There's more to this historic town than meets the eye, writes Nicole Haddow.
AT first glance, Woodend maintains an obvious facade of historic buildings, gum trees and residents who seem to achieve a natural high just breathing in the fresh air. But scratch the surface and the Macedon Ranges town turns out to be layered with fascinating elements. Take the historic main street post office – the original signage has been maintained, but behind the red brick exterior is a beautiful homewares store called Habitat. Each room is crammed with an eclectic mix of furniture and wares to suit many tastes.
Then there’s The Village Larder. While it looks like a basic cafe with retro dining chairs and simple fare, the menu reveals a list of gourmet meals made from local produce.
Click on the image below for our Woodend picture gallery.
Owners Ben and Marika Oost made the treechange to Woodend in 2005 and brought plenty of foodie cred with them – Marika was head chef at Karen Martini’s Wine Room in Melbourne. They opened The Village Larder in 2010. During my visit it was hard to go past the warm quinoa salad with coconut potatoes and pickled cauliflower, washed down with a Mount Charlie sauv blanc.
Stuffed with local goodness, I checked in at Campaspe Country House. It’s an Australia-meets-England 1920s manor flanked by grey gum trees.
It’s here I meet with Jacqueline Ogeil, the director of the Woodend Winter Arts Festival. Now in its eighth year, the festival attracts international talent, but it might never have been if Jacqueline and husband John O’Donnell hadn’t taken a spontaneous drive, spotted a house they liked and bought it on a whim.
‘‘Artists gravitate to beautiful areas,’’ Ogeil explains. She says that the move from Balwyn to Woodend has allowed the classical musicians to explore their ‘‘gluttony for ideas’’.
The festival, which will be held in June, features both literary and musical events that make culture accessible to everyone. Visitors can grab a hearty shiraz and settle into a literary event like Yarns at the Pub, or see international act Osmosis, a wind quartet from The Netherlands, deliver some sublime classical music.
But if you’re heading to Woodend on either side of the festival there’s still plenty to explore.
There’s an old set of gates just out of Woodend on Mt Macedon. Wind past the gates and up a private driveway lined with Dutch elms and you arrive at Duneira, a stunning property built in the 1870s. Sitting on more than 38 acres, its gardens are densely planted with roses and azaleas.
Owned by the family of the late Stuart Stoneman, the house is filled with his personal art collection which includes original works by Rembrandt and Warhol. Book lovers will salivate when they see Stoneman’s expansive private library.
Ogeil, who also doubles as Duneira’s director, says the homestead is the region’s best kept secret.
At the end of a busy day you’d be forgiven for wanting to do little more than have a beer at the pub. Fortunately Holgate Brewhouse offers up a selection of house-brewed boutique beers and you can have a round of taste-testers on the house before committing to your favourite.
The return to Melbourne’s CBD takes less than an hour but the best way to complete your Woodend visit is with a slow journey through the Macedon vineyards including Hanging Rock Winery.
Taste some of their superb offerings while looking out over the vines and take a bottle or two home so that the tastes of your visit can linger for a little longer.
Nicole Haddow travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.