RICHMOND, on the Coal River about 25km north of Hobart and surrounded by undulating countryside scattered with wineries, is one of the oldest and best-preserved towns in Australia. Settlers received land grants in the area not long after the fledgling colony had been set up in 1803, and in 1824 Lieutenant-Governor Sorell founded the town, on the route between Hobart and the east coast. Soon, traffic to the new penal settlement at Port Arthur began to pass through, and Richmond's strategic location made it an important military post and convict station when Richmond Gaol was built in 1825; by the 1830s it was the third-largest town in Tasmania. In 1872, however, the Sorell Causeway was opened, bypassing Richmond, which became a rural community with little incentive for change or development. Most of the approximately fifty buildings – plain and functional stone dwellings – date from the 1830s and 1840s, and many are now used as galleries, craft shops, cafés, restaurants and guesthouses; the gorgeous village green is still intact. A free leaflet and map, Let's Talk About Richmond, is available at the gaol and details the buildings. Attractions along Bridge Street include the wooden Richmond Maze (daily 9am–5pm; $6.50) and the Old Hobart Town Model Village (daily 9am–5pm; $12), a large-scale outdoor model of Hobart in the 1820s.
Richmond's most authentic drawing card, however, is the sandstone, slate-roofed Richmond Gaol (daily 9am–5pm; $7), Australia's oldest intact example of an early prison. The prison's function was mostly to house prisoners in transit or those awaiting trial, and to accommodate convict road gangs working in the district; the east wing was designed to hold female convicts, who could not be accommodated at Port Arthur. Informative signs explain the features of the gaol, which now seems sombre but incongruously handsome, set around a courtyard. Richmond also has the distinction of having both Australia's oldest Roman Catholic church – that of St John, which dates in part from 1837 – and its oldest bridge. The graceful, arched-stone Richmond Bridge was constructed in 1823 under harsh conditions using convict labour; legend says that it's haunted by the ghost of the brutal flagellator, George Grover, who was beaten to death by the convicts and thrown into the river during its construction.
Hobart Coaches run four bus services a day from Hobart (Mon– Fri; buses leave from Metro Hobart's Elizabeth St terminus), and TassieLink also drops off on their Hobart to Swansea service (1 daily Mon– Fri during term time; Tues, Thurs & Sat only during school holidays). The Richmond Tourist Bus (Tel:0408 341 804; $25) departs the tourist centre in Hobart twice daily (9.15am & 12.20pm) and leaves Richmond at 12.50pm & 3.50pm. The Online Access Centre is on Torrens Street. Unsurprisingly, heritage properties dominate when it comes to places to stay. Prospect House (Tel:03/6260 2207, Web: www.prospect-house.com.au ; Price: $131-160) is a Georgian country mansion set in landscaped grounds, with a well-regarded licensed restaurant for dinner; it's on your left as you come into town on Cambridge Road. The central Richmond Arms Hotel, 42 Bridge St (Tel:03/6260 2109; Price: $76–130), has decent self-catering accommodation in its converted stone stables, or there's the cheaper Richmond Cabin and Tourist Park, on Middle Tea Tree Road behind Prospect House (Tel:03/6260 2192; camping $10 per person, powered sites $26, cabins Price: $61–130), with shady pitches and a small heated pool.
For food, the Richmond Wine Centre at 27 Bridge St (Tel:03/6260 2619; lunch daily, dinner Wed– Sat) is an upmarket café-restaurant in a weatherboard cottage with pretty gardens, outside tables and a focus on Tasmanian produce. The award-winning, Swiss-run Richmond Bakery on Edward Street, just off Bridge Street, has an attached café; you can eat in the courtyard or take away to picnic tables on the village green.