Why Bendigo Is the Ultimate Arts and Culture Escape This Winter
Their trams have crochet blankets, for one thing.
May 30, 2018
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Here's a winter short break to warm the heart and fire up the mind. Less than two hours' drive from Melbourne, Bendigo is one of this country's main hubs of arts and culture outside of the state capitals. Although it might be best known for its mining history, these days this is a town that embraces its arty side, whether it be through galleries, arts precincts, events or craft classes. There's even a tram covered in yarn from top to tail.
Winter is the perfect time to get among all of Bendigo's intellectual indoor pursuits — and that cosy tram and a hot drink will aid your admiration of the area's historic exteriors too. So pull on your parka and explore the true wealth that lies in inner Victoria.
GALLERIES THAT ENTICE
The first stop on any culture-led trip to this area has to be the Bendigo Art Gallery. Established in 1887 and now sporting a highly Insta-worthy Karl Fender-designed extension, the gallery regularly hosts blockbuster touring exhibitions, like the current Australian exclusive, Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018, on until June 11. After that, it will host Another Day in Paradise, a gripping retrospective of work by Bali Nine member Myuran Sukumaran. The gallery is part of a cluster of venues making up the View Street Arts Precinct, including the La Trobe Art Institute, so make sure to have a proper poke around the area. From August 10–12, it will be the hub of the annual Bendigo Writers Festival, so particularly lively, with more than 150 writers appearing across 100 events.
Another must-do institution is Bendigo Pottery, on the outskirts of town. This is actually Australia's oldest working pottery, and not only is it a stellar place to browse and buy ceramics, it's somewhere where you can get properly hands-on with clay. Casual lessons go for a sweet $18 per half hour, perfect for anyone who's been curious to test their talents at on a potter's wheel. They'll even post your creations to you after they've been fired in the kiln.
THE COSY OUTDOORS
You didn't really think we were going to advocate you stay indoors the whole time, did you? You're on holiday; YOLO and all that. Fortunately, Bendigo knows how to make even outdoor activities in winter conspicuously cosy. A lot of the credit for that belongs with its Yarn Bomb Tram, which runs various routes through town. The olde-worlde no.302 tram has been kitted out by the Bendigo Yarn Bombers — with full permission from Bendigo Trams — for several years running. Festooned inside and out in daygo yarn blankets, bunting and blooms, it's been described by some as looking like a giant tea cosy. And you get to sit inside the tea cosy. What could be more comfortable?
Outside of the tram, a wander down the streets and laneways of Bendigo's historic centre is a necessity, as is Rosalind Park behind the Bendigo Art Gallery. Ward off any chill breezes by doing this with a takeaway hot drink in hand — the coconut chai from laneway cafe El Gordo is made for a mission like this.
ART ON A PLATE
You've seen art. You've made art. You've ridden art. Now it's time to eat some art, at Bendigo's hatted restaurant, Masons of Bendigo. Run by partners in life and cheffing Nick and Sonia Anthony, Masons serves share plates with a near-Heston-level attention to presentation.
Their globe-trotting menu varies with the seasons, but in winter you can expect the likes of jicama and shiitake mushroom spring rolls with fermented chilli, banana blossom, and hot and sour sauce and McIvor Farm Foods Berkshire pork belly with apple pudding, morcilla, black garlic, fennel and crackle pinwheel. Don't hesitate to leave yourself in the chefs' hands by getting the mystery 'Roaming Menu' for $65 per person. Pair your feast with a shiraz from nearby organic winery Jasper Hill — an unirrigated, minimal-intervention vineyard that hasn't seen synthetic chemicals or foreign composts since pre-1975.
To try the region's finest beef (and it really is fine around here), there's no destination better than The Woodhouse. The fireplace-warmed restaurant cooks its dishes on a redgum chargrill, which imparts a deep, smokey flavour on cuts like an on-the-bone Porterhouse from Cohuna Wagyu and 28-day Inglewood dry-aged eye fillet from Kiabella Farm. The sides are lush, too.
HERITAGE BUILDINGS TO WARM THE HEART
It's not just the Bendigo town centre that's steeped in history — the nearby towns hide heritage buildings that are still being put to brilliant use. Start in Maryborough with a visit to the grand train station — which these days serves as the 60-seat Railway cafe, bar and art gallery — before heading on to Castlemaine. There, take a wander through The Mill, the site of an 1875 wool mill whose factories have been adapted into a hub for coffee makers, brewers, food producers and artisans. Look out for Libre Hem's epic mural, honouring the workers who once spun wool here with their hands.
In nearby Ravenswood, retire for wine tasting at Killiecrankie Wines' perfectly cosy cellar door, set in an 1880s red-brick workers cottage with two cranking fireplaces. Then, back in Bendigo proper, Wine Bank on View is your ticket for a trip back in time. The 1876 building was once the city's main bank, but it's now the ultimate spot to savour a wine and cheese in stately, fire-lit surrounds.
PEACEFUL SLEEPS TO RECHARGE THE MIND
To percolate on all the sights and ideas you've absorbed in a day in Bendigo, you'll need a proper country manor to lay your head. The best option, if you've got enough friends to fill it, is All Saints Bendigo, an 1887 red-brick home right on View Street across from the Bendigo Art Gallery. The five-bedroom property boasts four-poster beds, Wi-Fi throughout, a pool table — all the creature comforts.
If you've got a car and are happy to stay out of town, consider The Stables at Byronsvale. The 160-acre farmland boasts three self-contained apartments with one or two bedrooms, overlooking some of Bendigo's earliest vineyards. This was built as a weekend home for one of Bendigo's first mayors, so you know you're in illustrious company.
Meanwhile, if it's just you and your boo, and you want the comfort of a hotel in the centre of town, the Quest Schaller Hotel is for you. New and slick, it wears its art on its sleeve, with 120 rooms inspired by the vibrant paintings of Mark Schaller.
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