Craig's Royal Hotel, Ballarat review: A Eureka moment

Read our writer's views on this property below

Justine Costigan is among history at a grand hotel, faithfully restored.

Craig's Royal Hotel has been home to some of the state's most significant events. The Royal Commission into the Eureka Stockade considered its findings here in 1855 and the hotel hosted the Shenandoah Ball in 1865, held by the Confederate Navy which arrived in Melbourne on the C.S.S. Shenandoah hoping to enlist recruits to fight in the American Civil War. and Mark Twain, Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) and Dame Nellie Melba all visited the hotel, with Melba giving a performance from the balcony of the hotel's Reading Room.

In the heart of Ballarat, and within walking distance of the Art Gallery of Ballarat and many of the city's significant buildings and museums, staying at Craig's can be compared to staying at Melbourne's Windsor - it captures the same sense of living history but on a more intimate scale.

Painstakingly renovated by the owners John and Mary Finning, who bought the hotel in 1999, Craig's is now a luxurious boutique hotel that has kept the faith with the original building. Everything is in grand proportions, from the beautiful wooden bar to the main staircase leading to the private dining room and guest suites. Upstairs, two floors of rooms, including a tower suite overlooking Lydiard Street, stretch out from long, thickly carpeted corridors. It's a bit of a rabbit warren upstairs and it would be easy to get a little lost but this is exactly what I like about this beautifully preserved old dame - the hotel is authentically, wonderfully Victorian.

Fitted out with heavy wooden furniture including a queen-size bed, my room is at the back of the hotel but because it isn't facing the street the room is quiet. Original windows and doors are complemented by all the mod cons - TV and a luxurious en suite, modern but styled to suit the hotel's decor. Despite this it's easy to imagine yourself in gold rush Ballarat - the quiet of solid wood doors, thick carpets and Victorian elegance.

The staff don't have the formality of old though. They are uniformly friendly and helpful, whether you need a taxi, help with tourist information or carrying bags.

It's impossible not to be intrigued by Ballarat's history - wander through the Art Gallery of Ballarat to find a replica of the Eureka flag (the real one is being restored at present) or walk down Sturt Street and be reminded of the spectacular wealth the region once generated - one magnificent building and one impressive statue after another. I follow the walk outlined by the helpful women at the information centre but soon get off track - happy just to wander the town. Having only ever passed through Ballarat since my obligatory visit to Sovereign Hill in primary school I'm looking at the city with new eyes. This visit has sparked a new interest in gold rush history.

Ballarat has become something of a foodie town in the past few years and there are some good bars, cafes, foodstores and restaurants but it would be a shame not to eat in at the hotel for at least one night. In a large atrium on the ground floor, the Gallery Bistro serves Mediterranean-inspired food in an elegant setting.

And of course, one of the best things about dining in is you can make a majestic exit, slowly wandering up the grand old staircase to the seclusion of your room.

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VISITORS' BOOK

Craig's Royal Hotel

Address 10 Lydiard Street, Ballarat.

Bookings Phone 1300 651 477, see craigsroyal.com.au.

Getting there 70 minutes' drive from the CBD or a one-hour (peak) train journey from Southern Cross station.

How much From $395 for two nights including breakfast. See the website for rates and special packages.

Summary A lovely and welcoming hotel with a fascinating history.

Verdict 17

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.