A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the former gold-rush town offers rich pickings for thrifters, trail riders and coffee lovers. By Emma Mulholland.
For a taste of Castlemaine’s famed boho life, check in to the super-eco, rainwater-fed Riversdale Retreat in Chewton (airbnb.com.au), 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of the town. Short-listed for a coveted World Architecture Festival Award, the house is scattered with Japanese elements, including a tatami area for quiet contemplation. Outside, there’s bushland and roos and a firepit begging to be lit.
But where to for dinner? Drive to Castlemaine’s The Mill dining precinct (millcastlemaine.com. au) for woodfired pizzas at The Taproom, a brewery co-owned by ex-Hunters & Collectors drummer Doug Falconer. Stick around for live music after 8pm.
In need of a delicious pickme-up? On your way to Harcourt’s mountain-bike trails, swing past Johnny Baker’s DriveIn patisserie (johnnybaker.com.au) where tattooed, bearded bakers turn out exquisite treats and cracking pies. Order the frankfurt croissant, made with Belgian butter and a snag from Castlemaine’s own fleischermeister, Ralf Fink.
Opened in March, the 11 bike trails at La Larr Ba Gauwa Park (lalarrbagauwa.harcourt.vic.au) are prized for their bush views. The 2.3-kilometre Wanyarra track is ideal for first-timers (you can hire gear at the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre; maldon castlemaine.com.au).
Afterwards, tuck into a classic Wiener schnitzel at The Mill’s Das Kaffeehaus. Co-owner Elna Schaerf-Trauner has re-created the Viennese coffee houses of her youth, where intellectuals would gather to talk politics. Before you leave The Mill, call into Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar, a store the size of four basketball courts, brimming with well-travelled luggage, kitschy tea towels and all things macramé.
For dinner, take a seat by the fire at the Railway Hotel (railway hotelcastlemaine.com.au) and order the pork belly with pickled cabbage. With its wooden bar, velvet curtains and pool table, this English-style pub is beloved by locals (to blend in, be sure to pronounce the “castle” in Castlemaine like “hassle”).
If the weather is playing along, take breakfast on the rooftop at the cheery Togs Cafe (togscafe.com.au), housed in old goldminers’ cottages on the town’s main drag. From there, it’s a fiveminute drive to the Shades of Gray gallery (shadesofgray.net.au), where sculptors Peter and Chelly Gray work magic with reclaimed metal (in the ’90s, their pieces were shown at New York’s Guggenheim Museum). It’s open on weekends in November and December.
The real world awaits but you can swing by Bress winery (bress. com.au), a patch of provincial France in Harcourt, 15 kilometres away. Linger over a chardonnay, created in collaboration with Bress’s sister winery in Burgundy, or settle in for osso buco at a long, lazy lunch in the sun – the way Sunday lunches are meant to be.
(From top) Das Kaffeehaus at The Mill; Johnny Baker’s excellent fruit tart; Castlemaine’s original fire station; Bress winery