For the uninitiated, Ballarat might conjure up images of Sovereign Hill and its rich gold mining history. But this charming city, just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, offers plenty of gold – whether you’re after dining experiences by a chef with Michelin-star cred, luxurious stays or a thriving arts scene. August is shaping up to be a huge month for the city, too, with the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and a hotly contested pie competition. While it’s an easy day trip, make the most of what’s on offer and book into one of the state’s finest boutique accommodation options to savour your time in the history-rich city.
A 19th-century mansion has been lovingly transformed into boutique accommodation by locals David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew. Blending historic architecture with a contemporary aesthetic, the seven-room hotel is a tribute to textures, colours, and Cook-Doulton’s maternal grandmother, Vera. The attention to detail is clear, from personalised service to the hotel’s own fragrance, Vera. Each room, named after goldfields townships, has a distinct personality, from the sky-blue Sandon to the dusty-pink Tourello. Restored heritage features, including original marble fireplaces and freestanding baths, are complemented by gold fittings, fluted glass and luxe linens, and each room features the works of an Australian artist. The on-site restaurant, Underbar, led by chef Derek Boath (previously at New York’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se), offers an exceptional culinary experience with a focus on top local ingredients. Due to its limited seating of only 14 spots, advanced bookings are highly recommended.
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Originally built in 1909, The Provincial is a National Trust building that has undergone various iterations as hotels and pubs over the years. Its beautifully appointed, individually-styled rooms exude a warm and homey atmosphere, with heritage-style furniture and fittings to match the building’s historic bones. The European-inspired on-site restaurant Lola showcases the best locally sourced produce from Central Victoria. Open for coffee, pastries, lunch and dinner, Lola’s winter menu includes
gruyere souffle, Western Plains pork belly, Waubra lamb, King Ora salmon tartare and mango & passionfruit souffle. The wine list champions some of the best local producers in the region alongside a curated selection of French drops. Room service is also available for those who prefer to dine in (bed).
Ballarat International Foto Biennale
2023 marks the 10th edition of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, taking place from August 26 to October 22. The event attracts both Australian and international photographers – this year’s headline artist is British portrait and documentary photographer Platon. A staff photographer for the New Yorker, Platon’s extensive body of work includes portraits of prominent figures such as Barack and Michelle Obama, Vladimir Putin, Prince, Vivienne Westwood, and Cate Blanchett. Platon will be present at the Biennale’s opening weekend for the exclusive world premiere of a comprehensive exhibition – and his first show in Australia is at the Art Gallery of Ballarat featuring over 120 of his works. Along with a packed program of events, the Biennale will showcase hundreds of artists in venues across the city, including works by Yvonne Todd (NZ), Erik Johansson (Sweden) and Vineet Vohra (India) – recognised as the most highly-acclaimed street photographer of his generation. Fans of Andy Warhol will flock to Instant Warhol featuring a curated selection of nearly 60 original Polaroid portraits, including those of Warhol himself. The full program will be available to view on July 15, with tickets also available to purchase on that day.
Opening its doors in April 2023, this valuable new addition to Ballarat’s thriving arts scene derives its name from the Wadawurrung word for platypus. The immersive gallery (upon stepping into the early 1800s shopfront, visitors are greeted by sounds and smells that evoke being on Country) celebrates First Nations creativity and artists from the area across various mediums including paintings, weaving, jewellery, and wooden artefacts. The gallery is a member of the Indigenous Art Code, and is owned and operated by the Ballarat & District Aboriginal Cooperative. All proceeds of art sales go to First Nations artists and community programs. There’s also an online store if you can’t make up your mind when you’re there.
Ballarat’s Best Pies
What’s a road trip without a sensational pie? Competition is fierce for the title of Ballarat’s Best Pie 2023, which is announced on August 5 (more importantly for you, the 20 participants will have their creations available to purchase in venues for all of August). In the Sweet Pie category, you can expect a battle between an old-fashioned raspberry curd pie with miner’s oat crust, rich meringue and raspberry drop dust (from Sovereign Hill) and Grandma Harriet’s bramble and apple pie with the delightful addition of Larrikin gin and apple pie liquor (from Kilderkin Distillery). The Savoury category promises bold and exciting flavours battling it out with traditional fare. There will be everything from lamb and rosemary (from the Western Hotel) to mapo tofu (from Flying Chillies), barbacoa and cheese (from Hop Temple) and teriyaki duck (from Grainery Lane). They’re covering dietaries as well– with a Mexican inspired breakfast pie on the menu at the Turret Cafe.
Black Cat Truffles by Liam Downes
Having led the kitchens at esteemed establishments including Moon & Mountain, Ragazzone, and Wayward Winery, Liam Downes has recently taken the reins at Black Cat Truffles, bringing his expertise and enthusiasm to this new venture. A 15-minute drive from Ballarat, the picturesque 20-acre farm is a haven for truffle lovers and food enthusiasts generally. Visit in winter to hunt for French Perigord truffles, or head over in the warmer months for the exceptionally rare summer truffles. On arrival, you’ll be guided to the black gold by the farm’s truffle-sniffing dogs, before enjoying a six-course degustation with bubbles. Additionally, afternoon truffle hunts and a winter grazing menu are available, and you can also explore the on-site providore, which stocks various truffle products including truffle honey. Downes has recently introduced Friday long lunches at the truffiere, where you can sample truffle-infused creations in between the winter and summer harvests. The constantly evolving menu showcases the finest Black Cat Truffle products, with a focus on local and foraged ingredients. (Keep an eye out for Downes’s chicken, leek, and truffle pie in the Ballarat’s Best Pie competition in August, and the addition of breakfasts and dinners coming soon.)
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Ballarat.