What a history. This splendid Romanesque-style Baptist Church was built in the heady goldrush days of 1867 and it's had a chequered past since its devoted congregation relocated. It's been a restaurant, hire venue and nightclub, complete with disco lights and mirror balls. It's also been a derelict pigeon haven for 10 years. Ballarat local, anaesthetist Dr Michael Whitehead, fell in love with it then resurrected it, with an ambitious and costly three-year renovation, creating his home within the blue stone frame and the stylish self-contained apartment with separate entrance. Battista, Latin for baptise, is a subtle nod to its past holy days.
Situated in the heart of Ballarat, Battista is close to shops, cafes and a gastro pub. It's one of the many architectural gems in the booming regional city that had 6000 diggers arriving weekly in its golden heyday. From Melbourne it's a 117-kilometre drive to Ballarat and trains run regularly from Southern Cross Station. The property is within walking distance of Ballarat Art Gallery and two kilometres to Lake Wendouree.
The grand entrance greets yo with nine-metre Corinthian columns and ornate friezes that were stripped by hand and remodelled. Step through the bright blue original front door into the one-bedroom luxe apartment and you are cocooned in a glamorous refit. The sleek kitchen features the best appliances and there's also a welcome pack with local wine, cheese, artisan bread and sweet treats. We relax on the black leather couch and tune in to the Restoration Australia episode that features the church makeover. Lofty ceilings, huge windows and the old choir stall facade add to the divine atmosphere and there's a curated art collection including works by Joan Miro, Damien Hirst, Larry King and photos from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale.
The upstairs bedroom has a small lounge area with a sofa and a pile of art and travel books. Nearby a cosy reading nook with a swivel chair overlooks the ground floor via glass walls. Even more intriguing is the close proximity to the restored windows and ornate cornices that reveal the "fabric" of the original build. In the evening, a blue light runs under the cornices reminiscent of the building's former nightlife. You can gaze at the coffered ceiling and heritage protected walls from the comfortable king-size bed. The spacious black-tiled bathroom has a freestanding tub and a view.
Stride around Ballarat with its many grand buildings, where restored miners' cottages sit beside stately homes. In the heart of the city, the town hall, old court house, post office, public library and churches from the gold rush era reflect Ballarat's growth from a humble town to an influential city, that saw it dubbed Gateway to the Goldfields. The Ballarat Botanical Garden looks picturesque in all seasons and you can relive Australian history at the Eureka Centre, home of the iconic Eureka Flag flown at the bloody rebellion in 1854. Also discover life in the gold rush days at Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum.
The Ballarat dining scene is perfect for the tastebud savvy. Start with breakfast at L'espresso Ballarat - a voucher is included in your stay. It has the best raspberry studded muffins and also sells vinyl records. Underbar, named after the Swedish adjective oon-de-bar that means delectable, divine, gorgeous, great, lovely, marvellous and wonderful, lives up to its name. Mitchell Harris Cellar Door, in a converted 1890s produce and goldfields tentmaker's store, is a cool industrial bar and dining space. Try Aunty Jacks for craft beer housed in a former garage with an eclectic decor including old radiators and lamps, steel lockers, and vintage suitcases. For a fun Chinese-themed meal, Roy Hammond has tasty bao buns and dumplings.
Battista is worthy of robust hallelujahs. Stepping through those grand columns into an immaculate renovation with every comfort, leaves you in awe of the owner's vision. Visitors and locals are often seen snapping exterior photos of this glorious renovation.
From $450 a night mid-week. Weekends $500 a night, including gourmet treats and breakfast vouchers. Battista, 3 Dawson Street, Ballarat. See http://battistaballarat.com.au/
Being immersed in such a grand historical building restored to its former glory with the best modern facilities.
Leaving inspired yet failing to convince partner to snap up a historical building and renovate.
Sue Wallace stayed as a guest of Visit Victoria