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24hrs in Ballarat

120 minutes down the freeway is a place big enough to be a city, but small enough to get to know  in a day.

Sat 0900

The freeway was clear and the countryside green as we climbed the rolling hills into Ballarat. With just a day to spend in this historic gold rush city, our stay was planned well ahead.

We arrived beside the beautiful Lake Wendouree home to the Ballarat Farmers Market held every 2nd and 4th Saturday with esky in hand. It reflects Ballarat’s amazing farmers and makers with farm-fresh meat, snapping fresh organic veg to handmade creamy brie from Goldfields Farmhouse Cheese.

We are served our breakfast chorizo and manchego toasties from Tim’s Toasties by Tim Bone. Ex Masterchef contestant who has elevated the grilling of cheese sandwiches to an art form.

1100

It’s a short drive to Buninyong, a historic village built at the base of the extinct volcano, Mt Buninyong. We drive up to the summit and walk around the crater through the bush. While crimson rosellas flit through the forest and a wedge tail eagle circling above, an eerie feeling fills the air. We google the place to discover it is a sacred site for the Wadawarrung people. From the summit, 750m high, we look out onto a patchwork landscape of paddocks, windmills, and old volcanoes.

1300

We have an appointment at Wooten, a studio where leather is painstakingly handcrafted into aprons, bags, handbags, and stunning footwear, in the old Gun Cotton Mill in Delacombe. This isn’t buying fashion; this is investing in heirlooms. It’s a trip back into the historic heart of town to Campana’s Cellar. This 45-year-old family-owned deli and wine store specialise in local wines from small growers in the Pyrenees and around Ballarat. We pick up a mixed half dozen for the cellar back
home.

1430

Word has it that Pancho is hot. It’s the latest venture from Spanish-born chef Jose Fernandez, who has Spanish restaurant Meigas across the road. He spent time in South America and his food is authentically good. We order a soupy Brazilian seafood curry packed with prawns and calamari. With shared plates, good value wines, this is the place for a long, late lunch.  

1630

We burn off lunch with a stroll around Lydiard Street and poke our heads into the impressive Craig’s Royal Hotel. It reeks of old money and almost every politician and celebrity from its opening day in 1853, such as Mark Twain and Dame Nellie Melba. The Lydiard Street North streetscape is an almost perfectly intact Victorian line of double and triple story buildings with imposing facades. As the street lights come on, Ballarat takes on a nighttime golden hue.

1830

The sky outside Hop Temple is a bopping and swaying mass of suspended umbrellas. Inside this former warehouse, it’s warm and full of locals. We stop counting the number of beers when we get to 50. (There are 37 IPAs alone). Our homage to brews continues down on Mair Street at Aunty Jacks, a brewpub with a great menu, great beers, and an eclectic fit-out of velvet and vinyl, old doors, and drawers, and a crowd dedicated to fun.

1945

Ragazzone is Italian for ‘big boy,’ and the staff are hand rolling pasta as plates fly out the kitchen. The front-of-house manager knows his wines and talks us into local textural white to go with the crab cracker – sensational! It goes just as well with the plate of hand-shaped tortellini filled with a filling of fresh ricotta with a delicate sauce of green herbs. Easily some of the best pasta we’ve outside Italy.

2100

A walk around the corner is Roy Hammond, an Asian-inspired bar decorated with beautiful old bird cages. We order The Usual Please, a pick-me-up cocktail of fresh lime and lime zest, and Ballarat’s local Kilderkin Gin.

Sunday 0900

Everyone has told us to breakfast at L’Espresso. This place is 30 years old and was so ahead of its time it still feels modern. It feels like Milan or Manhattan. After a great peach frangipane tart and parmesan scrambled eggs, it’s down Sturt Street and up Lydiard Street North to the Art Gallery of Ballarat. The Gallery is home to some iconic Australian masters such as Arthur Streeton and even depictions of indigenous ceremonies in the 1800s by William Barak. During COVID, curator Julie McLaren rehung the collection into the most amazing groupings of colours and structures.

1130

Time to head back on the road, but with the need for one more caffeine fix and a toastie, we hit FIKA. Mid-morning and the place is pumping in this blonde wood Scandi-cool café with the barista grinding St Ali beans for silky smooth lattes. We sip them slowly as we put Ballarat, its beautiful old buildings, forest, fun-loving locals, great retail and culture, behind us, for now.

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