The road trip between Melbourne and The Grampians is coloured with so many great diversions, from cafes and dining options, historic towns and landmarks and plenty of amazing scenery as you go. Here are Best’s team members’ top spots to stop along the way from Melbourne to The Grampians. The journey from Melbourne’s CBD to Halls Gap is just over 250km by car, and takes under 3 hours.
As you drive along the Western Freeway, you’ll skirt around Bacchus Marsh and the city of Ballarat. Take the scenic route into Bacchus Marsh – the main road into town is The Avenue of Honour, which is lined with hundreds of elm, oak and plane trees. It’s a glorious sight. The trees were planted to honour those who served during World War I. Follow the tree-arch into town where you’ll find modern and historic buildings, from the original Court House and Tudor-style Border Inn, to the Blacksmith’s Cottage and churches dating back to the 1800s. This town was named after Captain William Henry Bacchus, who saw the value in this town’s location between two rivers, the Lerderderg and the Werribee. Traditionally the area was a market garden district, producing a large portion of the area’s fruit and vegetables.
As you continue on, you will arrive in Ballarat where you’ll need at least a few hours to explore Victoria’s third largest city. Ballarat’s tale centres on its rich and prosperous history of the Gold Rush, which began in 1851. When news got out that this area was the world’s richest alluvial goldfield, its population exploded overnight with people seeking to make their fortune. Its wealth can be seen in the construction of public and private buildings, funded by the earnings of the diggers. There is so much history to experience here – the city holds much of its Gold Rush heritage in the form of opulent buildings, fountains and tourist attractions.
Don’t miss Ballarat's Town Hall (built in the 1870s), Her Majesty’s Theatre (1875) and Craig’s Hotel (built in stages between 1853 and 1891) – drop in here for lunch at the Gallery Bistro or try the well-loved high tea.
Ballarat’s own Avenue of Honour represents the first of its kind, built between 1917 and 1919. A total of 3771 trees were planted – one for each soldier, sailor and nurse from the district who served in World War I. It remains the longest Avenue of Honour in the Southern Hemisphere at 22km. This Avenue was constructed with an egalitarian approach to the commemoration of service personnel, where service rank was not a consideration.
However, back to Ballarat and its gourmet offerings. You may need a coffee after your trip from Melbourne, so wander down Lydiard or Sturt Street. L’Espresso on Sturt Street is Best’s winemaker Justin’s favourite coffee pit stop. Its food runs the full gamut of Italian classics, from creamy risotto to shaved fennel and blood orange salad. Fancy lunch? Best’s co-cellar door manager, Nicole Major, recommends a meal at Catfish, on Main Road in Ballarat. It serves delicious contemporary Thai food.
Best’s matriarch Chris Thomson, believes The Art Gallery of Ballarat is a must on your list. It’s the oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia. Built in 1884 as the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, both the building and part of its collection are heritage listed and claimed by the National Trust of Victoria. Step back in time and view The Eureka Flag, as well as major collections in the history of Australian art from the early colonial period to present day.
OK, now it's time to keep moving. Jump back in your car and drive another 40 minutes or so along the Western Freeway, which becomes the Western Highway, and stop at Beaufort village, a quaint town with cafes and craft shops. This area is a rich pastoral zone known for its merino wool production. Need another coffee? Nicole’s tip is Sparrow Café on Neill Street. The coffee is great and they do a mean sandwich. Or drop into The Pyrenees Pantry, also on Neill Street, for a slice of Coffee & Walnut Cake. It also serves delicious homemade salads, pastries and muffins and is great for diners with food intolerances.
Now, it's time to hit the road for your final charge into Halls Gap. Drive a further 40km until you reach Ararat, also a former gold-mining town sitting on rich pastoral, fruit and wine growing land. Head along Halls Gap Road and the follow it to a T-junction where you turn left onto Grampians Road. Several minutes later you’ll come upon the town centre of Halls Gap. From here you can explore all The Grampians has to offer, including a visit to Best’s cellar door.