See and do
We know you’ll want to make cultural town Castlemaine a focal point, what with its live music at the Theatre Royal and Bridge Hotel, and flourishing art scene, but stop off in Harcourt when you come off the Calder Freeway. At the base of Mount Alexander are abundant orchards in the form of Harcourt Perry and Cider. 219 Reservoir Rd, Harcourt 3453. 03 5474 2177. Bress is a sustainable farm producing wine, cider, olives, honey and vegetables; taste it all at the cellar door, open weekends and public holidays. 3894 Harmony Wy, Harcourt 3453. 03 5474 2262. A short drive away is the picturesque town of Maldon. Every July they celebrate Maldon in Winter and this year includes a ‘Christmas dinner’ for 100 people and a night market with stalls, food, music and a bonfire. Jun 28-Jul 13. If you want to schedule in a cultural high, Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s hosts Mozart opera The Magic Flute (Thu Jul 17) and Shakespeare’s Henry V (Aug 12-13). 17 Lydiard St, Ballarat 3350. 03 5333 5888. To explore the hidden underground tunnels of a real gold mine that operated during the boom – some of them 225 metres deep – factor in a trip to the Central Deborah Gold Mine. 76 Violet St, Bendigo 3550. 03 5443 8322.
Eat and drink
It’s fun to explore the laneways of Bendigo and chance upon a great bar or restaurant, but for those who like to plan ahead, the Dispensary Enoteca offers adventurous dining, extensive spirit and cigar lists, and boutique ale. On Sunday July 27, You Am I’s Davey Lane will play throughout a winter suckling pig feast and the launch of Boneyard Brewing. 9 Chancery Ln, Bendigo 3550. 03 5444 5885. There’s similar browsing fun to be had in Ballarat, but you could schedule a cooking class at the contemporary Catfish Thai. 44 Main Rd, Bakery Hill 3350. 03 5331 5248. Castlemaine has attracted many culinary-expert treechangers who have already reaped accolades in Melbourne. Try the Good Table, who do all the local foraging for you. 233 Barker St, Castlemaine 3450. 03 5443 8255.
For the full historical experience, stay at Castlemaine’s Empyre Boutique Hotel for French provincial furniture and lacy verandas. 8 Mostyn St, Castlemaine 3450. 03 5472 5166. On the outskirts of Ballarat are the Loft Cottages – luxurious rustic accommodation for couples or for a girls weekend away. 34 Hopetoun St, Ballarat 3350. 0425 732 744. Bendigo, rejoice: the Art Series hotels are now no-longer only the playthings of Melbourne. The Schaller Studio celebrates Mark Schaller’s colourful paintings. Cnr Bayne & Lucan Sts, Bendigo 3550. 1800 278 468.
Must try: Gallery hopping
Strike gold in the galleries of this arty Victorian region
01 Bendigo Art Gallery
Established in 1887, this gallery is the jewel in Bendigo’s crown. Two major exhibitions will draw art lovers from afar over the next few months. Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion includes pieces by Dior, Versace and Westwood (Jul 19-Oct 26). The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece is a selection from the British Museum’s Greek and Roman collection (Aug 2-Nov 9). 42 View St, Bendigo 3550. 03 5434 6088.
02 Castlemaine Art Gallery
This elegant Art Deco gallery was built in 1931, but the collection was founded in 1913 and includes contributions from Dame Nellie Melba and the family of watercolourist RW Sturgess. It’s also a museum, with a thorough collection of gold-rush artefacts, and a Burke and Wills collection – Burke had been a police superintendent in Castlemaine. 14 Lyttleton St, Castlemaine 3450. 03 5472 2292.
03 The Art Gallery of Ballarat
This gold-rush era gallery has a busy few months. Catch the end of For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia From First Fleet to Federation (until Jul 27), or come up for the rather more modern Art & Australia Collection 2003-2013 (Aug 16-Sep 28). Celebrate the spoils of the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards (Aug 23-Oct 5). A leading Ballarat photographer also has an exhibition. Stuart Campbell: The Essence of You showcases portraits of the actors of New Wave Australian Cinema, such as Mel Gibson and Colin Friels (Aug 30-Oct 12). 40 Lydiard St N, Ballarat 3350. 03 5320 5858.