Weekend escape: Castlemaine

Hubby and I recently had a weekend away in Castlemaine. We were heading up there to see our favourite local band, Husky, perform at the old Theatre Royal, and thought we might as well make a weekend of it. Hubby found The Midland Hotel, and though it cost a little more than we might normally spend on accommodation in a town that’s really within driving distance of home, we thought we’d splurge a little. This is part of the reason why.

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The guest lounge at the Midland Hotel, Castlemaine

The Midland is a stunning heritage-listed art deco building, just across the road from Castlemaine railway station (which makes it super handy if you’ve decided to catch the V-Line train up, as we did). It’s run by husband and wife team Mauro and Ann, who say they bought the building for a steal in the early 80’s. Apparently the asking price back then was not much different to the cost of a house, but they’d be getting an entire heritage building – and fully furnished, no less. Despite the fact that they were living and working in Canberra at the time, once they’d seen the building they couldn’t get it out of their heads. As Mauro told us over a glass of wine on the Saturday night, “We had the eight-hour drive back to Canberra to think about it, and imagine all the things we could do with it.” Neither of them had ever run a hotel or B&B before: Mauro was a public servant, and Ann was a nurse. I love the fact that they didn’t let this stop them – they made an offer, it was accepted, and suddenly they owned the place.

Over the last 30 years they’ve gradually restored various parts of the building with love and care – and they’ve also let their personality shine through. The building and the hosts are warm, inviting and charming.

The Midland is not just rooms and breakfast area – it has a gorgeous guest lounge (pictured above), plus the Maurocco Bar – which has a jazz night once a month – and a couple of small boutique shops to poke your head in. The deco influence is everywhere – from the wall colours to the paintings, from the light fixtures featuring naked golden ladies to the geometric sculptures of sleek black cats resting on mantelpieces above grand open fireplaces. Journalist for The Age, Andrew Stephens, who stayed at The Midland in 2008, captured the ambience brilliantly when he likened it to “a favourite aunt’s rambly old mansion”, and said:

“Mauro led us through the fabulous deco lobby, with handsome armchairs in front of a fireplace… past the grand staircase with its magnificent, streamlined balustrade, straight out of a 1930s ocean liner, and into the “lounge”, which more resembles a ballroom.”

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The Maurocco Bar at The Midland Hotel, Castlemaine

According to the website, the building was erected in 1879 and was initially known as the Castlemaine Coffee Club, until extensive renovations were done in the 1930s and it became The Midland Private Hotel. Back then, the hotel had it’s own livery stable where you could hire a horse or horse and carriage to take you to other regional towns including Chewton, Campbells Creek and Newstead.

It was owned by a Mr and Mrs Bailie until the 1970s, and apparently at one point the hotel became so popular that the young Bailie boys were forced to give up their own bedroom and sleep in tents in the back yard!

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If you’re up in or near Castlemaine and need a place to stay, I highly recommend looking in at the Midland. Even if you can’t get a room, you can always relax a while in the Maurocco bar – it has plenty of delicious local wines, a cocktail list and a selection of treats to enjoy. We were there on a chilly winter’s evening and sitting by the large open fire with a fine glass of local red was rather delightful.

We couldn’t help marvelling at both the building, and the boldness that pulled Mauro and Ann into buying it more than 30 years ago. I’d like to think that I’d have enough courage to buy a rambling old hotel, renovate it and run it with no experience at either, and make a go of it for such a long time – but I’m not sure. It sounds like an amazing adventure, but I can’t really imagine myself actually signing up for something like that! Could you?

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