Beechworth travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

Beechworth, north-east Victoria, is arguably the best preserved, appealing and photogenic goldrush town in all Australia, writes a besotted Anthony Dennis.

1. SEE: FORD STREET

Is there a better preserved, more appealing and more photogenic main thoroughfare in Australia than Beechworth's Ford Street? In fact, is there a better preserved, more appealing and more photogenic town in all of Australia than Beechworth itself? We think not. Take a stroll along lengthy Ford Street. It's festooned with 19th-century goldrush era, verandah-covered footpaths and historic buildings, including the original courthouse where a fugitive Ned Kelly was arraigned, and plenty of fine places to pause, or linger, for a meal or a drink. See beechworthonline.com.au (Explore Ford Street via Street View below)

2. DO: HIGH COUNTRY HARVEST

Beechworth's rich historical legacy, which leads all the way back to the discovery of gold in Spring Creek in 1853, is matched only by that of its produce. North-east Victoria's region's annual High Country Harvest festival runs this year between May 15 and 22. Several of the events, including a honey-themed bicycle ride and an icecream-making course, are focused on Beechworth and its surrounds with the festival extending to towns further afield such as Glenrowan, Rutherglen and Bright, all within reach of Beechworth. See highcountryharvest.com.au

3. EAT: PROVENANCE RESTAURANT

Michael Ryan, owner-chef of Provenance is famed as Beechworth's best chef. His restaurant, with its accomplished Japanese-influenced menu, is  on the must-visit list for gastronomists, and rightly so. A fixture in The Age Good Food Guide for many years, Provenance is located in an erstwhile bank, dating to 1856, on Ford Street, with the restaurant's interior redolent of its original purpose. Although Ryan's dishes include a range of Japanese ingredients, Provenance's menu and wine list is a showcase for Beechworth's bounty. To top it off, Provenance also offers superior accommodation in a smartly converted coach-house and stables at the rear of the property.See theprovenance.com.au

4. DRINK: CELLAR DOOR WINE STORE

Every town, and for that matter every suburb, needs a wine bar and store like this one. The brainchild of Aaron Taylor, a former maitre'd of Provenance, is a showcase of  north-east Victoria's best drops, many of the small Beechworth producers, sans cellar doors, such as Giaconda, Castagna, Sorrenberg, Fighting Gully Road and A. Rodda. Food extends not much beyond charcuterie, cheese plate and bagel choices in a setting right out of inner-city Melbourne or Sydney. If the weather's right, plonk yourself (and your plonk) at one of the alfresco tables on Ford Street and watch the world drift on by for an hour or two. See cellardoorwinestore.com.au

4. SEE: THE GORGE

A little easy to overlook since it's behind the main part of the town, Beechworth's Gorge reached via Camp Street and Skidmore Road, is well worth a drive, a stroll or perhaps even a jog. There's a variety of short and long walks in and around the Gorge and Lake Kerferd, created in 1862 and Beechworth's main water supply. Gorge Scenic Drive is a sealed, one-way  drive shared with pedestrians. It delivers some spectacular views of the area's striking granite landscape, legacies of the gold-mining days and the gorgeous surrounding countryside beyond Woolshed Valley. See beechworthonline.com.au

5. EAT: THE OX AND HOUND BISTRO 

A smart spot for lunch on Beechworth's busy main drag, the Ox and Hound Bistro is set in a beautiful heritage-style Beechworth shopfront,  with huge glass windows and a stunning pressed-metal ceiling, on Ford Street. The menu is a mix of French and Italian-style dishes (with fine wines to match), such as confit Murray Valley pork belly with thyme-scented green lentils and spatchcock involtini, braised leeks and a mustard cream sauce. See oxandhound.com.au; visitvictoria.com

6. DO: STANLEY 

Beechworth is surrounded by a collection of charming, blink-and-you'll-miss-them, villages, all of which are within easy reach by car from the main town. One such village is Stanley, a dot on  the map 10 kilometres from Beechworth. There's not a lot here – save for the historic Stanley Pub, featuring an Age Good Food Guide-listed bistro and bar, with open fires, as well as Provencal-style accommodation. But the surrounding countryside, dotted with orchards, is a delight. See stanleypub.com.au; visitvictoria.com

7. STAY: ONE ON LAST

If you decide not to stay at Provenance, or if you can't secure a room, be sure that you don't make this stylishly appointed and well-located self-contained cottage your last choice.  Just around the corner from Ford Street and just across the road from Beechworth's eerie Old Hospital Ruins (see below), the newly and expertly renovated four-bedroom house at 1 Last Street is a weatherboard, tin-roofed, self-contained house overlooking the scenic Woolshed Valley. oneonlast.com.au

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8. SEE: NED KELLY MEMORABILIA

Although his final association with Beechworth was a transitory one, the presence of the world's most notorious bushranger still lingers. Ned Kelly Vault is a permanent exhibition that brings together the largest collection of Kelly Gang articles and associated memorabilia in the world, preserving the history of Ned's reign in the region. At the Sub Treasury building near the Courthouse (see below) on Ford Street is The Kelly Vault, a display of artefacts includes  Ned Kelly's death mask,  a gun he called Betty and even the suit of armour worn by Mick Jagger in the Ned Kelly film in the 70s. See burkemuseum.com.au

9. DO: WOOLSHED FALLS

In the heyday of the gold rush, 8000 miners and diggers worked the banks of the river which is home to these impressive, low-lying falls, easily accessible from town.  An observation deck on the top left side offering views of the falls and the valley below and you walk down to them to see the smaller cascades create shallow pools, popular for a dip in the warmer months. See beechworthonline.com.au

10. SEE: OLD HOSPITAL RUINS

The Ovens District Hospital, dating to 1856, was one of the most important medical institutions between Melbourne and Sydney, for decades being the only hospital between the Victorian capital and a distant Goulburn. All that remains,  after its demolition in 1940, is the front facade, which nonetheless provides a striking feature on Church Street, just  a few blocks or so down from the centre of town. These haunting ruins, which form part of extensive gardens, are nowadays listed as being of "archaeological, architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria". See beechworthonline.com.au

11. DRINK: BRIDGE ROAD BREWERS

Think you can escape the craft-beer cult by hopping it to Beechworth? Think again. The town is home to this genuine craft brewer ("it's our passion, not a hobby"), in a rambling 150-year old coach-house just off Ford Street, and which is actually a terrific spot for a tipple. All of Bridge Road Brewers' beers are brewed from scratch and on the premises, naturally and without preservatives and pasteurisation. The brewery,  is also a popular spot for pizza. See bridgeroadbrewers.com.au

12. DO: GOLDEN TICKET 

Beechworth's so-called historical and cultural precinct, on and around Ford Street, features several significant buildings worth visiting, including the Burke Museum, Telegraph Station, Courthouse and Powder Magazine and Sub Treasury. The Beechworth Golden Ticket grants visitors access for four consecutive days. You can explore the precinct at your own leisure, or on one of two family-friendly daily  tours that depart from the information centre on Ford Street. See beechworthonline.com.au

13. EAT: BEECHWORTH BAKERY

If you're partial to an old-fashioned pie and sausage roll (and, really, which Aussie isn't?), the landmark Beechworth is an essential stop for visitors. Built in 1857, it wasn't until 1984, Tom O'Toole bought the building to establish the Beechworth Bakery, pretty much reinventing the classic pie shop. Today the Beechworth Bakery mini-empire boasts six bakeries across Victoria and southern NSW. See beechworthbakery.com.au

14. DO: ECHOES OF HISTORY WALKING TOUR

Take a guided walking-tour, a step back into Beechworth's past, of the town's abundant layers of history. Each of the tours, led by expert guides in period garb, reveals vividly detailed and related stories from the Beechworth's past including figures such as explorer Robert O'Hara Burke and bushranger Ned Kelly as well as tales from the goldrush era, including recollections of the old Chinatown. See beechworthonline.com.au

15. SEE: YACKANDANDAH 

How could you resist such a wonderfully named township, especially since, like the aforementioned Stanley, when it should be so close to Beechworth? Yackandandah is a small National Trust-town nestled in the foothills of the Stanley State Forest that's as sweet as some of the cakes back at the Beechworth Bakery. The tree-lined main street of Yackandandah, a product, like it's bigger brother up the road of the goldrush glory days, is full of enough cafes and shops to provide an enjoyable sojourn from Beechworth. See uniqueyackandandah.com.au

16. DO: GOLDEN GOURMET RIDE

Riding High Cycling Tours' 45-kilometres Golden Gourmet tour takes in some of the much longer Murray to Mountains Rail which weaves its way through north-east Victoria. From Beechworth pedal the mostly downhill leg of the trail with a stop for lunch at Tarrawingee's historic Ladson's Store. After lunch the tour continues through the Milawa Gourmet Region. See murraytomountains.com.au; ridinghigh.com.au

17. SEE: BEECHWORTH COURTHOUSE

Built in 1858, the well-preserved Beechworth Courthouse, now  a museum, was where bushranger Ned Kelly was committed to stand trial for murder with his mother, Ellen, brothers Dan and Jim and his uncle, Jim Kelly also facing charges there. But that's not the courthouse's only claim to fame, or infamy. The first woman hanged in Victoria, Elizabeth Scott, was sentenced to death in the courthouse, while Sir Isaac Isaacs began his legal career tand later went on to become the ninth and first of our Governor-Generals to be actually born in Australia. See beechworthonline.com.au

18. DO: SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR

If you don't have the time, or the inclination, to take one of the organised guided walking tours, grab a copy of the self-guided walking tour map from the Beechworth Visitor Information Centre. The guide features an illustrated map displaying the town's most important buildings of all types and functions, along Ford, Camp, Church and High Streets. See beechworthonline.com.au

19. DRINK: BLYNZZ COFFEE ROASTERS

Bad name, good coffee. For a town that gets it so right in so many ways there are too few cool places for breakfast and coffee. Thank goodness for Blynzz, which claims to be the only commercial coffee-roasters in north-east Victoria. Blynzz is certainly serious about its coffee with the owners storing and roasting green coffee beans on the premises with four different coffee roasts from which to choose. See coffeeroastersbeechworth.com.au

20. SEE: THE BEECHWORTH POST OFFICE

In a handsome town with an impressive stock of 19th-centruy architecture, Beechworth's most prominent building is the post office which dominates the corner of  Ford and Camp streets. Built in 1859, the much-photographed post office played an important role in communicating the grave news of the sensational murders of police at Stringy Bark Creek in 1878 at the hands of the Kelly gang. See beechworthonline.com.au

The writer was a guest of Tourism Victoria, Tourism North East Victoria and One on Last.

See also: Australia top 10 towns for a short break