On the surface, not too much has changed in the quaint, historical town of Castlemaine over the last few decades. Naturally things come and go, new shops open, some close, but on the exterior, the place is much that same as it’s been for many years, and that’s where all the charm is.
It’s full of amazing old heritage buildings with expansive veranda balconies, rooftop vantage points and rusted wrought iron details and chipped paint that add a weather appeal. Up against this dramatic backdrop is also a burgeoning epicurean scene, with wine makers, local producers, and curious old shops - a wealth of treasures to uncover.
There is a lot going on beneath the facades of these old buildings, we found when we visited the region recently.
Here are some things to see and dos while visiting The Goldfields, from a cafe for lunch to a farmyard cider, a soap boutique and a grand old cinema.
Since the highly successful Golden Age of Couture exhibition in 2009, Bendigo Art Gallery has been reeling in the crowds to their door. The current White Wedding Dress exhibition is no exception, with an endless train of women (old and young) snaking through the gallery on a Saturday to take a glance at the most exquisite frocks (not all white), accessories and 12 metre-long trains from weddings across the globe from the early nineteenth century until now. This blockbuster show includes extravagant corsets and peignors, garters, hats, coats, shoes, gloves and night gowns worn by brides and designed those including Christian Doir, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Jack Jacobs, Tony Matichevski, Gwendolyne and Martin Grant to name but a few. The gowns and intricately beaded attire clothed the likes of royal families from eras goneby to Gwen Stefani and Kate Middleton, with the centrepiece being a flim A Century of Bridal Fashion 1923-2011, including Kate Moss and Lady Di.
For lunch stop into either Bendigo Wholefoods, a fresh food and products store full of a local array of fruit, vegetables, nut, olives, cheese, honey and oil, to pick up some supplies, or head down Old Green Bean cafe and micro roastery, serving a simple menu of sandwiches and salads and house roasted coffee. There is also a small vintage clothing store inside the cafe for a spot of shopping after lunch.
314 Lyttleton Terrace Bendigo
(03) 5443 9492
On your way to Castlemaine stop into Henry of Harcourt boutique cidery to taste some apple and pear cider made with fruit straight from the trees. Chat to Drew and Irene about how they make their cider and what apples they’re using each season. Alternatively, visit Bress wine and cider producers for some of Victoria’s best booze.
Henry of Harcourt
219 Reservoir Road, Harcourt
(03) 5474 2177
For accommodation, and if cost is of no concern, book into The Empyre for fancy sojourn in a luxury boutique hotel. Only six antiquated suites are housed in this small but sophisticated hotel. There is also a fine dining restaurant downstairs for lavish breakfast or romantic dinner.
Two blocks along you’re find The Midland Hotel, a rundown old building with lots of charm. Although it’s stuck in a time warp, there is a lot of character to this place, including the owner. He also owns The Maurocco Bar downstairs, and whips up classic cocktails like mojitos and Manhattans to sip eloquently in the large, overgrown garden out back.
A visit to Castlemaine just wouldn’t be completewithout stopping in to Apple Annie’s Bakery. Annie Stekerhofs and her husband John run the local hot spot, preparing delicious pastries, cakes, breads and pies. After setting up The French Lettuce in Carlton, the husband and wife patisserie chefs found news digs in Castlemaine, for a slower pace but a just a favourable response from the locals. Don’t leave without trying an almond croissant.
For dinner, book into The Good Table. One of the newer additions to the dining scene in Castlemaine, this restaurant turned a tumbling down corner pub into an smart eatery by chef and owner Alex Perry. After stints in kitchens at Movida and Distasios in Melbourne, Perry is taking Castlemaine on a culinary adventure, serving tapas and small shares dishes made up of only local ingredients (except for the oysters). With a welcoming atmosphere and warming food, try the degustation menu of 6 small courses for only $50. Wine is mostly local, with a few European options in the mix. This is a great way to experience the bounty of the areas in one meal, from local lamb and Holy Goat cheese to veggies from their own patch up the road and wine from local vineyards.
Other options are the The Public Inn, and corner pub turned into a chic country eatery. Much like something you might find in an inner city suburb, this new modern gastro pub is a solid option for lunch or dinner with good food and wine options.
For coffee, try Coffee Basics Rostery and Kaffeehaus, only open during the week. This local coffee roastery has brought a European tradition to the Goldfields, serving a range of house-made cakes, bagels, Kasier rolls and sausages, as well as their house brew.
Coffee Basics Roastery and Kaffeehaus
1 Halford Street, Castlemaine
(03) 5470 6270
There are some funny, old and dated shops and boutique in Castlemaine and a few that are worth visiting for some insight into the town and its various characters. Habadash is an amazing emporium of exquisite buttons, jewellery and trinkets, this unique store is part of Fashion Central on Templeton Street, in the same building as The Midland Hotel. The old deco pub has now been converted into several connecting fashion boutiques, also with a men’s tailor, which then leads you into The Maurocco Bar. Drummond Body Care (next to The Empyre) sells homemade soaps, moisturisers and fragrances with hundreds of different natural scenes. To walk into this shop is quite an overwhelming experience for the senses, but you’ll leave smelling like a bunch of sweet smelling flowers. Right across the road you’ll find The Restorer’s Barn, a treasure trove of Victorian era hardware and architectural fittings for any renovator or curious browser, plus a host of vintage items from old records and furniture to tools and home wares.
Drummond Body Care
70 Mostyn Street, Castlemaine
(03) 5472 2344
And, if you’ve got some time on your hands and feel like a film, visit the Theatre Royal in the heart of town. This grand old cinema also doubles as an ice creamery, so pick up a cone on your way to the pictures.