The gold rush town of Ballarat in central Victoria – site of the famous Eureka Rebellion – wears its history with pride. It is home to one of the most intact historic streetscapes in the country, lined with grand old buildings, including the magnificent Provincial Hotel. Built in 1909, the Art Nouveau pub closed in 2007 and lay derelict for years before a meticulous two-and-a-half-year restoration revived it as a 15-room hotel and restaurant. In terms of location, the Provincial is hard to beat. Opposite Ballarat station and the new Goods Shed cultural centre, it’s a 90-minute train ride from Melbourne Southern Cross, and about the same by car. Once here it’s a five minute walk to the town centre.
There’s a mix of rooms, apartments, and one- and two-bedroom suites. Each has its own color palette and a mix of contemporary and vintage pieces from local antique stores, as well as floral fabrics. Works by local female artists line the walls and are all for sale. The effect is bold, colorful and very pretty, just like the namesake behind the hotel restaurant, Lola Montez, the Irish-born Spanish dancer who scandalized and captivated Ballarat’s gold diggers in equal measure. with his infamous erotic spider dance in 1856.
I’m in a first floor balcony suite overlooking historic Lydiard Street. There’s a king-size bed, smart TV, separate living room, kitchen, and private balcony, plus a large, deep soaking 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
With the same signature look as the rooms, Lola is an elegant French bistro. During my stay breakfast was for guests only – unfortunately the advertised a la carte menu was reduced to a choice of eggs and bacon or haloumi fries or a platter of fruit, granola and pastries due to personnel issues. But lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday, are as popular with locals as they are with guests, for meals or a drink. Emphasis is placed on local produce and classic French dishes, as well as a good list of regional and French wines and an impressive selection of non-alcoholic drinks for adults. There’s also a retro cocktail caravan called Clara (named after the first female editor-in-chief of The Ballarat Times) in the back yard.
OUTSIDE + ABOUT
There are several grand old hotels and cozy alley bars nearby, the Armstrong Street restaurant strip is just around the corner, and the Ballarat Art Gallery is a few blocks away. An early morning circuit around Lake Wendouree is a great way to wash off the excesses of the night before. If you want to learn more about Ballarat’s past, you’ll find the original Eureka flag on display at the Eureka Center. Sovereign Hill – an authentically recreated gold rush town – and the soon-to-open Rare Trades Center are a five-minute drive away.
The exceptional location combined with the warm welcome of the staff and the Lola restaurant make the Provincial an excellent choice when it comes to a short stay in Ballarat.
Rooms from $275 a night. The Provincial Hotel, 121 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat, Victoria. Telephone 03 5331 3399. See www.theprovincialballarat.com.au
Plenty of space, exquisite style and fabulous chandeliers in the bedrooms.
There is a level crossing across the road and you can hear the sound of bells from your room. It didn’t disturb my sleep though.
OUR SCORE OUT OF FIVE
Lee Atkinson visited as a guest of Ballarat City Council. See www.visitballarat.com.au; www.traveller.com.au/victoria