It's early Saturday morning, a queue stretches out the door and staff behind the glass counter of the irresistible Icky Sticky Patisserie are constantly apologising. Not because anyone's complaining. Rather, they've completely sold out of many of the pretty pastries and cakes customers have been queuing for, and it's not even 9am.
Seated with a nicely crafted flat white and a plate of Icky Sticky's finest, I'm consumed by guilt. Many have travelled from as far away as Sydney, and Newcastle for a taste of Icky Sticky's brilliance, which includes the glossy chocolate raspberry mousse bomb, encased in a mirror glaze so perfect you can see your own reflection. "Oh, that's my favourite," one woman sighs, pointing to an orange syrup cake with fig, pistachio and rose petals that sits temptingly on our plate. I'd happily share, save for the death stare of my 10-year-old daughter.
She's waited a long time to visit Icky Sticky, and as far as she's concerned, we're not parting with a crumb.
The adorable patisserie lies in the chocolate-box village of Lorn across the Hunter River from Maitland, regarded as one of Australia's most important heritage cities and the eastern gateway to the Hunter Valley. This fascinating region is shaking off its status as the poor cousin to the Hunter's winery-rich regions of Pokolbin and Lovedale, with a raft of new restaurant, bar, cafe and boutique accommodation openings, many housed in gracious old buildings.
Visitors can stay in a restored 1830s Georgian mansion, stroll tree-lined streets lined with gorgeous cottages, be pampered in the Katachi day spa (seriously, you'll emerge reborn after a four-hour Cleopatra treatment), and discover local artisans, many of whom, like Icky Sticky's Phillip Bowtell and Jessica Boutard, have left the big smoke to become a part of the close-knit community.
Lorn local Bob Dennerley is another. Passionate about conserving Maitland's history, Bob handcrafts his bespoke leather bags, travel goods and accessories from his artisan shopfront, Dennerley Leather Designs, at the Levee, the town's retail and cultural hub. Next door is The Bikesmith & Espresso Bar, where it's possible to enjoy a cold brew and have your bike repaired at the same time.
Along the strip you'll also find the Cunning Culinarian, a glamorous cafe, providore and cooking school, Ometto for authentic Italian pizzas, and Studio Amsterdam, where both fabulous surreal artwork (and classes) are offered in yet another superb old building.
That night we take a seat at The Rigby, a hip Melbourne-style cafe by day, wine and cocktail bar by night in a character-filled 1870s building on Maitland's High Street.
Nick Bourne, one half of the father-son team behind the reimagined space, greets us warmly. Olives are delivered to the table along with one of their specially crafted cocktails, Gin's Rose, with rosewater, rhubarb, gin, Aperol and a hint of citrus. It's as delicate and pretty as Lorn and Maitland itself.
With a myriad of new reasons to visit, you'll need at least a few days to experience a sweet taste of riverside village life.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of My Maitland.
Maitland and Lorn are a two-hour drive from Sydney; 40 minutes from Newcastle's Williamtown Airport with direct daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The Villa, from $300 a night. See thevilla.net.au