Bendigo, Ballarat and Heathcote offer, a sometimes eclectic, mix of boutique cellar doors, elegant dining and modern accommodations set in historic streetscapes.
Where to Taste Shiraz
The country town of Heathcote has become almost synonymous with shiraz, which is the main planting in this region. And local interpretations of the Rhone varietal have been courting international attention since the 1960s.
The Heathcote Wine Hub purveys a litany of local drops, with 24 wines available to taste on any given day and 200 different wines available for purchase from most of the region’s producers.
Housed in a charming 1870s house, visitors to the Wine Hub can unwind by the open fireplace come winter or enjoy the sun’s rays in the courtyard come summer. Tasting platters are also on offer.
Places to Eat
The provincial cities of Bendigo and Ballarat boast their fair share of culinary attractions, too. Masons of Bendigo pairs creative modern Australian food with an almost entirely Australian drinks list, from beers sourced exclusively within a 100-kilometre radius of the restaurant to an all-Victorian wine list and even local soft drinks.
On Bendigo’s fringes, Gold Mines Hotel is worth seeking out for its country character as well as its menu. A sensitively restored heritage building that dates back to 1872, the pub features a sprawling, leafy beer garden and plenty of options when it comes to food.
Gold Mines’ central offering comprises elegant and refined fare – wood-smoked sardines and blood orange cured trout, for example. But more casual Australian pub classics, such as beef and beer pie and chicken parmigiana, also feature.
For an intimate dining experience that’s more akin to a supper club than a restaurant, try Ballarat’s one-hatted Underbar. There are just 16 seats at this tiny venue, which is open only on Friday and Saturday nights.
Run by cheffing royalty Derek Boath, who’s manned pans in the kitchens of numerous Michelin-starred restaurants across the globe over the last 20 years, Underbar’s tasting menu is brimful of locally foraged and produced ingredients.
Places to Stay
The grandeur of gold rush city Ballarat lives on at Craig’s Royal Hotel. Open since 1853, this Victorian building has been carefully restored to its former glory, reopening under its current owners in 2010. Many original features remain intact, from marble fireplaces to the gated lift and the hotel bar’s 150-year-old Australian cedarwood counter.
This heritage hotel has hosted all manner of famous figures, from poets and princes to illustrious opera singers. It’s also full of quirks and character – one room even has its own secret tower, accessed from a hidden door in the bathroom). A stay here is akin to taking a step back in time.
For more modern lodgings in central Ballarat book into The Provincial Hotel. Though historical touches, such as antique dressing tables, are dotted throughout this four-star property, the owners have adopted a clean, fresh and simple look, with a navy and white colour scheme in most guestrooms.
Built in 1909, this heritage-listed property also features a bright and airy restaurant with a European-centric menu and a wine list that focuses on natural, regional wines.
For accommodation with a side serve of cultural history check in to the Quest Schaller Hotel Bendigo. This central, four-star address showcases the bold and colourful works of Australian mid-career artist Mark Schaller, many of whose paintings are inspired by the city. Each of the modern, light-filled 150 rooms features a balcony, and a piece by Schaller.
Wake up next to rolling vineyards at Balgownie Estate Winery, Retreat & Restaurant, on the fringes of Bendigo, where you can bed down in both bell and safari tents. These glamping options come with all the mod cons, from a split system unit for air conditioning and heating to a queen size bed, a minibar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, fluffy robes and slippers and even a private deck with patio furniture.
For the less adventurous, the estate also offers contemporary homestead accommodation on-site.
Beyond the Cellar Door
Bendigo and Ballarat are two of the best examples of former gold rush towns. Admire their richly historic streetscapes and make time for the cities’ many galleries and museums, including Ballarat’s Gold Museum and Sovereign Hill living museum.
Don a hard hat and descend 228 metres below street level in Bendigo or uncover the legacy of Chinese gold-rush settlers at Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum. And soak up the culture at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, and Bendigo Art Gallery, two of Australia’s oldest regional galleries.
What to Take Home
For a permanent reminder of your trip there are several noteworthy options. The oldest pottery works in the country, Bendigo Pottery was founded in 1858 and has since been recognised by the National Trust. It makes quaint ceramic tea canisters, egg cups, and plenty more in between.
Or for something a little lavish, Sovereign Hill’s Gold Museum offers an award-winning gift shop that specialises in gold nuggets and Australian-made gold jewellery.