ballarat in bloom

I have just partaken of a rather fancy few days in Ballarat in central Victoria.  Ballarat, I hear you say?  Really?

I will confess I was as shocked as any one to see this totally cosmopolitan regional centre and the changes that have been wrought since I ran away from it in my early twenties.

Thanks to Ballarat Regional Tourism, mine eyes have seen the glory!

I was there for the Ballarat in Bloom festival launch – celebrating a month of the best of this gold mining city.

Ballarat in Bloom runs from September until the end of November, including major attractions such as the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s Capturing Flora – 300 years of Australian Botanical Art exhibition and the annual Springfest Market around Lake Wendouree.

Premier Ted Bailliue the Real Estate agent launched the festival earlier in September with “As the Minister for Arts, I am very much looking forward to The Art Gallery of Ballarat’s Capturing Flora exhibition, which is the nation’s largest collection of Botanical artwork, and celebrates our country’s remarkable artists from the early explorers to modern times,” Mr Baillieu said. “For a city that is well known for its gardens, I can’t think of a more fitting host for such an exciting exhibition,” Mr Baillieu said.

I have had a raft of questions for residents of the ‘Rat and city slickers alike – why has Ballarat been ignored or less favoured that any other of the destinations the same distance from Melbourne.  In 75 minutes, the same time as it takes to drive to Ballarat, you can drive to The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Kyneton, Daylesford and the Bellarine Peninsula – but is seems the poorer inland cousin is somewhat forgotten.

We stayed at Craigs Hotel – and what a stunning venue it was. Its 41 rooms each have relics of a significant past and have been meticulously refurbished.  One small detail – showers heads are set at the right height for someone about 5 feet 3 – any taller and you end up with ear filled with water and a cricked neck.  The rooms are stunning and no two are the same. The hotel was built in 1853, had a major refurb in 1901 and a the next in 2010.  It has hosted a bevy of international guests, including royalty and dignitaries.  In 1908, Dame Nellie Melba sang from the balcony.

Attending a lunch, prepared by Peter Ford Catering, we were treated to a great deal of meat grown in and around Ballarat. Spolied, we dined on produce that was all grown in the region, in a the conservatory at the Botanic Gardens.  it was very pretty and a great deal of care and effort had been expended to make this lunch a ripper. The event planners had clearly gone above and beyond for this event.

Chauffeured in to the main part of town toenjoy a pre opening look and private tour of the Capturing Flora – 300 years of Australian Botanical Art exhibition at the grand Ballarat Art Gallery was a treat, especially travelling in a 1937 Studebaker.

We dined and drank of local fare and I am pleased to note that some of the wines being produced in and around the cold climate of Ballarat and surrounds are of a reasonable quality.  A favourite was Eastern Peake that we visited on our journey.  There is a young wine maker there, Owen Latta who will be a future superstar of the industry.  He is making, among other things, a very tidy Pinot Noir that suited my taste very well. Owen is a personable young fellow as well.

There is much to see and do in Ballarat and I know that I am certainly heading back to check out more of what it has to offer and eat around a bit more. And while you are there, check out the beautiful Lambley Gardens, with its own artist in residence, Chris Canning.  Her husband David grows beautiful flowers for her to pain. They are a most wonderful couple and their hospitality was pure country.

Here are some pics of Davids garden:



Pete Dillon was a guest of Ballarat Regional Tourism Board – the views expressed within remain those of the author and

were no way influenced by the freebie junket.


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