Featured image: The Lounge via Circa 1936
There are precious few luxurious, romantic, design-inspired hotels in country Australia. So, when you check in at Circa 1936, you realise what a rare find it is. It is charming, exquisitely decorated, run with love by a passionate pair – Jen and John – and perfect for an anniversary or a romantic weekend in Riverina wine country.
On the broad, main street of Corowa, New South Wales, stands a handsome stone-and-brick building. Gracefully curved brick walls frame a central white alcove housing a balcony and the main glassed entrance. It’s a deco delight whose style, symmetry and solidity – it once housed a bank – combine to produce a wonderful piece of architectural history. Inside, the central Club Lounge is reminiscent of a beautifully curated boutique hotel in Malacca or Mandalay, with Asian-influenced Bakelite ceiling lamps, black-lacquered floors and petrified-wood tables. The interior designers lived for many years in Asia and one of them is Indonesian.
The old bank vault is now a small library and wine store, and next to it is a grand piano and a central fireplace. There’s also a small, intimate corner bar – in the former bank manager’s office – which makes the ideal spot for a romantic evening drink. Over a glass or two of Pfeiffer topaque dessert wine from the nearby Rutherglen region, my wife and I agreed that Circa 1936 was by far the classiest place we have stayed in country Australia. We also jotted down a list of friends who would love it; there’s a market for this kind of sophisticated accommodation in rural areas.
Make a roadtrip out of it! Take a look at our NSW accommodation guide…
Best room for two
The hotel has three suites: the North Suite, the South Suite and the West Suite. Each is immaculately designed and decorated, and features a large bathtub, vast bed, stained-glass windows and a free minibar that is replenished daily.
We were in the West Suite, whose stained-glass windows are copies of Frank Lloyd Wright designs. The originals were inspired by the wheat regions of the American mid-West. Corowa is also a big wheat area, so this is a perfect example of the designers blending stylish decoration with local references. The subtle Indonesian design touch was also present in our suite with striking bedside lamps that were handmade in a Javanese village that specialises in working copper. This could have been a clash of design cultures and styles but, in fact, it worked perfectly.
The suite also had a huge 20 sqm bathroom and a big balcony overlooking the main street and accessed by French doors. We were enjoying a spectacular late February sunset when the owner and manager Jen arrived at our suite with ice-cold G&Ts. The balcony was the perfect spot to chill out during that summer evening but we could imagine the suite being just as romantic in winter when you can snuggle up together in front of a roaring fire with a whisky toddy.
Food and drink
As soon as you’ve checked in and freshened up, drop by the small corner bar for a cocktail or a glass of Prosecco and a plate of local Gooramadda olives. On the bar’s back wall is a stunning triangle-mosaic mirror and a copper statue of a pair of love birds (cranes, I think) wrapped amorously around each other. Perch up on the bar stools, toast each other and plan your romantic weekend agenda.
Then stroll about 100 metres up the street to friendly D’Amicos for delicious Italian dishes and pizzas. There’s no evening meal option at Circa 1936 right now but Jen and John are planning to increase their food offerings. They do, however, serve a lovely breakfast of granola and yoghurt, fresh fruit, pastries and local honey and jams. Also, there’s a Nightcap menu, offering anything from a glass of dessert wine to a cup of soothing camomile tea.
Whisky and wine
Corowa is on the Murray River, across which is Victoria’s Rutherglen wine region, which makes for a great day out visiting wineries to sample different drops, complemented with plates of cheese and bowls of local olives.
But why not also take a walk on the wild wide and indulge in a whisky tasting, right here in Corowa. A 15-minute stroll from Circa 1936 is a towering, 100-year-old flour mill that now houses the Corowa Whisky and Chocolate company. Although young, the drams are seriously impressive, with real character and depth of flavour. The Mad Dog (aged in a muscat barrel) was fragrant and peppery – “Christmas in a glass”, according to our friendly and knowledgeable tasting host – while the Bosque Verde (aged in a port cask) had a warming, earthy, malty taste.
Our joint favourite was the Cask 242, a rare whisky aged in a bourbon cask and created using peat imported all the way from Scotland; now that’s dedication to your craft. A Corowa Whisky tasting session is a must for couples, especially if you’re here for a winter weekend.
Couples will love
The chance to indulge in a small, private, luxurious and super-stylish hotel in a charming country town. Circa 1936 is a model for how rural Australia can invent a relatively new, design-led and in-demand style of accommodation.