COUNTRY CAPER

Australian House & Garden
There’s gold in the fields of regional Victoria, writes Vanessa Walker.

Ballarat’s Mitchell Harris Cellar Door and Wine Bar is the place to sit and sip of an evening. Be sure to check whether there is an art exhibition on upstairs. Photography by Martina Gemmola.

Ballarat’s Mitchell Harris Cellar Door and Wine Bar is the place to sit and sip of an evening. Be sure to check whether there is an art exhibition on upstairs. Photography by Martina Gemmola.

Golden Plains Shire: could a rural area have a more evocative name? Tucked to the south-west of Ballarat, Victoria, its fields are glowing with canola and wheat, backed by rugged green and brown bush. 

It’s November, and I’m heading from Melbourne to Ballarat, specifically to Mitchell Harris Cellar Door and Wine Bar, the latest after-hours hangout in this former gold-rush city. It’s located in a vast converted warehouse and has an urban cellar-door vibe. I end my day on the road warmed by its fireplace and a bottle of Sabre sparkling wine.  

The next day I breakfast at L’Espresso; the place to be in Ballarat and a former record shop that’s been turned into a cafe. Fuelled by a delicious omelette, I work the shops before driving 19km to Creswick, semi-famous for being home to one of Australia’s last woollen mills. 

This tiny village of about 15 shops is fortunate to have two covetable outlets: Le Péché Gourmand patisserie and 2ndhandShop on the outskirts of town. After perusing the offerings I head back to Ballarat for dinner at The Boatshed on Lake Wendouree, a restaurant perched directly over water, complete with swans that regularly glide by.

LEFT The Art Gallery of Ballarat on Lydiard Street. RIGHT Mitchell Harris Cellar Door and Wine Bar in Ballarat offers the label’s own wines plus other great drops from the region.

LEFT The Art Gallery of Ballarat on Lydiard Street. RIGHT Mitchell Harris Cellar Door and Wine Bar in Ballarat offers the label’s own wines plus other great drops from the region.

My third day starts with a meander past paddocks and the odd pie cart to Maldon, a rural gem with a late 19th-century townscape so well preserved it’s like stepping back in time. 

Bendigo is next on my itinerary, 45 minutes down Fogartys Gap Road. The landscape changes from lush green countryside to parched earth and stringy trees. This regional centre, with wide streets and opulent buildings, is buzzing. I visit Bendigo Art Gallery before dining at Wine Bank, a foodie destination in a heritage-listed 1876 bank.

I return to Melbourne via Castlemaine, a thriving town with more great vintage shops and a pumping foodie culture. I lunch at Togs Place, a friendly, bustling cafe, before ducking in to Mulberry’s deli next door. There I pick up a stash of gourmet treats to take home, a reminder of the languid days I spent exploring country Victoria. 


When in Ballarat...

WHAT TO DO Visit Kylie’s Garden. This privately owned garden in Scarsdale is a wonderful testament to an artistic landscape gardener named Kylie Blake. Using vintage and salvaged materials, she has created a beautiful garden and orchard. Open selected days in spring; 35 Pre-Emptive Road (off Basin Road).

WHERE TO STAY Camellia Cottage - a gorgeous B&B in the town of Buninyong, 10mins’ drive from Ballarat; camellia-cottage.com.au. Allawah Bendigo - stylish maisonettes that have everything covered for a short stay; allawahbendigo.com. Black Cat Cottage - early-1900s farmstay on a truffle orchard outside Creswick; blackcattruffles.com.au.