Mildura Grand Hotel, review: Magic by the Murray

Read our writer's views on this property below

Tired of eating and drinking? Then sit and watch the river go by, writes Jeff Glorfeld.

A friend of mine fell in love with a block of land, which he bought as a holiday destination. The property was on a ridge outside Mansfield; the backyard looked out over Lake Eildon and the front provided uninterrupted views across to the Victorian high country. But it was a troubled relationship - his home was in Hampton, and the drive to and especially from the holiday property was a gruelling experience - no matter how relaxed he was after a weekend away, battling the traffic through the eastern suburbs on Sunday evenings was shattering.

Therein lies the big question regarding weekends away: how much time are we willing to spend travelling on those precious days away from the rat race?

It's probably stretching the boundaries of Saturday-Sunday enjoyment, pushing deep into the realm of indulgence, but a trip to Mildura's Grand Hotel can make a splendid holiday. Admittedly, we cheat and stay three nights, but let's just say we'd signed up for one of the Grand's offers, such as the Quality Escape package, which includes two nights' accommodation and dinner for two in the acclaimed restaurant Stefano's.

Mildura is about 540 kilometres from Melbourne, almost six hours of careful driving along the two-lane Calder Highway. We leave home at 8am, arriving at the Grand before 2pm, giving us plenty of time to check in, go for a swim in the hotel's delightful pool, go for a pre-dinner drink and then make a stylish descent into Stefano de Pieri's casually elegant basement restaurant. Mildura is still the kind of town where a gentleman will wear his "good" thongs for a special evening out.

Mildura has grown substantially in the past few years and visitors by road now arrive along a Deakin Avenue lined with ugly retail-chain stores. It is a relief to see that as the thoroughfare proceeds into the older part of town, a somewhat more genteel Mildura reveals itself, culminating at the Grand. Although the Murray River isn't visible from the hotel it is an easy walk, just a couple of hundred metres away, and we can hear the riverboat whistles announcing the departures and arrivals of afternoon cruises.

The Grand - rather a grandiose name for this unremarkable sprawling edifice - got its start in hospitality as the Mildura Coffee Palace in 1891. Over the decades it enveloped its neighbours and now its rooms and restaurants cover much of the city block. The rooms vary according to which part of the hotel you're in, from modern motel-style backing on to Seventh Street, to older-style suites and rooms overlooking the hotel gardens.

Our suite - an entry room with access to a shared balcony, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room with sofas, lounge chairs and a flatscreen TV - is clean, comfortable and well furnished. The bathroom has been given a modern makeover but the creaky old plumbing behind the walls lets us know we aren't in some soulless new behemoth.

The presence of a renowned restaurant such as Stefano's has encouraged the growth of a dining district centred on the hotel. You can dine, snack or just drink in the excellent Spanish Bar & Grill, Seasons, the Mildura Brewery Pub, the Pizza Cafe at the Grand, 27 Deakin, or the Grand Sports Bar, all an easy walk from your room.

Mildura has a lot to offer tourists apart from eating and drinking. The Murray is good for everything from riverboat cruises to swimming and fishing or simply sitting on its banks and watching it roll by.

The self-guided Chaffey Trail is a tour that takes in sites of historical interest to Mildura's early development, from the origins of its amazing irrigation system at Psyche Pumps and Kings Billabong, to the winery and wine museum at Chateau Mildura.

Adventurous tourists should consider taking a drive out to Mungo National Park and the desolate beauty of the lunar-like landscape of Lake Mungo. Although only about 90 kilometres north-east of Mildura, most of the road is unmade, dry-weather only and of poor quality. But it is most certainly worth the effort to visit this special place, where archaeologists have found evidence of Aboriginal culture going back 40,000 years.

An easier venture is to head over the river to NSW and visit the Trentham Estate winery, on the banks of the Murray, for great wine, good food and beautiful scenery.

The Mildura Visitor Information and Booking Centre, at the corner of Deakin Avenue and Twelfth Street (also where you'll find the community swimming pool), is an excellent tourism resource.


Mildura Grand Hotel

Address Seventh Street, Mildura.

Perfect for An ambitious weekend (or long weekend) of indulgence, with a bit of adventure on the side.

Price The Quality Escape package (valid until March 31) is $640 a couple ($320 a person, twin share). Includes a buffet-style cooked breakfast each morning, use of the gym, pool and spa, dinner for two at Stefano's, two $25 vouchers to use within the Grand Hotel precinct, a bottle of sparkling wine and fruit platter on arrival, a Mildura Brewery beer-tasting tray, a drink card for use in the Brewery Pub or the Grand Sports Bar.

Bookings (03) 5023 0511; see

Getting there Drive north-west via the M79 Calder Freeway/Highway; it's about 540 kilometres. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex fly daily from Melbourne to Mildura. V/Line runs trains to Swan Hill with bus connections through to Mildura. The coach station is across the street from the Grand Hotel.

Wheelchair access Yes

Verdict 15

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.