A taste of the suite life

Warm glow ... de Russie Suites' reception.
Warm glow ... de Russie Suites' reception.

Nikki Marshall walks a little taller in the knowledge that she's staying at a boutique hotel that's the talk of the town.

We are smug and getting smugger. It's not an attractive demeanour, and we're not proud of ourselves. It came on so gradually, we were barely aware it had begun. And it's not even our fault. Not really.

We're in Mudgee, a cheerful town full of friendly people. And every time someone asks where we're staying, we tell them we're at de Russie Suites.

It's a small hotel in the heart of town that opened its doors in January. Yet every single person we speak to has heard of it. They all seem to be excited for us. Maybe impressed as well. Sometimes envious. And our smiles are turning into smirks.

It's true that the 13 suites that make up de Russie are housed in an impressive building. Built in 1862, the Mudgee Mechanics' Institute was a much-loved local landmark.

Its transformation into a boutique hotel is, quite simply, stunning. And simplicity is the key to its success. The exterior of the grand old girl is little changed, and inside, original features have been retained and enhanced. She's had a makeover and is looking glamorous and elegant, in an understated way.

That's apparent from the moment we arrive to a warm welcome on a chilly Sunday night. The stone-coloured reception area reeks of chic, with large lamps on the desk, a gilt mirror behind it, and an assortment of Alice in Wonderland chairs sitting alongside tree-stump stools.

Upstairs (there is a lift, but the staircase, lined with photos of the Mechanics' Institute through the years, is more interesting) uplighting illuminates the beams of the original high-vaulted ceiling. It's like being in the belly of a whale - well, a whale that has swallowed a sleek, modern hotel. We're in a junior spa suite, which has a neat kitchenette and a lounge room with a steel-blue feature wall. Towering sash windows dominate the room, which opens on to a good-size verandah. Like the windows, the floorboards are original.

In the bedroom, a gingerbread man is waiting for us on the deliciously soft king-size bed. And the bright white bathroom has a rain-drop shower over the spa.

This is a high-spec reno; the finish is immaculate. Yet there's character in spades. Gouges in one window sill are still apparent - we imagine some apprentice mechanic using it as his workbench 100 years ago.

But a quick web search reveals that this building was never a trade school. Mechanics' institutes aimed to educate working men by providing libraries and venues for lectures, dances and concerts - with the added hope of keeping them out of pubs.

Luxurious as our room is, it isn't going to keep us out of the Mudgee Brewing Company, a 10-minute walk away. There we sample the ales, enjoy a light bite and are entertained by a multi-instrumental duo called Two Man Quartet.

And the next morning, after a long sleep-in and a light breakfast laid on by de Russie, it's time to further our education in Mudgee's vineyards. Our first stop is Lowe, a 10-minute drive out of town, where winemaker David Lowe leads us to a sunny seat on the terrace by the vegie patch.

As we look out across the vines, he brings us his beautifully balanced, forthright wines. His knowledge and passion shine through, but he also gives us plenty of time to relax and soak up the view. We've only been there a few minutes before we are telling each other that this is the best cellar-door experience we've ever had.

And that is before we taste David's show-stopping zinfandel, the varietal he sees as Mudgee's great red hope for the future.

As we head back into town, we call in at the High Valley Wine and Cheese Company, where we pick up a luscious late-harvest sticky and some splendid olive and chilli feta.

After all that indulgence, it's time for a spot of exercise, so we stroll along the river in Lawson Park, admiring mighty trees. It's been a fresh, bright day, but as the sun sets, the temperature drops.

We rug up and grab a counter meal at Mudgee's favourite pub, the Oriental. It might be a Monday night but the Ori Bistro is packed with locals tucking into plate-size steaks. We go for two servings of chicken parmigiana. They are predictably enormous - so large, we should have shared. We give them a fair crack all the same.

Then it's time to curl up again in that big, soft bed. Luckily for us, smugness and snugness go very well together.

The writer was a guest of de Russie Suites and Destination NSW.

Trip notes

Where de Russie Suites, corner of Gladstone and Perry streets, Mudgee. (02) 6372 7650.

Getting there Mudgee is a 3½-hour drive north-west of Sydney.

How much From $148 to $258 a night for two people.

Style statement Simple sophistication.

Perfect for Couples who want luxury in the heart of Mudgee.

Don't forget To spend some time strolling around town. Mudgee is filled with handsome heritage buildings, cute cottages and gorgeous gardens.

Shame about We couldn't find a do-not-disturb sign, so our sleep-in was interrupted.

Kudos The hotel's impeccable, respectful renovation.

Take the kids? Two of the rooms can be combined to create a family suite.

This story A taste of the suite life first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.