With the electric pink neon sign pointing towards the motel's single-level white facade and lime-coloured railings, I almost feel like I could be in Palm Springs. Almost. It's the bulky jacket and beanie I'm wearing that ruins the illusion, the Californian desert environment hard to replicate here in the small Victorian town of Kyneton during winter.
But the vibe? That's working! Which is why the Kyneton Springs Motel has become the town's ace in the hole, and one of the state's hottest destinations this year.
When Catherine Foote took over the motel, she had a dream to transform it into a celebration of the classic road trip - a slice of nostalgia that parents could share with their children, or a touch of Americana just begging for photos with the retro features. Bold wallpapers and rotary phones give the rooms some fun kitsch, while the hot breakfast delivered through a hatch in the morning offers a motel throwback, and the modern touches help it compete with the best of the boutiques.
"It has to have a little bit of character," Catherine tells me. "It makes people feel good to be here, and it's all these little details that people comment on."
The motel is not the only reason to come to Kyneton, located in the Macedon Ranges about 70 minutes' drive from Melbourne. And it's not the only example of an old building given new life.
Across the road, Stockroom has turned an 1850s butter factory into regional Victoria's largest privately owned contemporary art space, with the work of established and emerging creators on display in the gallery spaces, some still with old industrial equipment. And a few blocks down, there's Botanik, a complete reimagining of what a country pub could be.
Have you ever tried much vermouth or amaro? No, me neither, but the owners of Botanik have decided it's just what people want in Kyneton, serving bespoke cocktails showcasing the wide selection of the botanical-based fortified wine and liqueur.
"People do like discovery," co-owner Frank Moylan explains. "We show people what we specialise in and if they want to try something interesting, we can give them all sorts of stuff to try."
The chic bar area on the top floor, more reminiscent of New York than regional Australia, extends out to the verandah, which is covered in pot plants (more botanicals!), while the rest of the level has a shop selling related products like glassware, shrub syrups, and vintage cocktail cabinets.
The biggest surprise, though, is downstairs. From the outside it still looks like the Royal George Hotel, founded in the 1850s. But go inside and all the ground floor rooms that were once a pub now house a cool furniture and homewares store called Kabinett, presenting styles from a range of eras. Much like Kyneton itself, it seems.
After I explore the store and have a drink (ok, a few drinks) at Botanik, I head to Fook Shing for dinner. The building was first used as a temperance hotel during the Gold Rush and the restaurant is named after an infamous Chinese detective posted to the goldfields during that time. Now, its modern Asian menu takes inspiration from a variety of cuisines including Sichuan, Thai, and Sri Lankan, with the banquet a great way to try a few of them.
Fook Shing is not the only restaurant on Piper Street, which has gained a reputation amongst foodies as quite an eat street. It's also the historic part of Kyneton, a hub of activity (some nefarious) in the 1850s. Stroll along its bluestone paving to discover the heritage buildings from the Gold Rush era - some preserved as time capsules and some with new leases on life.
It's worth also making your way into the modern part of Kyneton where you'll find the Country Cob Bakery, the official winner of Australia's Best Pie for 2023. The bakery has won several times in the past few years but this time it was the fish amok pie that took out gold. The pastry-encrusted version of a traditional Cambodian curry had some stiff competition against the usual beef flavours but if I've learned anything from my time here, it's that innovative new uses for old housings is just what people are looking for, whether it's a pie, a pub, or a motel.
While Kyneton is easily an overnight destination in itself, it also serves as the perfect resting spot on a longer road trip through Victoria's Macedon Ranges, a region popular for its bushwalking trails (especially around the picturesque and picnicous Hanging Rock), heritage sites, and charming towns.
To extend the indulgence, there are numerous wineries known for cold climate varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir and riesling, including the excellent Mount Monument, with an inventive dining menu and a garden that serves as an outdoor gallery for a series of monumental sculptures. A new brewery, The Lost Watering Hole at Romsey, is another great option, where the German brewer uses traditional techniques to produce a range of preservative-free beers, including a seasonal special every two months.
All a short drive from Melbourne, the region makes for a wonderful getaway or an easy addition to a stay in the city. Use a bit of imagination, and you may even think you're in Palm Springs. Almost.
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