Read our writer's views on this property below
Lee Atkinson explores a city that these days strikes gold with its excellent galleries and museums.
The discovery of gold more than 150 years ago in central Victoria has left Ballarat with a rich and lasting legacy of grand hotels and public buildings, but it's the way the history is brought alive in the galleries and outdoor museums that makes it a town worth spending a little time exploring.
What it's known for
In 1854 Ballarat became famous for a 15-minute skirmish known as the Eureka Stockade. This event, far outlasting its 15 minutes of fame, has become the stuff of legend - in the words of American writer Mark Twain, who visited Ballarat in the mid-1890s, the tragic battle came to symbolise "a revolution; small in size, but great politically; a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression it is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle."
Today the town's best known attraction is Sovereign Hill, a huge outdoor museum complete with costumed volunteers that sets out to recreate what Ballarat would have been like in the 1850s, when the gold rush was in full swing. Highlights include mine visits, watching $50,000 of liquid gold being poured, craftsmen at work in traditional trades and a gold museum. Open daily, 10am-5pm. sovereignhill.com.au.
What you didn't know
Ballarat has the greatest concentration of public statuary of any Australian city. Keep an eye out for the fountain dedicated to explorers Burke and Wills, the tribute to the bandsmen of the Titanic and the Avenue of Honour with its huge Victory Arch. It's also home to the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Australia's largest and oldest regional gallery. It houses major collections of Australian art, but the centrepiece is the rather battered original Eureka Flag. 40 Lydiard Street, open daily, 9am-5pm. balgal.com.
For a pre-gold rush perspective on the area, drop in to the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative (BADAC) cultural centre and art gallery. This new museum, just down the road from Sovereign Hill, focuses on local Aboriginal history, culture and people, and showcases local Aboriginal artists and their work, as well as information on many historical sites of significance in and around Ballarat. It's at 403 Main Road, open daily, and entry is free.
If you like your history with a dose of explosive special effects, don't miss the spectacular outdoor sound and light show, Blood on the Southern Cross, at Sovereign Hill. The show, which begins with a taste of life on the goldfields told through clever lighting and voice-overs projected onto the moonlit diggings, moves to a purpose-built auditorium that opens to the night sky and retells the events that led up to the brief but bloody battle. Tickets cost $55 an adult, $29.50 for kids, and dinner packages are available. Book on (03) 5337 1199.
Where to eat
Yummy Cakes and Patisserie on Sturt Street lives up to its name, and the Cake Bakeshop on Main Street also bakes an irresistible range of sweet treats in a retro cafe. A great spot to try some of the local wines is the Lydiard Wine Bar, which serves up a range of Thai-French fusion tasting plates designed to share. The Chef's Selection of nine dishes for $69 is great value. 13 Lydiard Street North; open Tuesday to Sunday from 5pm. (03) 5327 2787. For fine dining try Red Peppa on Sturt. 34 Sturt Street, Ballarat; open for lunch on weekdays and dinner Monday to Saturday. (03) 5331 6327.
Where to stay
When it opened in 1853 at the height of the gold rush, Craig's Royal Hotel, which was then known as Bath's Hotel, was one of the grandest hotels in the colony, the place where princes and prime ministers, dukes and duchesses stayed. Restored to its original Victorian splendour, the historic hotel now has 41 rooms and suites, each individually decorated in heritage themes, including the Chinese Wedding Bed Room and the Royal Bridal Suites. Even if you don't stay here, visit for English High Tea at 3pm every Sunday, which includes a tour of the hotel or a cocktail in the historic bar. Two-night packages start at about $198 for a double and dinner, bed and breakfast packages are available. 10 Lydiard Street South. (03) 5331 1377, craigsroyal.com.au.
How to get there
Ballarat is 117 kilometres west of Melbourne. For more information see visitballarat.com.au.