The Ballarat International Foto Biennale is one of the many reasons to visit the historic gold mining town, just 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne.
Check in to the luxurious Ballarat Premier Apartments in the centre of town. Built in 1901, the heritage-listed building was once an RSL but underwent extensive renovations in 2013, transforming into boutique accommodation with 11 incredibly spacious rooms. The Grand Room boasts high ceilings, period details, luxe bedding and an impressive chandelier. Dine at intimate fine-diner Underbar, where you’ll marvel at the astonishing imagination of chef Derek Boath (ex New York’s Per Se), whose tasting menu includes sensual delights such as Japanese pumpkin and Canadian maple soup and the delicately textured ocean trout with roe, mandarin and blood orange.
The sun is shining so take a stroll around the town’s leafy streets to revive your appetite. Local favourite Webster’s Market and Café, a short walk from your apartment, serves up hearty dishes made from fresh local produce – scrambled eggs with Colombian-style beans, potato hash and salmon provides the perfect kick-start to the day. The Foto Biennale, which runs til 20 October at various venues around town, features photography, painting and mixed-media events including an exhibition from Chinese artist Liu Bolin at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. For a light snack or lunch close by, grab at table at the family-run Kittelty’s café inside the gallery – its homemade cakes are gloriously decadent.
For a spot of fresh country air and stunning floral displays, make time to visit the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. The gardens boast three conservatories brimming with glorious blooms and two stunning collections of begonias, with exotic and native trees also on display. For dinner, take the 15-minute stroll from your apartment to Mr Jones Dining Room, an elegant Asian-influenced eatery. Chef Damien Jones’s banquet menu packs a flavour punch, with dishes like red curry scallop mousse with kaffir lime and cauliflower curry with Thai basil and peanuts.
Before bidding farewell to Ballarat, there’s time for one last wander to admire the vibrant mix of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, churches, historical statues and lush green spaces. Opposite the town’s railway station you’ll find Lola at the Provincial Hotel, where breakfast beckons. Named after Lola Montez, the charismatic Irish-born dancer and courtesan who toured Australia – and performed in Ballarat – during the height of the 1850s gold rush, Lola is light, bright and welcoming. Tuck into the hearty chorizo and bean cassoulet with fried eggs on sourdough or the halloumi, poached egg, broccolini, almonds and sun-dried tomato pesto. Lunch and dinner are available if you’re staying longer.