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Ballarat crowned Victoria’s Top Tourism Town

Eat & Drink

Ballarat has taken out the coveted title of Victoria’s Top Tourism Town for the second time.

Crowned winner at a ceremony on Wednesday night, Ballarat edged out eight regions to win the 2023 Victorian Top Tourism Town Awards.

The annual awards, which are hosted by the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, recognise Victorian towns that create an exceptional experience for visitors through a commitment to collaboration and showcase the economic impact tourism brings to regional Victoria.

The awards are decided through a judging panel and a public online vote, which this year recorded more than 23,000 votes.

Ballarat, which took out the inaugural title of Victoria’s Top Tourism Town in 2021, will now move on to compete for the title of Australia’s Top Tourism Town with the winner to be announced at Parliament House in Canberra on 14 September.

Learn traditional Wadawurrung weaving at the Australian Centre for Rare Arts and Forgotten Trades.

BALLARAT: REVERE HISTORY, RELISH IN THE CONTEMPORARY

When it came time for Brendan Wrigley to follow his nose – he decided to wake up and smell the coffee. 

Having worked in hospitality since he was 15 years old, the Ballarat resident grew up around country pubs, and was always drawn to the sense of familiarity and community that emanated from those spaces. 

So, when a unique opportunity arose for Brendan to open up his own cafe in the heart of his hometown, and in a location doused in history nonetheless, he couldn’t resist.
 
“As a young fella not old enough (or wealthy enough) to explore the intricacies of wine, I loved that coffee was an affordable luxury which was so fascinating,” he said. 

“In recent years my true love has been coffee shops, more so than just coffee itself. The concept of the third space, which exists outside of home and the workplace, is something that really resonates with me.  Ultimately, people love to feel acknowledged, and I think great coffee shops do this better than just about any other space.” 

Brendan is the owner of Ballarat’s much-loved Cobb’s Coffee, which stands on the same corner fleets of Cobb & Co coaches arrived during the 1850s – a local haunt that has clocked up quite the loyal following since opening its doors just over two years ago. Not only does the cafe serve up an impressively warming brew and equally heartening array of fresh sandwiches, but its story is enough to warrant a visit from both coffee lovers and history buffs everywhere. 

Having left Ballarat for a brief stint overseas, Brendan says he was quickly drawn back after witnessing how “the town had really pushed on in a culture and hospitality sense”.   

Cobb’s is just one example of a plethora of food, wine, art, cultural and accommodation offerings in Ballarat that not only serve up contemporary experiences but are endowed with rich stories of a bustling past. 

Just recently, the Centre for the Rare Arts and Forgotten Trades opened – a state-of-the-art facility that sits beside the multi-award winning outdoor museum Sovereign Hill. The centre provides creatives with the chance to harness their inner artisan and try their hand at traditional trades. With workshops ranging from Indigenous weaving to leather plaiting, cane rod construction to silversmithing, this facility is just one example of Ballarat’s more contemporary tourist offerings. There is no doubt the city has expanded its repertoire substantially in recent years thanks to those visionaries who are passionate about strengthening the cultural landscape with modern experiences which stay true to its legacy.  

Take the example of Ballarat’s ever-evolving culinary scene, with its fine offerings of regional fare served up in some of the city’s most landmark locales. There’s the likes of Pencilmark Wine Room. A relaxed and sleek space housed in a classic Ballarat building in the centre of town where you can meet up for interesting vino and even more palatable eats. Or the intimate and fine dining restaurant experience that is underbar. Headed by Michelin-trained Chef Derek Boath, this revered destination boasts a chic, refined interior within the walls of a historic surgeon’s quarters, plating up a degustation menu that showcases local producers and seasonal ingredients. And then there’s the more casual hotspots, such as the always-buzzing Kilderkin Distillery. Located in one of Ballarat’s oldest suburbs, this rustic warehouse sets the scene for an afternoon flight of local gin.  

The food and wine scene is only one element of Ballarat’s melting pot of tourist drawcards. The Art Gallery of Ballarat – one of Australia’s oldest and largest regional art galleries – ushers in art enthusiasts the country-over with its gilt-framed Colonial artworks, Indigenous collection and contemporary pieces combining to create an all-rounded cultural experience. Similarly, outdoor attractions including Lake Wendouree, Black Cat Truffles, as well as Woowookarung Regional Park are a sure way to receive insight into the local annals while immersing yourself in that place of rest you were assured right from the start. 

Search for truffles at Black Cat Truffles by Liam Downes.

Of Victoria’s regional centres, Ballarat is in a privileged position. Building on the bountiful stories of those who have come before them, there is a whole cohort of passionate individuals paving the way for an even more vibrant future. According to Brendan, the best is yet to come. 

“It’s mainly young people like myself who grew up here who have seen the benefits of regional living and are excited to contribute to their town,” he says. “I think that’s a really positive thing and it’s making Ballarat a better place to live.” 

“In the coming years I see this town going from strength to strength. And I’m excited that we get to be a part of it.” 

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27 Jul 2023

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Across Victoria’s Midwest, we acknowledge that we travel across the ancient landscapes of many First Peoples communities.

These lands have been nurtured and cared for over tens of thousands of years and we respect the work of Traditional Custodians for their ongoing care and protection.

We recognise the past injustices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country. As our knowledge grows, we hope that we can learn from their resilience and creativity that has guided them for over 60,000 years.

As we invite people to visit and explore Victoria’s Midwest, we ask that alongside us, you also grow to respect the stories, living culture and connection to Country of the Ancestors and Elders of our First Peoples.

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© 2023 Ballarat In The Know. This initiative is funded by the City of Ballarat and Tourism Midwest Victoria.