THE SCHALLER STUDIO, BENDIGO

There are few hotels that make you feel like you're part of a community. Checked-in, left to your own devices and often forgotten, you rarely make friends. Not so at The Schaller Studio, where the Art Series Group has brought European planning and design to a regional hotel.

Fluidity is evident right from the get-go, where the reception meets the bar. Staff are multi-trained, working from the front desk right through to the cafe wherever the demand is. After a quick check-in my host took my bags, brought my car around and served me a drink. I felt slightly ashamed she was catering to all my demands, but it was refreshing to meet staff so accomplished.

The cafe space serves up a simple selection. Quinoa and Pumpkin salad with a Zucchini frittata was wholesome and a hip selection of juices were on hand. Slices were decadent, I ate two chocolate brownies and almost asked for another checking-out for the road. 

Opposite, on the ground floor, is the communal space, which is the draw card for Schaller. Three lounge areas, with couches and tables, can be used for meetings, coffees, reading and catch-ups. The rooms are modestly-sized and promote guests to venture downstairs and utilise the facilities. The anti-social skeptic in me was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to feel comfortable relaxing the afternoon away.

Mark Schaller, the Melbourne artist of choice by Art Series for Bendigo, has over 200 original pieces throughout the hotel. His quintessentially Australian murals are spectacular and divide the lounge areas, providing a stunning backdrop. Mark drops in from time to time to give talks and workshops for the local community children and guests.

It's fitting an Art Series opened in Bendigo, being such a hub for art. With huge exhibitions bypassing Melbourne and going straight to The Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo has hugely gentrified and become a weekend destination. It was clear other guests were interested in Schaller's art work, often pausing and chatting over a piece on the wall.

The hotel is set on the leafy grounds of the Bendigo Hospital. It makes it difficult to find and there is a sense of "am I in the right place" when you arrive, but the hospital is currently being extended and turned in to one of the biggest health facilities outside of Melbourne. As a requirement for this extension a hotel was needed to cater for doctors, patients' family members and visitors. The community feel of The Schaller Studio leads me to think these guests will be well cared for.

Schaller takes on a different vibe in the evening, where the lighting is dimmed and candles glow. Staying on my own for once and open to experimenting with the idea of community I ventured down for dinner. Sitting by myself, far away from anyone else, I was spotted by my server from lunch. He quickly came over and asked if I'd like something. Wine please, and some cheese. The servings were huge and the selection was well chosen.

A few minutes later two others came and sat on the couch next to me. "Would you like me to move?" I apologetically asked. "Of course not" they replied confused. I smiled and buried my head in my phone, but they did not give up there. Turns out these two were local folk who regularly come in for coffee to catch up in the evening. My awkward solo cheese and wine turned in to an hour long conversation about life, love, Bendigo and ended with some email swapping. A Schaller success story? Maybe.

Running up alongside the ramp to the lifts is a long resource area of books, games, pens, paper and paints. Children and adults can both indulge in this open library area. I spotted a mother's club during the day with the children happily entertained and the parents having some much needed respite and coffee.

The rooms are small but luxuriously effective. My queen suite had a separate sitting and work area, which I would recommend booking if staying for several days.

A shallow balcony allows you some fresh air with stools and a bar table overlooking the country streets. Despite being on the hospital, noise was minimal and the roads were quiet.

Linens were quality and pillows were the right amount of soft and firm. Alarm clocks and lamps were well designed with plenty of the latest Vogue Living and Frankie magazines on hand for reading.

Bathrooms were functional with ample shower space, paired with EVO products. The mini-bar was well stocked with artisinal snacks and a mini canvas and paints for the little ones.

The informational mural in your room is a nice change from the folder format. Writing pads, pencil, menus and tourism pamphlets were creatively interactive.

Breakfast, optional, provided the basics to start your day. Cold cuts, cheese, cereals, fruit and breads were fresh and enough to start your day. With so much on offer in Bendigo, there's no need to over-do it.

It's rare you find a hotel that is special. The Schaller Studio isn't about the biggest rooms, gastronomy in the kitchen or opulence. It's about feel. Although not to be out-done by its city sister properties, it still has the Smart Cars and Lekker bikes you'll find at The Olsen. But if you're an overnighter or a staying a little longer, you're instantly part of the community and that's really something worth looking for in a regional hotel.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Clinically artistic
ROOM PICK: Queen suite
WIFI: Yes, complimentary
BREAKFAST: Optional mini-buffet
RATES: Queen suite at $175 p/n including breakfast.
CHILDREN: Yes
IN-ROOM: 2 x Balcony, EVO, Mini-bar, Queen bed, 2 x TV, 2 Bathrooms, Work station, Coffee machine
LOYALTY PROGRAM: Art Series Priority Guest Rewards
CHECKING: 2pm/11am
SPA: none
PARKING: free carpark
PERKS: Lekker bikes, Smart Cars for guests use

I stayed courtesy of The Schaller Studio.
www.artserieshotels.com.au/schaller/