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Our first piece of advice when planning a weekend in Ballarat is this – if you can stay for even just a little longer, it’s worth it! That said we know everyone’s busy, and a weekend can make for an awesome mini adventure.
So we’re cutting to the chase and coming up with what we think is the best-of-the-best; an itinerary designed to make the most out of your stay, and leave you wanting more (which is pretty much what happened to us, even though we were there all week!).
We’re going to assume that, if you’re Victorian, you’ll be heading to Ballarat either after work or late in the afternoon. If you’re coming from interstate we’ll also assume that you don’t have the entire Friday at your disposal in Ballarat.
So Friday night is all about settling into accommodation, getting a good meal under your belt and having some quality shut-eye before you launch into what we’ve got planned.
Accommodation, in our mind, is a no-brainer. Book at Sovereign Park Motor Inn and have Tim (a very nifty, local road and mountain bike rider) and his team look after you. This place is super bike-friendly, so you and your two-wheeled beauty will settle in quickly and easily.
If you’re coming to camp or you have a caravan, then Ballarat has a number of great campsites to choose from. Slaty Creek is perfect for those who are self-sufficient while the BIG4 Ballarat Holiday Park is a wonderland for adventurous families and close to Sovereign Hill and the town centre.
That’s a good thing, because the more time you have up your sleave for pizza at The Forge, the better. A super-quick drive into the heart of town, The Forge Pizzeria is the place in Ballarat to devour plenty of delish pizza as well as charcuterie plates and some pretty wicked desserts. You’re now satiated and ready for a top weekend ahead.
It’s all about the bike. You might want to spin into town quickly for a truly Melbourne-class quality coffee at Fika. Here you’ll probably run into local riders, so you can pick their brains (although we’ve already done that for you) or you can take our advice and head to Buninyong. This is of course the hallowed circuit for the Australian Road Nationals, so you can ride the 10km or so route and get a feel for what the pros have to do every January (although you’ll only do one lap, as opposed to 10+). Once you’ve checked it out then you can extend your ride to a 50km, 80km or 120km option – more details here.
If you’ve come here to hit the trails, then again we’d suggest you make a bee-line to Buninyong and the cross country trails of the Canadian Forest. Winding through dense Australian native bush, the trails here have been hand-carved by local trail builders and the Ballarat-Sebastopol Cycling Club who have been careful to create a network that is suitable to riders of all levels of ability.
Rather than head back into town, go to somewhere a little off the beaten track – Vegas + Rose. It’s a small space, so if there’s a big bunch of you then we’d recommend booking. Panthea and her crew will look after you super well. From a pretty tempting kid's menu (yep – one of our team just couldn’t resist), to the usual high-scoring suspects like smashed avo on uber fresh bread, Vegas + Rose have you covered. Once you’ve had a proper meal, then you can totally indulge in the most wickedly delicious treats – fresh, iced doughnuts bigger than your fist and the kind of home-made sweets that look like CWA-meets-inner-city-hip – you won’t be able to say no. So don’t.
Head back to your room for a shower and maybe even a swim in the indoor pool; play a match of tennis, or just laze around doing very little.
Once you’ve had a bit of R&R then why not consider an afternoon out fishing, or a walk in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens?
You’re on holiday, which means you’re completely driven by your stomach, so it’s not long before you’re thinking of the next food and bev option. You’ve had a great morning’s ride so why not make your way late afternoon to Hop Temple, where you can feast on an amazing number of craft and premium beers. Or if you’re more of a wine person, then meander to Mitchell Harris Wines where you will be looked after with an equally impressive selection of fine drops. Both locations are very, very cool – Hop Temple’s down a little laneway behind a roller door, and Mitchell Harris Wines is right next door to Fika in a renovated warehouse style space.
Tonight’s all about classy pub grub, and where better than The Mallow Hotel. If you’re into your brews then you’ll be happy to hear The Mallow is probably Ballarat’s original home of craft beers, and the choice and depth on offer means this is going to be the toughest decision you make all weekend. Once you’ve made it, settle back and order from the impressive menu of largely regional produce cooked innovatively and enjoyed in a great, classy country pub atmosphere.
You can’t ask for a better start to the morning than Lake Wendouree. Whether you walk or run around it, row on it, or just sit by it and take in the local wildlife, this is a magical start to the day.
And given you’re here, then it makes sense to head to nearby Racers for an early brekkie and coffee fix. You might be planning to make a pretty energetic day of it? If you’re keen to squeeze in another ride and you’re on road bikes, then we can highly recommend the White Swan loop. It’s short – probably around 25km – but as Avanti Racing Team and local lad Pat Shaw testifies, you can make this route very, very edgy. Push it or opt for a recovery ride – either way you’re guaranteed a beautiful backdrop.
And if you’re mountain biking, why not get in some downhill action. Black Hill Reserve Mountain Bike Park has been tirelessly constructed by the local downhill riders at Club Mud. There is a huge network of trails for riders of every skill level. The new shuttle access road makes for quick runs to the bottom and back to the top for more.
We know we went here for brekkie, but we’re pretty confident Europa Café will do just as fine a job looking after you for lunch as well.
Some of you at this point might have to get back to Sovereign Park Motor Inn to shower, pack and hit the highway. If you do, then maybe consider a quick stop at Yellow Espresso for a caffeine fix on the go and a cheeky sweet treat for the car.
If you’ve still got time to spare then just wander the main streets. This is the kind of town in which you could probably spend several months, and still see something new each day. The locals are right – the architecture really is absolutely stunning and something to truly appreciate. So just lose yourself on a bit of a Where’s Wally, it’ll be a good way to loosen the legs in anticipation for the drive ahead.
This is just a suggestion of how your weekend might want to pan out in Ballarat. Head to our welcome article for a full summary of everything we did and everywhere we went, just in case you want to pull from that and design your own weekend away.