The Old Mount Gambier Gaol has been voted the world's best ex-prison hotel

THE OLD Mount Gambier Gaol has been voted the world's best ex-prison hotel.

Hotel reservation website Booked.net celebrated the Blue Lake City's English-style gaol, which only closed as a functioning prison 17 years ago, for its authenticity.

"It has retained the razor-wire enclosed recreation yards and the seclusion of an antipodean prison and combined those with modern comforts," a site spokesperson said.

However, it was the hotel's broad appeal which secured its success against competition as tough as Boston's Liberty Hotel, an exercise in reinvention which exchanged the city's most notorious criminals for paying guests spending a minimum of $286 a night on four star accommodation.

"The Old Mount Gambier Gaol caters to all travellers, from backpacker-style 10-bed rooms through to double rooms as a maximum price of about US$80," the spokesperson said.

"It deserves its own place among the region's landmarks."

For Old Mount Gambier Gaol Accommodation co-founder James Stephenson, the industry's recognition of his and partner Melissa Ellis' hard work is the cherry on top of a "dream come true".

"After 150 years of condemned life, it has actually got a life," Mr Stephenson said of the ex-prison.

He said it took the couple eighteen months to convert what was a "very negative" place into what it is today, the only prison in Australia to be converted into full-time boutique accommodation.

Its 10-foot walls have also taken to concealing some of the city's premier private functions, from 21st birthdays to musical gigs and weddings.

Mr Stephenson said revitalising the prison had been a lifelong dream of his, which would not have been possible without Ms Ellis' involvement.

The seasoned traveller spent the first 20 years of his life in Mount Gambier, envisaging an alternate reality for the imposing 19th century construction every time he passed it.

He then spent the next decade intimately familiarising himself with what makes good accommodation, and sometimes not so good.

To date Mr Stephenson has travelled 43 countries, working extensively in the hospitality industry as he went.

"Being from Mount Gambier, to come back and have a place like this is perfect," he said.

The venue also triumphed over the UK's Malmaison Oxford Castle, Turkey's Four Seasons Istanbul at Sutanahmet and Germany's Alcatraz Hotel.

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