Provincial Hotel review, Ballarat, Victoria: 100-year-old pub now a stellar country hotel

Our rating

4 out of 5

CHECK-IN

The gold rush city of Ballarat in central Victoria – site of the famed Eureka Rebellion – wears its history with pride. It is home to one of the country's most intact historic streetscapes, lined with grand old buildings, including the once-again beautiful Provincial Hotel. Built in 1909 the art nouveau pub closed its doors in 2007 and lay derelict for years before a meticulous two-and-a-half-year restoration saw it reborn as a boutique 15-room hotel and restaurant. In terms of location the Provincial is hard to beat. Opposite the Ballarat railway station and the new Goods Shed cultural hub, it's a 90-minute train journey from Melbourne's Southern Cross, and about the same by car. Once here, it's an easy five-minute stroll to the centre of the city.

THE LOOK

There's a mix of rooms, one and two-bedroom apartments and suites. Each has its own colour scheme and a mix of contemporary and vintage pieces from local antique stores, alongside floral fabrics. Works by local female artists line the walls, and are all for sale. The effect is bold, colourful and very pretty, much like the namesake behind the hotel's restaurant, Lola Montez, the Irish-born Spanish dancer who scandalised and enthralled the gold diggers of Ballarat in equal measure with her infamously erotic spider dance in 1856.

THE ROOM

I'm in a balcony suite on the first floor overlooking historic Lydiard Street. There's a king-sized bed, smart TV, a separate sitting room, kitchen and a private balcony, as well as a big soaker tub in the bathroom. The fridge is stocked with local snacks, wine and Lola gin, a collaboration with Ballarat's Kilderkin Distillery, makers of Larrikin Gin. Everything, including the books on the tables and the art on the walls, is decorated in shades of blue and white.

FOOD + DRINK

Featuring the same signature look as the rooms, Lola is an elegant French bistro. During my stay breakfast was for guests only – sadly the advertised a la carte menu was reduced to a choice of an eggs and bacon or haloumi fry-up or a platter of fruit, granola and pastries due to staffing issues. But lunch and dinner, Wednesday through to Sunday, is as popular with locals as it is guests, for both meals or a drink. The focus is on local produce and classic French dishes, along with a good list of regional and French wines and an impressive selection of grown-up booze-free drinks too. There's also a retro cocktail caravan called Clara (named after the first female editor of The Ballarat Times) in the courtyard out the back.

OUT + ABOUT

There are several grand old hotels and cosy laneway bars nearby, the Armstrong Street strip of restaurants is just around the corner and the Ballarat Art Gallery is a couple of blocks down the road. An early morning circuit around Lake Wendouree is a great way to work off the previous evening's excesses. If you're keen on learning more about Ballarat's past you'll find the original Eureka Flag on show at the Eureka Centre. Sovereign Hill – an authentically recreated gold rush town – and the soon-to-open Rare Trades Centre, is a five-minute drive away.

THE VERDICT

The stellar location combined with the warm welcome from the staff and Lola restaurant makes the Provincial a great choice when it comes to a short break in Ballarat.

ESSENTIALS

Rooms from $275 a night. The Provincial Hotel, 121 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat, Victoria. Ph 03 5331 3399. See www.theprovincialballarat.com.au

HIGHLIGHT

Lots of space, exquisite styling and fabulous chandeliers in the bedrooms.

LOWLIGHT

There's a railway level crossing across the road, and you can hear the ringing of the bells from your room. It didn't disturb my sleep though.

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OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

Lee Atkinson visited as a guest of Ballarat City Council. See www.visitballarat.com.au; www.traveller.com.au/victoria