Weekend Away: Empyre Boutique Hotel, Castlemaine review.

Read our writer's views on this property below

Steve Colquhoun finds that there's gold of a different type to be found by weekend explorers at Castlemaine.

THE SETTING

Castlemaine, the location of Empyre Boutique Hotel, has the feel of a town in a time warp, with as much pristine Victorian architecture per sqm as almost anywhere. You can't turn around without finding yet another stunning example of exquisite fretwork or the sort of ornate period detail that has long since been lost from most tradies' skill sets.

THE SPACE

A great example of the grandness of the era is the Empyre Boutique Hotel. The imposing two-storey facade is framed by a full-width second-floor balcony containing - of course - a stunning display of lovingly restored wrought iron.

It's this attention to detail that co-owners Tony O'Mahoney and John Ganci brought to a monumental restoration task before opening to the public in 2004. Located at the trendy end of Mostyn Street, the Empyre includes six guest rooms and a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch to guests and passing trade.

THE KIT

As majestic as it appears from the outside, the real hidden treasure lies within with retro-fitted, period-authentic details such as ornate cornices and ceiling roses alongside mod cons such as flat-screen televisions and DVD player. O'Mahoney and Ganci cast far and wide for French and Asian antiques, including exquisitely carved hardwood beds, dressers and wardrobes that lend an aura of 1850s opulence to the meticulously furnished rooms.

THE FOOD

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A cooked breakfast in the Empyre's downstairs cafe is included in the room rate and includes hearty staples such as eggs on toast and pancakes. Returning to the Empyre for lunch, my partner rated her frittata of roasted capsicum, caramelised onion and gruyere cheese highly, but my panini of Asian-style shredded pork, hoisin sauce and Vietnamese coleslaw was unconvincing. There are plenty of other options on a menu that ranges from $12 to the $33 tasting plate for two.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

Castlemaine is a veritable - if no longer literal - goldmine for serious shoppers of antiques, starting with the famed and extensive Restorers Barn across the road from the Empyre and including the rambling XXXX Antiques on the Midland Highway, two minutes' drive out of town. The Sunday morning of our stay also offered up a farmers' market in centrally located Victory Park, while a diverse craft market behind the town theatre was a delightful surprise. The old jail is no longer open to visitors since being sold to developers last year, but a tranquil stroll in the nearby botanic gardens offers some consolation. Further afield, the historic towns of Maldon, Kyneton, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Malmsbury are all within a 30-minute drive, while Bendigo and Ballarat take longer to reach.

THE VERDICT

A beautifully restored yet affordable extravagance within easy reach of the city. Perfect for a quiet, romantic short stay for couples and parents off the leash.

HOW TO GET THERE

Castlemaine is about 90 minutes' drive north of Melbourne via the Calder Highway.

ESSENTIALS

The Empyre Boutique Hotel, 68 Mostyn Street, Castlemaine. From $240 to $395 a night. All rooms are for two guests (except the $295 Temperance Suite, which can sleep four in two double beds). See empyre.com.au