Why winter makes for the perfect time to explore Ballarat

Words by Della Vreeland 
Images supplied
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, it is for me anyway! As a Ballarat local, I find the winter season to be the perfect time to explore all that our city has to offer, especially after months of being stuck indoors due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

People often shudder at the thought of stepping outdoors during the wintertime. But over the last few years, Ballarat has really learned to embrace the chilly season and bring everyone else along for the ride. Basically, it’s as easy as rugging up in your puffer jackets, beanies and boots, and soaking the cold up in all its glory. 

Here are 5 reasons that I love winter in Ballarat.

Art Gallery of Ballarat

Following its closure due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is now ready to swing open its heritage doors just in time for the winter holiday season. The oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia, this institution will warm the cockles of your heart immediately upon entry as you’re greeted by the unique staircase and collage of artworks. With two new exhibitions set to be showcased through the winter season, the gallery is a must-visit during your stay.

Sovereign Hill

You can’t head to Ballarat without venturing to Sovereign Hill. Even though the acclaimed Winter Wonderlights will not be making an appearance this year (for obvious reasons), it doesn’t mean the outdoor museum isn’t worth visiting. You’ll still be able to explore all the wonders of this award-winning attraction as you find yourself transported to the 19th century goldfields. Pan for gold, enjoy a warming drink and pastry at one of the bakeries, admire the beautiful buildings with their Victorian facades, warm up by the fire pits, and try your hand at candle-making. Performances in the Victorian Theatre will also be running (with social distancing in place). As long as you’re rugged up and sporting comfy shoes, you’ll be ready to while the day away in the days of yore.

Warming eats

One of my most favourite pastimes is eating, so I consider myself quite lucky to live in the culinary capital of western Victoria. Ballarat’s cafes and restaurants place a huge emphasis on sourcing local, so you can look forward to specially-curated winter menus showcasing only the best and finest in seasonal fare. My top eateries would have to be Moon and Mountain and Mr Jones, while The Forge, Mitchell Harris and Meigas are amongst some other local favourites.

Village exploration

Another favourite pastime for our family is loading up the car and taking a day trip to one of the city’s neighbouring villages. Ballarat acts as the perfect home base to explore the region’s many hamlets, each boasting its own rich history as well as more mighty fare! Buninyong, Creswick, Clunes, Talbot and Beaufort and just some of the places worth discovering during your Ballarat stay.

The streetscapes

There’s something mystical about the Ballarat streetscapes during the wintertime. The boulevards glisten in the rain’s afterglow, there is a magical and almost eerie contrast between the grey skies and majestic heritage buildings steeped in stories of the past, and the bare trees seem to release a desire within us to rug up and truly uncover the best of the season. Which is just as well, since there really is so much to be discovered.

For more ideas of things to see and do in Ballarat during winter, head to visitballarat.com.au

 

Equus @ Moonambel Wines

With only Google as a guide, it feels like you’re heading into the middle of nowhere to get to Equus Wines. Then the really interesting profile of a modern piece of architecture appears atop a hill, and you find yourself thinking ‘Geez, I hope I’m going there – that looks amazing.’

Arriving at Equus is no let-down of the anticipation. The view is stunning. The modern cellar door overlooks the vineyard and the Pyrenees Ranges beyond.

Wines are typical of the region – intense cool-climate flavours and fine tannins, with winemaker Owen Latta being known for natural, minimal intervention winemaking. It’s worth trusting in Google to take you up the hill for this.

A real surprise though is the discovery of the wooden horse museum through the opposite door. It’s a lifetime’s collection of author and artist, Patricia Mullins. Curated and interpreted with the finesse of any of the great museums, and just a fascinating place to wander. The collection changes regularly to accommodate a particular theme, and is surely worth the trip on its own merits.

Billson’s

In 1865, George Billson purchased the old Ovens Brewery with the aim to fulfil his ambition to be a brewer (after spending time as a publican). Outgrowing that premises, and in response to the vast requirements of a burgeoning settlement during the gold rush, George built a brew tower at the current site in Beechworth. George went on to brew beer here until the 1950s, after which it became a site for the production of cordials by Murray Breweries.

In 2017 the site was bought by Nathan and Felicity Cowan and carefully renovated to house a modern small-batch brewery and distillery alongside the continuation of cordial production.

Today they are brewing a growing range of quality beers, a (proper!) ginger ale, a cider, and with a clever addition to the brewery, are also distilling gin. All are excellent, and there’s something for every taste. It would be remiss of us at this point to neglect to mention the basement Speakeasy bar. It’s spectacular and reminiscent of the hidden bars of the temperance days.

Speaking of taste, cordials are a nostalgic thing. The classic flavour of raspberry cordial will transport you back to your childhood while the raspberry vinegar cordial is so resplendent with ripe raspberry flavour, it’s like a time-machine back to the “please mum, can I have a cordial” days.

There is a cafe on-site serving good coffee and a short but delicious food menu. Take a good look at that coffee machine too – it reflects the Billson’s way with its hand-operated lever pump, and is a thing of great beauty.

Also on-site and worthy of a visit is the Carriage Museum. It houses horse-drawn carriages of various kinds still in their original condition.

Gippsland Art Gallery

Regional art galleries are a thing – seriously important works of art are held and exhibited in significant galleries in regional areas. Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale is a breathtaking renovation of a 1960s brutalist building, housing important works of art from not only the region but also internationally. There are pieces you might have seen at MoNA in Hobart, MoMA in New York or the NGV, sitting comfortably and meaningfully with works by artists who’ve made Gippsland their life’s passion and focus.

The gallery celebrates regional artists who have made a significant impact on the art world, such as Annemieke Mein. The Sale-based textile artist has had a long career and is deservingly described by the gallery as a ‘global phenomenon’.

Take the time to wander slowly through the gallery – entry is free, and the coffee in the port-side window is good.