A weekend in Bendigo makes for a great escape from Melbourne to take in the grandeur of the Gold Rush town and good food and wine. Try to time your trip to Victoria’s third-largest city to coincide with the monthly Bendigo Farmers Market or a food tour or wine festival.
I just spent a weekend in Bendigo with my mother. In fact, Terence and I spent two weeks in historic Eaglehawk where mum lives on the outskirts of the grand old Gold Rush city. But as is the case with long overdue family visits, we spent most of the time at home in the kitchen, where Terence could be found most nights cooking some of mum’s favourite meals.
Feeling somewhat guilty that we didn’t venture out as much as we should have (and can you blame us after 10 days in Melbourne spent eating our way through the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and World’s 50 Best Restaurants events?), my mum and I got out and about in Eaglehawk and Bendigo on the weekend enjoying the city and some of its art, food and wine.
As the magnificent edifices suggest, more gold was discovered in Bendigo between 1850 and 1900 than anywhere else in the world. Many of the bank buildings from the period have been remodelled into restaurants and bars, while historic shops have been converted into cafés and boutiques.
Here’s how to spend a weekend in Bendigo based on our favourite things to do – including an excursion to Eaglehawk for a delightfully old-fashioned experience.
Weekend in Bendigo Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Grand Gold Boom Town
Make the Schaller Studio your base for your weekend in Bendigo. An Art Series property inspired by Melbourne-based artist Mark Schaller’s studio and artwork, the chic interior is filled with original paintings and sculptures and there are mosaics in the gardens. The the hotel offers art tours and visits to artisanal markets.
There are few better ways to begin a weekend in Bendigo than with dinner at Masons of Bendigo, easily the city’s best restaurant, serving savoury bites and sharing plates of contemporary Australian cuisine crafted from seasonal local produce. Husband and wife chefs Sonia and Nick Anthony work closely with farmers to source the finest ingredients from Central Victoria and beyond. The couple is so proud of their local producers they list them at the bottom of the menu – everyone from Pyramid Hill Salt and Mt Zero Olives to Holy Goat Cheese and Inglewood Aged Beef. Hope the roasted Berkshire pork fillet, breaded pork belly, morcilla, roast pumpkin, and crackle pinwheel is on the menu. The pork is sourced from McIvor Farm, just 60kms southeast of Bendigo. If you can’t decided what to eat, let the chefs do their thing and order the Roaming Menu.
25 Queen Street, Bendigo, (03) 5443 3877, www.masonsofbendigo.com.au. Tue-Sat noon-2.30pm & 6-8.30pm
Kickstart your morning with a caffeine hit at tiny El Gordo café (0414 412 894) which offers Bendigo’s finest coffee on skinny Chancery Lane – a little bit of Melbourne in Bendigo with street art enlivening the walls and potted herbs and flowers in tins hanging from the red bricks. The charming alleyway is home to a few of our favourite spots, including stylish boutique Robe (where the racks are hung with Sass & Bide, Ksubi, Nudie Jeans and more), a quirky barber shop, and one of the city’s best casual eateries (see Saturday Evening below).
Don’t even think about doing anything on Saturday morning but the Bendigo Food Fossicking Tour with passionate foodie Anne Morton, a former chef, writer and food stylist. Bonus: Anne distributes her favourite ‘local’ recipes at the end for the Cornish Pasty (the Cornish, who were skilled miners, arrived in Bendigo in the 1850s), Pork with Crispy ‘Crackle’ (a nod to the Cantonese who arrived in Bendigo in 1855 and established market gardens and ‘cook shops’ to feed the miners, giving birth to Australian-Chinese cuisine; Bendigo is also home to Australia’s longest continually operating Chinese restaurant), and Peach Melba (the dessert created by Auguste Escoffier for legendary Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba, who visited Bendigo numerous times, the first in 1889).
The mouthwatering walking tour stops at an array of culinary hotspots, the picks of which are The Epicurean Delicatessen, where the shelves heave with everything from imported Italian biscuits to coffee beans and the glass display counters are crammed with cheeses, cold cuts, salamis, olives, sundried tomatoes, and more (perfect picnic basket fillers!) and Bendigo Wholefoods, which prides itself on its staggering range of regional products, from local olives, vinegars, verjuices, preserves, chutneys, and jams to unexpected gems such as Dieman’s Hot Sauces made with native Tasmanian pepper berries and La Tortilleria’s authentic Mexican corn tortillas made in Melbourne to the Aztec’s traditional nitxtamal method.
The tour kicks off at Bendigo Visitor Centre (Pall Mall, Bendigo) every Saturday at 10am, finishing around 1pm, and includes multiple tastings, the chance to chat to business owners and a peek behind the scenes at everything from bread-making at artisanal bakery The Good Loaf to chocolate-making at Indulge Fine Belgian Chocolates. The walk ends with a light lunch at Masons of Bendigo, so if you are doing this tour dine at our recommended lunch spot on Friday night. Only eight places available so book ahead on the link above.
If you can’t get a spot on the tour, drop by Bendigo Visitor Centre to pick up their excellent little Bendigo Dining and Shopping Guide and Great Walks of Bendigo ‘Heritage Buildings’ brochure and do your own self-guided walk. Start on Pall Mall, a tree-shaded boulevard lined with grand heritage buildings from the Gold Rush era, including the French Renaissance style former Post Office (dating to 1883-87), the handsome bluestone Law Courts (1892-96), Bendigo Town Hall (1878-86), which hides a richly decorated interior, and the majestic Shamrock Hotel (1897), which we desperately wish they’d restore to its former glory. Service is slow but the upstairs veranda offers a great vantage point to survey the grand architecture with a cold beer in hand.
Don’t miss Bath Lane, once home to a pig market, but now dotted with boutiques, shops (foodies will love The Pepper Pot for kitchenware) and cafés (try the Green Olive, Bath Lane Café, Mad Hatter Tea Shop, or the Good Loaf, located in a retro service station) and Pennyweight Lane, where the walls host an ever-changing exhibition of local art. Mitchell Street has a few gems including the lovely Finders Keepers café (head to the upstairs balcony) and the antique-filled Rose Emporium where the specialty is Devonshire teas.
If you couldn’t get a spot on the food tour, after which you’re unlikely to be hungry, for casual café fare try Percy and Percy (101 Hargreaves Street, corner Baxter Street, Bendigo; 8am-3pm weekends; 7am-4pm mid-week) named after former owners Percy Watts, who opened a grocery store here in the 1920s, and Percy Forbes, who ran a milk bar on the site until the 1980s, the light-filled café incorporates elements of those earlier businesses. The Percy Style Smashed Avocado comes on sourdough with crumbled Meredith goats cheese, sumac-dusted chick peas, and pea tendril, dukkah and sumac salad, and you can add poached eggs.
If you prefer a restaurant, overlooking Rosalind Park is Rocks on Rosalind (10-12 View Street, Bendigo; Fri, Sat & Sun noon-late, Mon-Thur 12-3pm & 6pm til late; (03) 5441 2222). Located in an imposing heritage-listed former bank with high ceilings, arched windows, blonde wooden furniture, and banquette seating, this stylish restaurant serves modern Australian comfort food made predominantly from locally sourced seasonal produce. Light lunch favourites include a charcuterie tower for two featuring local and imported cured meats, cornichons, Salute olives, caperberries, and terrine with grissini and sourdough, and Butifarra Blanca with sweet corn, white beans, and salsa verde.
Gawk at the gobsmacking collection of art at Bendigo Art Gallery, one of Australia’s oldest public art museums, established in 1887 and remodelled in the 1890s to a design inspired by European art museums with their imposing pillars, polished timber floors, decorative cornices, and diffused sky-lighting. There’s a superb permanent collection and the visiting exhibitions are always engaging. I took mum to the latest on the weekend, the magical House of Mirrors (on until 30 April). Located in Rosalind Park, the installation by Melbourne artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, inspired by old fun fair mirror mazes, is intended to explore “the darker side of altered perception playing with themes of uncertainty, thrill and paranoia”, but I have to say that mum and I found it to be terrific fun. Our advice: don’t panic, just take your time and enjoy the Alice in Wonderland experience.
42 View Street, Bendigo, (03) 5434 6088, www.bendigoartgallery.com.au
Cross the road to browse the charming shops on hilly View Street that represent some of Bendigo’s finest shopping, including several atmospheric stores filled to the brim with antiques and bric-a-brac, an excellent music shop and a fabulous vintage clothes store.
Wine Bank on View is set in another splendid old bank building and is easily Bendigo’s best wine bar. Taste some of the wonderful wines from the nearby Heathcoate region and beyond, including European drops you don’t often see in Australia. There are over a thousand wines on the list! Owner Mark Coffey is a great supporter of local wines and winemakers, with his wine bar and eatery operating as a cellar door and education centre of sorts with regular wine-tastings and masterclasses. The footpath tables are lovely on a sunny day but the traffic can make conversation tricky at times. The house-made charcuterie and cheese plate is outstanding.
45 View Street, Bendigo, (03) 5444 4655, www.winebankonview.com
Slip back into Chancery Lane to The Dispensary Bar and Diner for craft beers, classic cocktails, good wines by the glass, and great food. Start off with some freshly shucked oysters and marinated local olives, followed by a selection of delicious dishes to share. Highlights of the small plates include the cured kingfish with coconut, green nahm jim and lime, prawn toasts with chilli and kewpie mayo, scallops with spiced hummus and honeyed yoghurt. For mains, it’s hard to go past the Roast Aylesbury duck, szechuan eggplant, master stock, and spring onions, or the 100-day grain fed Black Angus Porterhouse served medium rare, with duck fat potato and swede galette and a red wine reduction – especially on a chilly autumn or winter’s night.
9 Chancery Lane, Bendigo, (03) 5444 5885, dispensarybendigo.com, Sat 8.30am-late, Sun 8.30am-5pm, Tue-Fri 11.30am-late
Bendigo has a rich Chinese history dating back to the Gold Rush, when in the mid 1800s some twenty percent of Bendigo’s population were Chinese miners, merchants, market gardeners, and cooks. The city still has a thriving Chinese-Australian community that celebrates holidays such as Chinese New Year and the Bendigo Easter Festival with a dragon dance. Visit the heritage-listed Bendigo Joss House Temple, built in the 1860s, where you can learn about the history of the Chinese migrants and their rituals and beliefs.
At the Golden Dragon Museum (Tue-Sun 9.30am-5pm) you can see the world’s longest imperial dragon, Sun Loong, which is brought out for the Easter procession, a tradition dating to 1871, when the Chinese community had cultural treasures shipped from their homeland to sell to raise funds for a local hospital. The museum is located in the Dai Gun San (Big Gold Mountain) precinct, which is also home to the museum tea room (10am-4pm) classical Chinese gardens and the Kuan Yin Temple.
If you’re keen to discover more about the Gold Rush era, visit the Central Deborah Gold Mine (Corner of High and Violet Street) where, with hard-hat with miner’s light, you can venture some 60 metres underground to explore the honeycomb of tunnels as you learn about Bendigo’s gold mining history. Experiential travellers can do a 2.5 hour or full day tour and descend between 85 and 228 metres respectively for a more hands-on experience, climbing ladders down shafts and operating drills as you search for real gold.
Lunch on more sharing plates of modern European comfort food at Mr Beebe’s Eating House and Bar, named after a former Bendigo mayor and architect. While it may be located in another stately old bank with ornate high ceilings and chandeliers, the décor is anything but formal with a casual sense of style and buzzy vibe, especially on weekends. There’s another excellent house-made charcuterie board here and the Confit duck with truffled gnocchi, mushrooms, smoked eggplant purée, chestnuts, and tarragon jus is hard to beat on a cold day.
17 View Street, Bendigo, (03) 5441 5557, Fri-Sun 11am-11pm, Mon-Thur 5-11pm
If you have your own wheels, do the 10-minute drive northwest of central Bendigo to historic Eaglehawk or take bus numbers 51, 52 or 53 from High Street, Mitchell Street or View Street in the centre. Gold was discovered here in the nearby Whipstick Forest in 1852 and Eaglehawk is dotted with handsome Gold Rush period buildings, such as the former post office, now a B&B. The Eaglehawk Heritage Society offers guided walking tours.
Make a beeline for the old Town Hall (corner Peg Leg and Sailors Gully Roads), dating to 1864, now the charming Star Cinema. Buy a glass (or bottle) of local Bendigo wine from the café on the way in and sink back into one of the big comfy sofas with cushions to enjoy an art house film or classic old Hollywood movie.
On the way back to Bendigo, stop at peaceful Lake Weeroona, where you can buy some delicious homemade gelato from Favourite Flavours before taking a stroll around the lake’s shore.
Sunday Afternoon Drive
Just 35 minutes southeast of Bendigo is the Heathcote wine region, which produces some of Australia’s finest Shiraz, along with Carbernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Marsanne, and Viognier. Graytown is home to some of the oldest grape vines in the country, planted in 1891. Visit some of Heathcote cellar doors on High Street, call into a few of the local wineries on your own steam. If you’re tight on time, the Heathcote Wine Hub offers around 24 wines to taste.
How to get to Bendigo
A weekend in Bendigo is best experienced with your own wheels if you hope to get out to Eaglehawk and Heathcoate, although everything in the centre of town is accessible on foot or taxi in bad weather or late at night. You could hire a car in Melbourne for the 90-minute to 2-hour drive to Bendigo or take a train (two hours) with V/Line from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne. If you’re flying to Melbourne, you can travel direct to Bendigo from Melbourne Airport by bus (2 hours) with the excellent Bendigo Airport Service that’s bookable online or by email.
When to Go
Bendigo can be visited all year although it’s loveliest in Autumn and Spring.
Try to time your weekend in Bendigo to coincide with the Bendigo Community Farmers Market on the second Saturday of every month, from 9am to 1pm, at Sidney Myer Place on the edge of Rosalind Park. There around 50 year-round stalls, along with seasonal producers. Look out for the award winning olive oil from Salutè Oliva and Splitters Creek Olives, local cheeses from Holy Goat Cheese, Boosey Creek and Locheilan Cheese, Dawson’s Honey, and Bliss Blend organic teas.
Tuck into local specialties, including Cooper’s Hand Made Pies baked in nearby Yarrawonga from 100% local ingredients, Oak Farm’s homemade quiches and biscuits, Ilinka’s Country Delights’ traditional Turkish burek and baklava, Piper Street Food Company’s terrines, rillettes and pâtés, and authentic Indian curries from the much-loved Dhaba Food Truck. Don’t leave without buying some Hartland’s Eucalyptus Oil distilled from Blue Mallee eucalyptus in Huntly North by the same family since 1890, Kyirong Emu Oil, a traditional Indigenous Australian remedy, and Tricalog’s silky goat milk soaps.
Chef Sonia Anthony, co-owner of Masons of Bendigo, also leads occasional Market to Paddock to Plate tours, starting at the farmers market, where you’ll get to meet producers before heading out to the farm gates to meet farmers and sample the Heathcote region’s wonderful wine, returning to town to enjoy the area’s bounty. Tour dates on link above so you can begin planning your weekend in Bendigo.
The Strategem Bendigo Winemakers Festival held every April in the gorgeous Rosalind Park is as good an excuse as any to spend a weekend in Bendigo. Sip regional handcrafted wines, chat to the winemakers, participate in wine masterclasses, and enjoy delicious local food and live music. Don’t forget to take a picnic blanket. Book tickets on www.bendigotourism.com and learn more on www.bendigowine.org.au
Do you live in Bendigo or have you spent a weekend in Bendigo recently? We’d love to hear your recommendations. Feel free to leave suggestions in the Comments below.