When is the last time you came to Bendigo? Venture just a few hours from Melbourne and you'll find a town packed with world-class arts and culture, thriving creative communities, historic landmarks and top-notch dining and drinking. In 2018, Bendigo is proudly part of the Regional Centre for Culture; an area comprising the four key Central Victorian regions of the City of Greater Bendigo, Mount Alexander Shire, Central Goldfields Shire and Hepburn Shire.
For more insight into all the exciting festivals, events and surprises that the Regional Centre for Culture has in store, check out our ultimate guide to the RCC.
Where to eat and drink
This is where Bendigo goes when it wants a special night out. In the heart of the regional city’s burgeoning CBD, Masons is all sleek lines and sophisticated touches, and chef Nick Anthony, who runs the restaurant with wife Sonia, gives substance to the style. Taking a bold global approach to proudly local produce, he’s equally at home going Asian (crisp flathead tails are served with wakame salad, Shichimi mayonnaise and lime), Mediterranean (zucchini flowers with tomato, burrata, pickles and brik pastry) and even Middle Eastern (lamb shoulder with date molasses, wild fig and spiced pistachios) - backed by a drinks list with a strong regional slant that extends to beer and cider as well as Central Victoria’s champion wines.
Laneway culture arrives in Bendigo with The Dispensary, a smartly clandestine hideout where food and drinks receive equal billing. The menu has an eye on fashion with snack-friendly dishes such as steamed buns filled with fried chicken, lettuce, cucumber and kewpie mayonnaise, and pork gyoza sloshed in yuzu, soy and peanut oil, while more substantial fare gets its Euro on with mains like roasted duck breast and duck leg pithivier with juniper jus; or the house spaghetti with braised pork hock and morcilla. Drinks? You’ve come to the right place with an encylopedic list of wine, beer and spirits, including whiskey and gin flights.
Bendigo’s funk-tastic Mr Beebe’s is the kind of guy who wears a moustache, rides a fixie and goes the full-sleeve tattoo. A dose of hipster culture in a cleverly repurposed heritage bank building, it bills itself as a casual “eating house” but that doesn’t mean the kitchen is cutting corners. Anything but, really. Expect a share-friendly menu of bold tastes, starting from lamb shank and nettle croquettes, moving onto tea-smoked duck breast saddling up with tangy blood plum puree and candied lime, and winding up at whomping mains including Inglewood dry-aged rib eye with horseradish potato and brandy jus. The drinks list is equally thoughtful, going parochial with an all-Victorian beer range and wines that roam locally and globally.
What's not to love about a restaurant that calls itself "the fat one"? This Spanish laneway eatery is a café by day and a tapas bar on Friday and Saturday nights. Tucked away on Chancery Lane, it’s a great spot for an evening snack of cold cuts or sardines on toast with a refreshing spritz. This café is also a favourite among locals for their spot-on coffee and breakfast burrito (it comes with scrambled egg, gypsy ham, chorizo, roasted peppers, mushroom and chipotle aioli). For a muy bien lunch pick up one of El Gordo's bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches) like their Jamon Serrano, manchego and vine-ripened tomato offering and finish with a sweet something like a coffee pannacotta with a salted caramel macaron.
Where to stay
Stay inspired at this contemporary art hotel by the Art Series Hotel Group, located in the heart of Bendigo. The 128-room hotel is inspired by Melbourne artist Mark Schaller and contains over 240 original works on display including oil on canvas, wood and bronze sculpture and mosaic. This is a hotel that is made to feel like home; visitors can spend time in light-filled communal spaces, a landscaped garden dotted with sculptures or a bar showcasing locally made beer. You can even opt to zip around town in an eco-friendly smart car, which you can hire for $50 a day.
Things to do
Bendigo Art Gallery
Once, travelling hours to see an art exhibition several times a year might've raised a few eyebrows; but these days, crowds flock from around the state to visit the Bendigo Art Gallery – one of Australia's most oldest and largest regional galleries. In addition to its impressive permanent collection of Australian artists (among them Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini and Emily Kame Kngwarreye), the gallery has become well-known for hosting major travelling exhibitions. In the last few years alone, locals and out-of-towners have marvelled at the Marilyn Monroe and Toni Maticevski exhibitions; and right now, you can check out the stunning The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood. Keen for more art experiences? Head to the nearby La Trobe Art Institute and encounter works by cutting-edge student artists.
Bendigo Pottery was founded in 1857 and houses Australia’s oldest pottery kilns, which still operate today. You'll have the opportunity to watch potters and artisans at work as they create everything from dinnerware to sculptures – and even buy something special to take home. You can peruse the museum, shop in the Antiques and Collectables Centre, or have a go yourself Ghost-style.
Central Deborah Mine
Bendigo's story began with miners lured to the town by the promise of discovery gold. Today, the true drawcard are cultural and culinary; but it's still well worth immersing yourself back in Gold Rush times to get a feel for the region's history. Half a kilometre deep, the Central Deborah Goldmine Bendigo operated from 1939 to 1954 and yielded nearly a tonne of gold. Find your inner prospecter during a guided tour through the shafts and tunnels and keep an eye out for any remaining seams of gold.
Did you know that Bendigo boasts a thriving performing arts scene? Jump in and discover all the best the region has to offer at The Capital; a grand old building that was originally built as a Masonic hall in 1873, but now plays host to everything from Russian National Ballet performances to comedians to performances by local arts organisations. While you're in town, make sure you also check out what's happening at the brand new sister venue Ulumbarra Theatre, where big acts like You Am I, Ross Noble and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra wow audiences every week.
One of the big reasons why Melburnians decide to make the treechange to Bendigo is the region's abundance of beautiful wide open space. The crowning jewel of the town is Rosalind Park; 60 acres of leafy walkways, playgrounds, statues, a fernery and a grand old conservatory. Given its close promixity to Bendigo's CBD, it's the perfect spot for a leisurely walk or a picnic for when you need a break from your culture-packed trip.
Discover more of the RCC
What do the four shires surrounding the buzzing Victorian centres of Bendigo, Daylesford, Castlemaine and Maryborough have in common? In 2018, they’re teaming up to form the Regional Centre for Culture. Over 12 big months, the RCC will host music festivals, shows, exhibitions and community events. For a comprehensive look at where to go, stay and eat, check out our guide to the RCC.