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20 October 2018

Castlemaine Delights In Central Victoria

Travel and lifestyle writer, Georgia Hopkins, meanders through the spectacular Castlemaine region in a ruby red Arteon.

Red Arteon at Castlemaine
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Cruising out of Melbourne on a Friday afternoon and our red Arteon seems to be getting lots of attention. Whether we are stationary or moving along the freeway, our Arteon is turning heads left-right-and-centre. And I don’t blame the onlookers, really. This is one fancy ride…

An hour or so later and we arrive in the former gold-mining town of Castlemaine. A very charming Country Victorian town, with a lovely, welcoming creative community that make the town itself even more appealing. Fast becoming known as “North of Northcote”, in Castlemaine you will find a burgeoning food scene, amazing local wines and local producers, farmers markets, vintage stores, and some great pubs - making it the perfect weekend getaway destination.

We are staying at the very gorgeous be&be guesthouse. I stumbled across this charming, century-old red-brick Elizabethan style house and studio while poking around on Airbnb. As is often the case with Airbnb, we seem to have struck gold (pardon the pun!). An interior-design dream, this stunning light-filled studio is split over two floors - separated by a beautiful open wooden staircase - and is filled to the brim with plants and beautiful art. With a wonderful magazine selection and a great hanging chair, we spend the afternoon relaxing into this inspiring space before heading for dinner at Bistro Lola.

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The lovely thing about Castlemaine is that it is actually quite small, so once you have wandered up and down the three or four main streets, you have pretty much seen most of the town. We stop for a great coffee and very impressive breakfast (their sweets are out of this world!) at the very charming French Provincial-style cafe that is Fig Castlemaine - try their lemon curd shortbread drops (amazing), and their incredible pastries as well. Run by a mother-daughter duo who both share a huge passion for food and feeding people well, this is a gorgeous place. We then meander around town, popping into the cute Corner Store Merchants, which is a cute stop for gifts, jewellery and cards. There are plenty of vintage stores to have a poke around in as well. We take some time to wander through the beautiful botanical gardens, before heading up to the Old Castlemaine Gaol (or OCG). With its stellar location high up on the hill, it offers superb views back over town. We were most excited to hear that Australian artist, David Bromley, has recently bought this site and will soon be turning it into a “MONA” of sorts - something to keep an eye on… We also pop into the Castlemaine Art Gallery, checking out photos by Bill Henson and works by painter Ben Quilty.

The lovely thing about Castlemaine is that it is actually quite small, so once you have wandered up and down the three or four main streets, you have pretty much seen most of the town. We stop for a great coffee and very impressive breakfast (their sweets are out of this world!) at the very charming French Provincial-style cafe that is Fig Castlemaine - try their lemon curd shortbread drops (amazing), and their incredible pastries as well. Run by a mother-daughter duo who both share a huge passion for food and feeding people well, this is a gorgeous place. We then meander around town, popping into the cute Corner Store Merchants, which is a cute stop for gifts, jewellery and cards. There are plenty of vintage stores to have a poke around in as well. We take some time to wander through the beautiful botanical gardens, before heading up to the Old Castlemaine Gaol (or OCG). With its stellar location high up on the hill, it offers superb views back over town. We were most excited to hear that Australian artist, David Bromley, has recently bought this site and will soon be turning it into a “MONA” of sorts - something to keep an eye on… We also pop into the Castlemaine Art Gallery, checking out photos by Bill Henson and works by painter Ben Quilty.

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Grab a coffee at Das Kaffeehaus, the Viennese style coffeehouse next door run by Austrian couple Edmund Schaerf and Elna Schaerf-Trauner (who have been roasting coffee for a decade under the name Coffee Basics) - or maybe a schnapps or gluewein instead! Another great place for a coffee (especially on Sunday mornings when Fig is not open), is Johnny Baker’s Drive-in. When we pull up in the Arteon, into one of the two drive-through lanes, we jump out quickly to place our order, and then jump back in the car loaded up with coffee and pastries. We could have lingered a little longer though, if only to ogle over their very impressive range of baked goods. Johnny's are known for their almond croissants - doughy and delicious - and their incredible apple pies and tarte tatins, made using local apples from nearby Mt Alexander Organic Fruit Farm. We can vouch for both.

If you can catch it in time, the Sunday farmers market (open from 9am-1pm) is also definitely worth popping into, with more than 50 producers offering the best locally grown and made food from Central Victoria. It is set in the beautiful Victory Park in Castlemaine. The Artists Markets is also held on the first Sunday of every month.

For dinner that evening we head to the Red Hill Hotel in nearby Chewton - and this is something that also should definitely not be missed. A tiny town only five minutes’ drive from Castlemaine, Chewton is home to this gorgeous 165-year-old pub that was recently reopened under new management (by some serious hospitality pros out of Melbourne) and is now a classic country pub with an incredible food offering. The night we visited the pub was bursting full and the atmosphere was jolly.

On our last morning at be&be we wake up to the sounds of an abundance of natural bird life - galahs, cockatoos, corellas, kookaburras and wattlebirds - a super-relaxing start to our Sunday morning. Sunny the house dog, who seems to be some kind of staffy/cattle dog/kelpie cross (we can’t quite tell) comes up to say a friendly hello. be&be is a place of warmth and charm. We are sad to leave.

While the city calls us home, we do manage to get one more drive in the Arteon before our return to bedlam.  If you do have to come back to earth, you may as well take the time to enjoy the landing!

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