Bendigo is a grand old dame, with impressive buildings that showcase the spoils of the Gold Rush boom. Recently Victoria's third-largest city has been reinvigorated with a burgeoning laneway and coffee culture. Many majestic ex-banks have been transformed into modern share plate eateries where you can sample the best of the central region's produce.
Bendigo is only two hours' travel from Melbourne. Make sure you check out what's on at the Bendigo Art Gallery, which regularly lures and curates top international exhibitions, and combine a dose of culture and cafe culture in one weekend.
Cortille's baristas pull Axil espresso shots from inside an indoor aqua-striped vintage caravan. The name references the courtyard, so head out back and hit up the waffle list – the colossal waffles come piled high with creative topping combos, perhaps Persian fairy floss, honeycomb lemon sorbet and summer fruit, or snack on a virtuous lime-sloshed quinoa and kale salad in the Astroturfed footpath area. A pair of Get Naked Espresso Bars have your caffeine fix covered. Admire the chalk art at the Mitchell Street original or grab a bottled iced coffee to go from their new coffee window on View Street. In the afternoon, stop by spacious corner store cafe Percy and Percy for an old-school slice and a shake. Petite European-style cafe El Gordo is tucked down Chancery Lane – a poster clad Melbourne-ish slice of Bendigo. Neighbour The Dispensary Enoteca boasts a killer soundtrack, with record covers doubling as wall art. The hip enoteca's modern dishes are well presented, and the intimate space and moody lighting makes it a top date-night spot. Local produce is the star of Masons of Bendigo's share plate menu, with heirloom vegies a highlight – think beef carpaccio with candy-cane striped heirloom beets or goat's cheese-stuffed fried zucchini flowers. Another share plate eatery, Mr Beebe's, is named after an architect and former mayor. The arresting black and white colour scheme carries up to the high ceilings and matte black chandeliers. Order adventurously and cover the funky tiled tables with creative dishes and house-made charcuterie.
Cortille, 322 Lyttleton Terrace, 03 5444 3082, cafecortille.com
Get Naked Espresso Bar, 73 Mitchell Street and 73 View Street, getnakedespressobar.com
Percy and Percy, 110 Hargreaves Street (corner Hargreaves and Baxter Streets), 03 5442 2997
El Gordo, Shop 2, Chancery Lane, no phone
The Dispensary, 9 Chancery Lane, Bendigo, 03 5444 5885, thedispensaryenoteca.com
Masons of Bendigo, 25 Queen Street, 03 5443 3877, masonsofbendigo.com.au
Mr Beebe's Eating House and Bar, 17 View Street, 03 5441 5557, mrbeebes.com.au
The aforementioned Dispensary boasts a bumper liquor list with page-upon-page of imported beers and spirits - try a gin flight, a paddle of four DIY G&Ts. You can't miss the imposing columns of Wine Bank on View, located opposite the Bendigo Art Gallery. With more than 1000 wines, settle in on a couch and peruse the lengthy list, including many drops from nearby Heathcote, or bag a bottle to takeaway for a $10 discount. While the bistro and sports bar are a bit on the old-school side, it's hard to go past a pot at the Hotel Shamrock, a grand four-storey corner pub with an intricate iron lace wraparound balcony. Head upstairs for ribs and buffalo wings in the new American-style bar Yard Bird.
The Bendigo Community Farmers' Marketis held on the second Saturday of the month. Pick up supplies for a picnic in nearby Rosalind Park. Or raid the Epicurean Delicatessen's cabinet and grab some sourdough at The Good Loaf bakery. Ice-cream from Favourite Flavours is a fixture of many local dessert menus. The parlour is located along the tram track, so hop off the heritage tram, grab a scoop and stroll along Lake Weeroona boardwalk.
Bendigo Community Farmers' Market, 9am-1pm, second Saturday of the month, Sidney Myer Place (visitor centre carpark), Bendigo, bcfm.org.au
The Epicurean Delicatessen, 79 Mitchell Street, 03 5443 2699, epicureandeli.com.au
The Good Loaf, 404 Hargreaves Street, 03 5444 2171, thegoodloaf.com.au
Favourite Flavours, 253 Napier Street, 03 5444 2147
The Schaller Studio – part of the Art Series hotel group – features fluorescent and fun naive artworks by Melbourne artist Mark Schaller. The studios (from $125) are a 10-minute stroll into town, or hop on one of the hotel's burnt yellow hire bikes. Bendigo also boasts a range of bed and breakfasts, and modest motels.
Schaller Studio, corner of Lucan and Bayne Streets, Bendigo, 4433 6100, artserieshotels.com.au/schaller