Read our writer's views on this property below
City meets country Bendigo, in the Victorian Goldfields about two hours north-west of Melbourne, is having its second coming, but it's art, not gold, people are flocking here to discover. Unlike many regional centres, Bendigo has kept its 1850s charm, with many historic buildings and "ghost signs" easily viewable on a short walk around town. For interstate visitors, the town has a bit of a NSW southern highlands feeling, with the weather to match.
Set just outside the town centre (there is free parking, and Lekker bikes and a smartcar for rent), the hotel entrance opens to an open lobby filled with communal tables, where guests can enjoy a local drop from the on-site cafe, a board game or one of the many art books on display. The latest addition to the Art Series Hotels group (the Olsen, Cullen and Blackman are in some of Melbourne's trendiest areas), the hotel takes its name from painter and sculptor Mark Schaller, who has a studio at nearby Elphinstone. Schaller's works adorn the walls in each of the 128 rooms, all of which have balconies, many with panoramic views. Rooms are available in a queen or twin configuration, making it a chic option for a girls' weekend.
Guests come to Bendigo to "do stuff", so don't be alarmed that these rooms are tiny (the queen rooms are 22 square metres). You're not really here to lie about. One consolation for the small room size is there is plenty of storage space, so you don't trip over your things. Bendigo has scorching summers and chilly winters, so the individual heating/cooling systems are a godsend. When it's time to rest and recharge, the Schaller's "workspaces" have plush beds (which guests can buy for home) and funky soft furnishings in eye-popping colours. The functional en suites are stark by comparison, but toiletries by the cheeky Evo brand help distract from the fluorescent lighting.
Be prepared for a dose of quirk. After all, this isn't your standard chain hotel. Free Wi-Fi and espresso makers are standard, while guests who catch the art bug can request some materials to sketch or draw their latest masterpiece. When you're done, hang it on the space-saving pinboard, where you will also find handy information about Bendigo, the hotel and the resident artist. Pack the e-reader, but make sure to flick through the art books and magazines in each room, many featuring the namesakes of the other Art Series Hotels. The minibar has also been given the boutique treatment, with local-ish Castlemaine Rock and T2 tea bags among the treats.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
The Bendigo Art Gallery has been a tourist magnet for more than 100 years but has been drawing a new generation of visitors to its world-class exhibitions, which this winter includes a 350-year retrospective on the history of underwear. The region is also home to established and up-and-coming wineries, and many of their wines can be enjoyed at the Wine Bank on View, inside a beautifully restored building in the heart of town. Sport fans can learn the local game at the grassroots by checking out the Hawks AFL team (not to be confused with the Hawthorn franchise).
The Schaller Studio is the funky hotel Bendigo lacked to help woo the art-loving crowds, and makes a great bolthole for a short stay. It is high on fun and comfort, with very reasonable rates.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Melbourne, take the Calder freeway to Bendigo. Alternatively, by train it is an effortless 1½-hour journey from Southern Cross Station. From Melbourne Airport, take the Calder freeway about 150 kilometres to Bendigo. Follow the signs to Bendigo Hospital and you will find the hotel. Ring ahead for hotel pick-up.
The Schaller Studio, corner of Lucan and Bayne streets, Bendigo, Victoria, costs from $125 a night until August 30, then from $180. Packages are also available. Phone (03)44336100, see artserieshotels.com.au/schaller.
The writer was a guest of Art Series Hotels.