If you’re looking for somewhere to take the family these school holidays then Castlemaine ticks all the boxes.
I must admit when I was asked if I would like to go on a weekend away with the family to Castlemaine for work, I had absolutely no idea where it was and what it’s attractions were.
I soon learned it was an easy two hours drive on the Calder Freeway, just 120 kms from Melbourne between Daylesford and Bendigo. I also discovered it was a welcoming community country town which values creativity, innovation, Australian history and local produce. It has now become another Victorian town on our top spot list.
Gold hopes are what once brought the little Central Victorian town of Castlemaine to life in the 1850s. For us, the lure was the promise of a jam-packed family weekend away filled with new and old attractions, an award winning park for the kids, botanical gardens, a steam train ride, fresh local produce pastries to devour, good coffee to enjoy and homegrown wine to taste.
And what was promised was absolutely delivered.
Vintage stores, art galleries, century old oak trees and iconic buildings from the gold rush are speckled throughout this quaint country town.
Our first adventure was at Mount of Alex bookshop — a haven of old and rare books just waiting to be resurrected by new owners. While probably not the best shop to walk into with a five-year-old and a toddler, with the many old and delicate books on display, the girls were in awe as I showed them some original classic children’s books such as Noddy, Winnie the Pooh and the many Enid Blyton fave’s for sale. We met the owner Andy too, who clearly had a love and passion for keeping books and literature alive for future generations.
Excitedly, I soon discovered Castlemaine is home to art galleries, vintage barns and boutique craft shops which are dotted throughout the main streets and some are wondrously hidden off the beaten track (if only I had no kids and husband with me so that I could get lost exploring each one!). Cecode, Falkner Galley and the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum are just a few I peered into but didn’t get the chance to really explore.
I was able to stop in at the colourful and creative Tribe, a cute shop home to more than 30 makers of jewellery, clothes, homewares and little treasures for the kids. Hubby took the girls for a walk while I checked out this gorgeous little shop, which is probably a good thing considering all the beautiful hand crafted kids toys, clothes and adorable items I found inside. They also run craft workshops and I was intrigued listening to one woman talk about how she had made the hand woven colourful scarf around her neck!
Restorers Barn is a good one for the men (and of course a treasure trove for us Mama’s too), with enough vintage car parts and auto paraphernalia to quench any man’s vintage thirst while a visit to The Mill did not disappoint with something for everyone. The Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar tickled my fancy of knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, handmade furniture, art and second-hand collections but it was afternoon by the time we were able to wander through and the kids were sick of me chanting “looking with our eyes girls, not our hands!”
Also at the Mill, the kids enjoyed an ice cream from the Sustainable Icecream Window but unfortunately Hubby was pretty shattered we ran out of time to sneak into the Castlemaine Brewing Co Taproom which promised a brewery bar serving the best local craft beer, cider, wine and food in a funky refurbished factory (sorry honey!).
We did, however, get time for an AMAZING coffee from Das Kaffeehaus – a bustling and favourite stop of ours while we were at The Mill. Coffee extraordinaires Elna and Edmond Schaerf whose family is known for serving the first coffee in Vienna in 1865, have transformed the historic woollen mill into a decorated Viennese coffee house. Elna was delightful and greeted us in traditional Viennese attire and was the perfect host, showing us her little decorated barn room off the restaurant where she has paid tribute to her hometown.
The girls loved their babychinos while I was pretty chuffed to get a peak into the back room where all the coffee making, grinding, roasting and brewing magic takes place.
For lunch we gobbled delicious lamb brik and homemade beef, bacon and mushroom pie at Togs, (the kids had “real” toasted sandwiches”) and a glass of the locally made Fairbank Rose (yum!). Alissa and her husband have owned the restaurant for 18 years while Alissa’s sister Cas owns Mulberry’s Deli next door where we bought some cheese and salami for later once the kids went to bed! Cas also has a cool gift shop.
A short drive to Barker’s Creek in the Harcourt Valley led us to the Little Red Apple where proud manager of Harcourt Apples, Simon Frost, gave us a taste of their famous ciders, juices and vinegars. Harcourt is known as the apple centre of Victoria with a fruit growing history dating back to the 1800s. Annabelle loved seeing where the apples grew and how they turn them into juice! Simon also taught us about the health benefits of drinking Apple Cider Vinegar and gave a taste of their new soon-to-hit-the-shelves product Harcourt Dry Cider.
Views of the town from the Old Castlemaine Gaol were impressive as was discovering the many stories within the cells. You could join a tour group at specific times or pay $10 to take yourself on a tour. It was pretty quiet when we arrived in the late afternoon on the Saturday so I would recommend joining the tour group for some inside information. A coffee and snack outside at the Governor’s Cafe is a must.
For dinner we were warmed by the fire at the recently refurbished Railway Hotel where we enjoyed a hearty steak and some good-old-fashioned fish and chips. Both girls needed to do number two’s while we were at dinner so luckily their toilet options were ample! It was a very welcoming, charming place to go for tea.
We stayed at the delightful Printz Apartments in a stunning three bedroom townhouse. It was spacious, very clean, comfortable and had everything we could possibly need.
The next morning, decorated as an old school, Saffs Cafe served us a scrumptious big breakfast (they even make their own marshmallows from scratch!). The decor was really cool, the coffee great and the food delicious! It also has an outdoor court yard open in Summer so the kids can run amuck and a basket of books for the kids to read.
Head chef Sarah and manager Dan took the time to chat to us about the place, explaining how the building was once a hardware store and the owners had kept the original sign writing from the late 1800s at the entrance of the cafe.
We then headed to the Castlemaine Train Station, stopping in at Johnny Baker’s Drive In Patisserie for some some naughty baked treats to take on the highlight of our trip — the authentic Victorian Steam Railway. Linking Castelemaine to Maldon, this gorgeous steam train took us back in time not only to an era where life was simpler and prettier, but also an era where people were friendly, the word ‘community’ meant something and everyone looked out for everyone else.
A group of volunteers, mainly retirees, run and look after the steam train and we were delighted to meet Alan whose ancestors were from Maldon and Max the most gorgeous ticket inspector I have ever met!
In the quaint and pretty Maldon we had gourmet baked potatoes at Cafe Maldon where they had pencils and paper waiting for the girl. While we were there we had sweets at the well known Maldon Lolly Shop and the girls absolutely loved Teddy & Me – a shop filled with… Teddies obviously, and the Christmas Shop was pretty cool too. The town itself was absolutely gorgeous, it was as if time has stood still at Maldon and I hope it stays that way.
Another highlight was the stunning Castlemaine Botanical Gardens. The girls could have played here all day if we didn’t have such an action-packed itinerary planned! The botanical gardens walk was magical as we fed the ducks in the lake and admired the old oak trees but it was the new playground which was the favourite.
Whether you explore Castlemaine as a couple or with the whole family, there’s definitely plenty to experience within this delightful, historical township. I highly recommend checking it out!
Trip was courtesy of the Mount Alexander Shire Council and Leader Newspapers.