyond. There is room to roam — we have bikes, kayaks, outdoor firepits, a creek on your doorstep and the beach only a short stroll away. There is a sense of space, but everything is at your fingertips. Jump in the car and within five minutes, you’re in the centre of town. Within ten minutes, you’re cruising along the Great Ocean Drive, home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world.
After a day of exploring, you come home to the Village, where every room is slightly different, with its own unique stylings and character. Esperance is incredibly remote so we have to work with what’s around us. This is a challenge every now and then but ultimately, it only adds to our charm.
What’s your one favourite (possibly secret) detail about ECV?
Whenever I feel like I need to recharge, I make a cup of tea and walk down to the creek. There’s so much peace down there. It’s literally stillness. My little place. I also love the hideaway hammocks. A small detail that reminds our guests that they’re here on holiday, they’re here to relax.
Describe who the ECV experience is designed for?
The Village is exactly how we like to holiday, both as a family and as a couple. The experience is for everyone. We have our two-bedroom shacks where families can make memories — playing along the creek, riding bikes around the Village, roasting marshmallows over the firepit. But we also have our beautiful adult-only rooms where couples can get away. I’ve been know to hide in one or two of these with my phone off over the years.
We’re not selling a luxury experience — the Village is, intentionally, a little rough around the edges. It’s an experience for those looking for something quirky and unique.
How has COVID affected your stays and team? What changes have you had to make, or are hoping to see?
Once the lockdown came into effect, everything came to a standstill. But as soon as things started to open up again, our bookings went berserk. We’ve had out busiest winter ever. Western Australians can’t travel interstate or overseas so they’re discovering what’s in their own backyard.
Esperance has traditionally been a summer destination, but people are finding out that it’s pretty great in autumn and winter too. We have some beautiful warm weather over autumn and come winter, the whales arrive. The spring is glorious with the wildflowers, too, which we’re sure people will discover in the coming months.
COVID has had a silver lining — it has put Esperance on the map as an off-peak destination. We’ve had guests stay that have never travelled here before and they’re already planning on coming back. Some guests have seen the potential to host their own events, such as weddings, at the Village. This has inspired us to build a micro-event space, which will be up-and-running in the next couple of months.
What do you think is important in re-igniting domestic Australian travel in the next 12 months?
It’s so important that Australians realise how exceptionally lucky we are. How fortunate are we to be able to jump in a car and criss-cross this country with such diverse landscapes. You could be up north and feel like you’re on another planet without so much as a timezone change or jet lag. Or you could be down here in Esperance sinking your toes into some of the whitest sand in the world, sunbathing next to kangaroos, diving into water clear enough to rival any tropical paradise.
Give a shoutout to other local Aussie experiences in WA that deserve a visit!
Fervor, an Indigenous fine dining experience that can pop-up anywhere from an ancient gorge up north to the Esperance Chalet Village, as it did in 2019. The Kimberley Spirit, award-winning small group expeditions into WA’s remote Kimberley region. And jumping in a RedSands camper and heading east of Esperance towards the Great Australian Bight. The power and beauty of the region’s remoteness has to be experienced to be believed.
Do you have a travel story, business, or experience in regional Australia that deserves to be shared?
We’d love you to contribute and help Rediscover Australia for the New Gen.