Located just 85 kilometres from Melbourne, Mary O'Brien enjoys cool beers, warm fires and quirky crafts in this charming town.
It's a chilly evening in Kyneton – by Melbourne standards that is – and thanks to the wonders of the freeway system I find myself in lovely Piper Street a good two hours earlier than planned.
It's a great chance to see the historic shopfronts without the distraction of the usual shoppers. The light is fading and it's easy to imagine the early settlers or gold diggers of the past swaggering into town for a drink. I'm snuggled in several layers of clothing but the locals seem unaware of the temperatures, some even togged out in shorts and thongs.
Across the road is another little gem that I discover next morning. The Dressing Table is a place where you can browse, or buy, or try your hand at making things.Mary O'Brien
Standing outside the pretty Lauriston Press shop window, I spend a few minutes checking out the prints. Although the closed sign is up, artist Sarah Gabriel is still busy inside. She spies me, opens the door and invites me in to see the artworks by herself and local artists.
It's this welcoming atmosphere and growing collection of arty and quirky shops (as well as the good food) that draw visitors to the town. Within an hour of Melbourne, this ever-changing street of pubs, cafes and crafty stores offers lots to do - including workshops at Lauriston Press.
Across the road is another little gem that I discover next morning. The Dressing Table is a place where you can browse, or buy, or try your hand at making things. There are exquisite beanies from Broom Hill Alpacas where the knits are made from farmed animals. Hand warmers and jewellery are also available and, not to forget the men, oilskin caps. The effervescent Marcie Jones (from the '60s group Marcie and the Cookies) is at the desk – how she ended up here after backing the likes of Cliff Richard is another story.
Downstairs there's a hatmaking workshop where the participants are sticking, ironing and assembling all sorts of interesting headpieces. This shop-cum-workshop was set up by Danielle White, a runaway from the corporate world.
It's pure luck that Kyneton Farmers' Market is on in front of St Paul's Church. Not surprisingly for such a foodie area, there are some serious stalls here offering things such as Boonderoo walnuts from Redesdale, Harcourt apples and dukkah from Goldfield Treats. Other yummy bites include honey joys, sourdough bread and two giant pans of paella, being freshly whipped up.
The delicious smells remind me it's time to check out the café strip. I slip into Localita, the cute newcomer from the people behind the well-reviewed Mr Carsisi. On Piper Street everyone seems to grow into two or more businesses. Here Clare Fegan manages her simple eatery with a focus on local, ethical and organic produce. A superb toasted sandwich is less than a tenner and a bowl of intensely flavoured soup keeps me going for hours.
At night I venture out from my central digs, Piper & Powlett, a meticulously restored Californian bungalow that is a labour of love for the owner, Yasmin Power, whose paintings adorn the walls.
It's cold, I'm hungry and there's no better place to cosy up than in front of the cheery fire at the Royal George pub. New owners Lucinda Brown and Chris Taylor offer a selection of craft beers and ciders on tap and the chance to try them in little tasting glasses (I like the ginger beer from Bendigo's True Brew). The pair plan to reinvigorate the old pub and already the locals are back in the character-filled front bar, the former ladies lounge is the toastiest spot and the gallery room is also open for dining.
The hotel was built in 1852 and has one of the longest continuous licences in Victoria. Brown has plenty of tales about her beers and the rumoured ghost that floats between, or maybe through, the old walls. The food's honest and hearty and the chef will love you if you order a medium-rare porterhouse.
If it's local lore you're after, Margaret Jasper at the Persian Room (or at nearby Emporium, which she also runs) is the person to chat to. She started a business on the street in 2004 and Annie Smithers opened her eponymous restaurant a short while afterwards. Smithers subsequently moved to nearby Trentham and Tim and Michelle Foster are now running her old place.
Glen Rundell (of Rundell & Rundell) makes Windsor chairs, Kabinett stocks unusual finds from eastern Europe and the Stockroom displays jewellery, homewares and clothes, many by local artisans. Other places to check out are the Long Short Story bookshop (recently reopened), Duck Duck Goose café-emporium and Nickleby's Antiques. St Beans Provedore is a good spot for a coffee break.
As well as food for the body, Kyneton provides food for the soul and it's very satisfying to watch it evolve into a centre for local artisans.
The Dressing Table, 50 Piper Street, thedressingtable.com.au; Lauriston Press, 37B Piper Street, lauristonpress.com.au; Rundell & Rundell, 29 Piper Street, rundellandrundell.com.au.
Piper & Powlett B&B, 63 Piper Street, Kyneton, 0409 157 857, piperandpowlett.com.au, two-night minimum stay, three bedrooms, mid-week $460-$750, weekend $560-$850.
Localita, 34 Piper Street, 5422 1129; Royal George Hotel, 24 Piper Street, 5422 1390; St Beans Provedore, 70 Piper Street, 5422 6860.