There are still plenty of gems to unearth in Castlemaine, a pretty goldfields town 90 minutes from Melbourne, where the grandeur of bygone days meets gentle touches of city life.
Located in the heart of Victoria’s ‘golden triangle’, between bigger cities Bendigo and Ballarat, Castlemaine (with a population around 7000) is hallmarked with architectural masterpieces, exquisite gardens, and a thriving arts and foodie culture. From the magnificent Theatre Royal, which opened in 1858 and the oldest theatre still in operation in mainland Australia, to the leafy 19th-century Botanic Gardens set around an ornamental lake, Castlemaine is a glimpse into the past with an eye on the future.
Whether it’s fossicking for antiques (or gold), taking the kids on the vintage steam train, catching a live show, browsing the boutiques, biking or hiking the goldfield trails, visiting one of the many artist studios or simply soaking up the ambience – a short holiday in Castlemaine will leave a lasting impression.
Best hotels in Castlemaine
If you’re looking for an excuse to splash out: this is it. This establishment is the finest of gold rush architecture, located smack-bang in the hub of Castlemaine, renovated to perfection and lavishly decorated with French antiques. Opt for a suite opening onto the cast-iron lacework fringed verandah to take in the views or cosy up in front of the fire with a glass of wine. ‘Date night’ can also be arranged with a private dinner.
Straight out of a storybook, Mossbank Cottage is surrounded by one of the most intriguing and beautiful private gardens in the region. It’s the life’s work of hosts Peter and Judy Sherlock, who started out with a desolate 1.2-hectare block covered in noxious weeds. They hand-built the cottage and their home, and planted its rambling garden – creating a comforting place to reflect and recharge.
Ever wondered what’s like to stay in a tiny house? You’re not alone. Fred Schultz is an Airbnb superhost with reams of rave reviews on the tiny house he built (and lived in) that sits at the bottom of his garden in Castlemaine. Fred is also a leader of the tiny house movement and gives DIY workshops throughout Australia. Snuggle up in this adorable, completely sustainable house and experience off-grid living at its best.
Restaurants in Castlemaine
Named in honour of dancer Lola Montez, who used to entertain the gold prospectors in Theatre Royal, buzzy Bistro Lola oozes charm. Headed up by local chef Carly Lauder, the regional Italian-style fare is plentiful and great value. The menu changes to suit local produce, ranging from a quick pizza before a show to á la carte with a vibrant wine and cocktail list.
This hole-in-the-wall café is a local institution. Small and squishy with old-school hospitality, it feels like being in the home of a long-lost Italian friend. The menu focuses on the simplicity of fresh ingredients and the daily cake selection is simply irresistible. Nabbing a table in the leafy courtyard is like winning a golden ticket. It’s best to book for traditional pizza night on Fridays.
A drive-through bakery may seem an unlikely fit for a small country town, however the early morning queues here say it all. Baguettes, tarts and pies sell like… well, hotcakes. But it’s the croissants that cause a frenzy. Chef John Stekerhofs uses Belgian butter to create the perfect pastry. Don’t miss out his drool-worthy signature almond croissants.
Bars and cafes in Castlemaine
Here’s the thing about Castlemaine: it’s full of innovation and creativity. This is one of several unique experiences in The Mill precinct, a rambling red-brick former woollen mill. As an incubator for emerging winemakers, the cellar door is a great place to sup small-batch wines that reflect the terroir of the region. On Fridays, groove the night away with live music and snacks.
Pull up a stool and you’ll be in great company here. This is the type of drinking hole everyone wants as their local hangout – unpretentious and authentic. With an emphasis on handcrafted produce, there’s a selection of local beers and ciders on tap in addition to wines from regional vineyards. The beer garden thrives on sunny days and the gig guide showcases Aussie talent.
This slice of Europe in country Victoria is the brainchild of Austrian couple Elna Schaerf-Trauner and Edmund Schaerf. At this Viennese-style coffee house, step inside the ballroom-sized space and waltz back in time surrounded by gilt-framed mirrors hanging above red leather banquettes, marble-topped tables with café chairs and, the pièce de résistance, a magnificent teardrop chandelier. Its 100 per cent Arabica coffee is roasted and blended in small batches onsite using traditional methods.
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