The grand old lady of Mildura is the Grand Hotel ... and one you have to visit.
Mildura is centrally located on the Murray River between Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. The majestic river winds its way through the region, creating perfect conditions for horticulture and agriculture. The neighbouring national parks are home to wildlife, flora and fauna and carry many reminders of early settlers.
Mildura was established as an irrigation colony by two Canadian brothers, the Chaffeys, in 1887. They had been successful irrigating Ontario and Upland in California. Many of Mildura's streets have been named after streets in Upland, Mildura's sister city.
The grand old lady of Mildura is the Grand Hotel. It opened in 1891 as the Mildura Coffee Palace, with a billiard room, dining rooms, offices, smoking room and large underground cellars. The first floor had 21 bedrooms and refreshments were restricted to tea, coffee and soft drinks. Alcohol was frowned upon in the temperance settlement, quite ironic when today the area produces such fine wines!
In 1915, the Misses Williams who ran the Grand were granted a wine licence and by the 1920s it was the place to stay in Mildura. People from remote farms would head to town for a yearly get-together at the ultra-modern and super-luxurious resort. It was the best hotel in country Victoria, with huge rooms and new-fangled things such as showers!
The Carrazza family purchased the hotel in 1989 and their long association with the food, service and hospitality industries is evident in the way the Grand is run.
Victoria's Restaurant of the Year 2002/03 and the only three-hat restaurant outside Melbourne is Stefano's. It is in the cellar of the hotel and limited to 60 diners at a time, who are treated to a five or six-course northern-Italian-style banquet at a fixed price.
Stefano de Pieri arrived from Treviso, Italy in 1974 aged 19. After completing his schooling he went to the University of Melbourne before editing the Italian newspaper, Nuovo Paese.
Dabbling with food was always a passion (as it is for most Italians) and he went on to cook professionally with chef Raymond Fenech. He spent time as an adviser to several Labor ministers and when he missed preselection in 1991 for the seat of Melbourne North, relocated to Mildura with his family. His in-laws are the Carrazzas, hence the full circle of Stefano, his restaurant and charming television series.
There are several eateries as well as Stefano's restaurant. The Spanish Grill is well known and patronised for its quality steak.
The Pizza Café is casual, with antipasto, fine pasta or wood-fired pizza with a glass of wine, hot chocolate or cappuccino. They also have tempting cakes, biscuits and ice creams.
The Chandelier Room is open each day for breakfast and available for weddings, conferences and other functions.
The Club Lounge is in the heart of the Grand, perfect for pre-dinner drinks and a game of pool with jukebox music.
Mario's Sportsmans Bar opens from 11am until late. Pool tables and a large-screen television for sporting events make it popular and hot snacks are always available.
Wine Centre on Deakin has an extensive range of Australian and imported wines, sometimes cheaper than cellar door prices. They offer wine advice and run a wine club.
Just below the hotel on the Mildura bank of the Murray is the paddle steamer Avoca, which has been recently refurbished as a pleasant restaurant and café.
If you fancy taking some of Stefano's products home, go to 27 Deakin Street. There you can choose from chocolates, olive oils, aprons and Gondola on the Murray products. They serve breakfast and lunch and will pack a hamper for you to take when exploring the Mildura area.
There are suites, executive rooms, grand rooms and budget rooms in the Grand, so all pockets are catered for.