Visitors to Australia typically arrive into Sydney, go to Bondi, climb the harbour bridge and take some selfies in front of the Opera House. Then they typically travel north to see all the wonders that Queensland has to offer. Some will go inland to Uluru and Alice Springs, but not many head south to discover Melbourne. And even fewer head into country Victoria from Melbourne. Which is why The Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld is a rare and precious little gem, sitting relatively undiscovered by the tourist hoards at the foot of the Grampian mountain range, just three hours drive from Melbourne.
On my recent trip back to my hometown of Melbourne, the entire Delahunty clan (nineteen of us) took a family road trip to Dunkeld, for a little destination dining and family togetherness. What we discovered at the Royal Mail in Dunkeld was a little oasis of calm and beauty, and accommodating staff willing to put up with possibly the rowdiest group of guests they’ve had in a while.
The first thing we saw when we pulled up in our nut-bus was the pool. Needless to say this was the first stop for everyone once we checked in. While the more energetic amongst us proceeded to have handstand competitions in the pool, others enjoyed a fine local wine on the sun loungers, gazing up at the Grampians, asking each other at regular intervals, “How’s the serenity?”
The Royal Mail has two restaurants: the upmarket Wickens restaurant or the more casual Parker Street Project. Wickens is an experience to be had, savoured and remembered fondly for years to come. It is reached by negotiating an LED-lit wooden path through a garden of native plants. On entering through the blue velvet curtain and being ushered through the extensive wine cellar you are seated in the main restaurant with breathtaking views of Mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt. The interior is all Australian hardwood and stone in the most luxuriously moody tones.
Parker Street Project has a lighter and casual vibe with a delightful menu of sharing plates. Both restaurants are almost entirely supplied by the Royal Mail’s own extensive kitchen garden (more on that below). The freshness of the ingredients is evident in every mouth watering dish (the pork being my particular favourite, while the chicken was popular with others).
There is accommodation to suit any visitor – from the charming homestead for large and boisterous groups, complete with hardwood and flagstone floors, or the more modern apartments (with incredible vistas) for those wanting to escape the madness of “quality family time”.
If hiking or cycling in the mountains isn’t your thing, you can take the restaurant’s tour of the kitchen garden. The grounds are beautifully kept, all manicured green and lush. It’s a stark contrast to the wildness and the sun-faded colours of the Australian bush which surround it, with its washed-out silvers and pale yellows and the scent of eucalyptus wafting on the air.
The wildlife in the area is the added cherry on top of this particular holiday cake. Kangaroos hop around in the open, and koalas laze overhead in the gum trees, so a stroll around the area is a must. The Royal Mail also has a wildlife feeding tour which features local environmental initiatives and, more importantly, cute, fluffy, native animals.
The Royal Mail Hotel is ideal for foodies, wine lovers (aka boozehounds like us) and outdoorsy types who want an experience that is unique in the way that you’ll be the only ones telling your friends about it. The drawcard for me (other than the dining), after spending the last few holidays in the tourist traps of Europe, is the exclusivity you feel at the Royal Mail – exclusive in the sense that you feel like only you and a few discerning others share this wonderful little secret place and will take away with you that divine sense of peace you can only get from the Australian countryside.