Australia’s third largest regional city may have been born out of the gritty Victorian Goldfields, but today it’s rocking to a new beat … think bearded baristas and single origin coffee, cool laneway bars, blockbuster art shows, an award-winning foodie scene and one of the most exciting boutique hotel openings of 2019, The Provincial Hotel, Ballarat.
Image courtesy of Marcel Aucar
2pm: Arrive at The Provincial Hotel
If you are after a true taste of modern Ballarat, one that combines the gilt and gloss of yesteryear, with the modern-cool of Melbourne’s hippest regional city, there really is no better place to stay than The Provincial Hotel.
Leave the car at home and take the train to Ballarat – in just over an hours’ travel time you can go from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station to the grand entrance of The Provincial Hotel.
This majestic dame sits proudly on iconic Lydiard street – the main vein of Ballarat’s beating heart.
History is at the forefront of The Provincial Hotel. In bygone years, Lydiard Street was home to Goldfields diggers who were either down on their luck and brawling in bars, or up on their luck and searching for the delights of ladies of the night.
The street’s storied past adds an edge of history that is unique to The Provincial Hotel. Today, the north end of Lydiard Street has undergone a trendy reinvention, with The Provincial perfectly placed in the centre.
Housed in a beautiful 1909 heritage-listed building, The Provincial Hotel re-opened in 2018 after significant refurbishment. Business partners Simon and Gorgi Coghlan and Drew Harry threw out the rule book when reimagining this 1909 Victorian treasure, creating a playful and sophisticated European inspired luxury hotel and restaurant – and the aura of distinct luxury is palpable from the moment you enter.
With a bowerbird’s eye for beautiful things Co-Owner, Gorgi Coghlan (of The Project), and her team of designers’, combined antique furniture, artwork, vintage objects and beautiful textiles, (including Anna Spiro fabrics) along with designs sourced from New York and Europe, to create a warmth that has guests feeling as though they are staying at their stylish best friend’s house. No two of the 14 boutique suites are the same.
Inspired by female characters who have influenced Ballarat’s history, the hallways of the hotel are home to a revolving display of local female artists’ original works.
Put it this way … if Kate Moss was an interior designer, she would love to stay at The Provincial.
3pm: Embrace your inner culture vulture at the Ballarat Art Gallery
The oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia, expect to see a comprehensive collection of Australian art as you wander through works from colonial to contemporary times. Entry is free for the permanent and most of the temporary exhibitions, with the gallery currently showing Picasso’s ‘Vollard Suite’ of 100 etchings and engravings from the 1930s.
5pm: Pre-dinner drinks at The Lost Ones Basement Bar
Sneak across the road to a hidden basement bar which describes itself as ‘deliberately hard to find’. It’s all about the mood lighting, quirky furniture and resident cat at this cool-kids haunt that serves up innovative cocktails including the Paper Plane with bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol and lemon, and the Hippocampus Mule with vodka, lime, mint and ginger beer.
Image courtesy of Marcel Aucar
7pm: Fine-dining experience at Lola
When it comes to fine-dining in Ballarat, look no further than The Provincial Hotel. Signature restaurant, Lola, is named after the infamous Goldfields dancer, actress and courtesan turned countess, Lola Montez. Lola was reportedly so jaw-droppingly gorgeous she drove a Bavarian king into exile!
It’s not just the namesake of Lola that makes this a noteworthy place for a meal – the kitchen team is led by Head Chef Shaun Thomson, one of the hottest chefs in Australia right now.
Thomson has worked alongside Quay’s Peter Gilmore, Peter Kuruvita at Flying Fish and as demi chef at Neil Perry’s Melbourne outfit Rockpool. His menu at Lola is phenomenal and changes seasonally – best of all, it’s an ideal way to sample fresh local produce, which Thomson sources from within a 150km radius of Ballarat, whenever possible.
Lola also features an extensive local and preservative free wine list showcasing around 60 bottles sourced predominantly from the local area (with a few French and International varietals for diversity), designed to match Thomson’s exceptional menu.
For those who prefer cocktails over wine, the expert bartender is on hand to shake up a joyful creation. Personally, we loved The Spider Dance with St. Ali coffee, Anejo tequila, Picon Club, house Curacao and a lemon twist.
When it comes to choosing dishes, don’t go past the cured Great Ocean Road duck breast with charred pear, rocket, walnut & vanilla balsamic for entree followed by the Milhouse ox cheek with cauliflower, onion soubise, orange and rosemary gremolata for main.
Our favourite way to finish off a three-course meal at Lola? Thomson’s take on Eton mess with black sesame meringue, tarragon crème, strawberry coulis, berries and tarragon macaroon.
Image courtesy of Marcel Aucar
10pm: Retire to your room
There is nothing more indulgent during a country break than being able to move from the delights of the dining room, after a fantastic gourmet experience complete with beautifully paired wines, straight upstairs to your room.
It’s all in the details at The Provincial, where everything down to the in-room tea cups and cute little cheese board have been carefully chosen to fit the aesthetic.
The rooms effortlessly sweep you up in the Victorian luxe atmosphere, with jazz music playing softly as you enter and beautiful chandelier-style lighting above the bed.
The team at The Provincial have thought of everything – and inside each room you will discover a ‘Passport’ filled with suggestions of places to explore in the bustling city of Ballarat.
9am: Breakfast at Lola
You’ll be forgiven for not jumping out of bed at first light, thanks to The Provincial Hotel’s plumped up pillows and fine linens. Downstairs, you’ll discover breakfast at Lola is a completely different experience, think stylish European bistro.
Serving, Melbourne favourite, St. Ali coffee your caffeine fix is sure to hit the spot. With dishes like zucchini and gruyere hash brown, chorizo, wilted spinach and tomato relish for savoury lovers and French toast with caramelised banana, salted caramel and white chocolate ice cream for the sweet tooth’s, breakfast at Lola is a culinary adventure.
Luckily, Ballarat is best explored on foot (so you can burn off those extra calories without even trying) and it’s easy to see why we recommended you leave the car at home for this mini-break.
10:30am: Cycle to Lake Wendouree and Ballarat Botanical Gardens
Borrow some bicycles from the team at The Provincial Hotel and head to Lake Wendouree, the perfect place for a post-breakfast cycle. Lined with towering trees, boat sheds and beautiful houses, misty early mornings or sunny days can be enjoyed spotting ducklings and black swans around this picturesque hotspot. With playgrounds for kids, the Ballarat Botanical Gardens for plant lovers and cute cafes for those just wanting to watch the world go by, this is an idyllic place to unwind.
Plus, on the second Saturday of every month, you’ll find the Ballarat Farmers Market by the lake where you can pick up local produce or just have a chin-wag with the friendly stall owners.
1pm: Lunch at Moon and Mountain
Modern Asian fare with an Aussie twist is on the menu and this ultra-trendy eatery that nails the flavour and plates up in that Insta-worthy style that we all know and love today. Menu must-dos include the caramelised sticky pork hock with palm sugar caramel and red Nam Jim, and the chicken katsu bao buns.
4pm: Wine tasting at Mitchell Harris Wine Bar
From the moment you arrive in Ballarat, the locals will be recommending you go here. An urban cellar door, this charming and cosy wine bar is all about sharing great wines and stories. Settle in with a bottle of red and order small shared bites like crispy polenta chips, swimmer crab or a charcuterie board of local meats and cheeses. It’s the perfect place to while away the time, before you know it the evening has flown past and it’s time for a lie down!
9am: Breakfast at Lola
It’s Sunday already and we are back to Lola (we couldn’t resist). We love making the most of the final few hours before checkout, so having breakfast on-site allows us to stretch out every last minute of our time at The Provincial Hotel…and we wanted to continue working our way through their menu.
Today we opt for the Salt Kitchen pulled pork, poached egg, wilted spinach on Dr Marty’s crumpets with seeded mustard hollandaise (heaven) and the Tasmanian smoked salmon, scrambled egg, crème fraiche, dill caper and rock on seeded sourdough (delicious).
10am: Checkout of The Provincial Hotel
It’s time to say goodbye to your stylish room at The Provincial Hotel. But it’s ok, you can always come back. Grab one last coffee at Lola before heading out.
Looking for a Ballarat minibreak? Check out the Luxury Escapes offer for The Provincial Hotel here.
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