Situated two hours’ north of Sydney’s CBD and at the gateway to the Hunter Valley wine region, it’s well worth exiting the M1 Pacific Motorway to meander through style-savvy design stores housed in historic buildings, and to refuel at one of the award-winning eateries dotted throughout the industrial city.
Stop 1: Pappa Sven
If you love seamlessly stylish design, you’ll be drawn to Pappa Sven, a little piece of Scandinavia in the heart of Newcastle. The exterior is a story in simplicity and the interior an ode to the minimal, peaceful and functional. After living in northern Sweden for a year, owner Libby Helinski was keen to re-create the atmosphere of the cosy stores she discovered there. At Pappa Sven you’ll find popular and authentic Scandi brands including Marimekko, Menu and House Of Rym.
Must-haves: Marimekko ‘Weather Diary’ coffee cup; ‘Unikko’ cushion in Red and White; and Ferm Living ‘Half Moon’ basket.
Open: Wed-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10pm-2pm.
Visit: 33 Union Street, Cooks Hill
Stop 2: Willows Home Traders
Bold colour reigns in this bohemian treasure trove of richly textured cushions and bedding, handsome furniture and quirky prints. Located on cafe-crowded Darby Street, this lovely store, curated by owner Amelia Atkinson, supports a range of Australian designers, artists and makers. Amelia admits she stocks a collection of her personal favourites, particularly items she’s unable to source locally. Although the brands are ever-changing, staples include Kip & Co, Castle, Pony Rider, Bonnie And Neil, Sage And Clare, Ninnho and Mister Moss.
Must-have: Barefoot Gypsy ‘Ju-Ju’ feather hat in Natural (left), $599, handmade using bird feathers and traditionally worn by village chiefs in Cameroon in central-west Africa.
Open: Mon-Wed & Fri 9.30am-5.30pm; Thurs 9.30am-6pm; Sat 9.30am-5pm; Sun 10am-3pm.
Visit: 86 Darby Street, Cooks Hill, (02) 4929 3399.
Stop 4: Alie Jane
Gather up your skirts for a frolic in this 1950s-inspired store, bound to inspire memories of the clothes mum or gran used to make. Owner Alison Bodman, a photographer and fashion creative, specialises in colourful retro homewares, knick-knacks, handmade one-offs, unique travel items and striking vintage fabrics (below). Alison sews most of her stock in-house, but also sells local designer brands such as I Love Green, Art Viva and Mellow. Alie Jane is also the only supplier of Kokka and Echino Japanese fabrics in the region, buying just one bolt of each pattern each season, so stock is always changing. Over winter, the handmade, vintage-blanket doggie coats walk themselves out the door.
Must-have: Kids’ pencil wrap.
Open: Tues-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat 10am-3pm.
Visit: Shop 4/200 Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle
Stop 5: Three Bears Kitchen
Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or a postcard-themed dinner, a stop at the welcoming Three Bears Kitchen is a must. The newest venture for chef Mark Hoise (also of the Mediterranean-influenced Rustic, among others), this cool cafe boasts hearty food, a focus on seasonal produce and a farmhouse-inspired fit-out. Each month, the dinner menu travels to a different foodie destination: right now you can taste fare from Croatia.
Must-have: Baked Eggs of the World, $19, which change monthly in accordance with the global dinners menu.
Open: Mon-Sun 7am-4pm; Fri-Sat global dinners from 6pm.
Visit: 2 Market Street, Newcastle, (02) 4929 4477.
While you're there
Discover new and emerging artists at The Olive Tree Market; take a stool at the bar of the Reserve Wine Bar; have a bite of pizza at the Merewether Surf House; taste some Macedonian cuisine at The Tailor's Workshop Espresso Café; and stay the night at Pappa Sven's Swedish-style summer house in the middle of Cooks Hill.