Freshness, the symbol of spring, is something that consumes us this time of year.
We revel in the sight of the colours of new life. We breathe in the smells floating around in the breeze. We soak up the air's warmth as though we've never felt it before. We dust off the cobwebs - in our houses and our minds - that winter left behind. We rid ourselves of the cold numbness and start to feel again. We get out, we find that passion for looking after ourselves in simple ways: fresh air, good food, movement.
These are the things that make us feel alive.
Those of us who live in Victoria have this year felt a winter like we'd forgotten can exist. After so many years of drought, the rain and freezing temperatures took us back to our childhoods - ah, that's right! THIS is what winter used to feel like! And we've whinged and complained our way through the weather, as only Melbournians can.
We're now reaping the rewards, and nowhere is it more evident than in rural Victoria.
Last week I headed to Ballarat, a country town (albeit a large one; actually Victoria's third largest city after Melbourne and Geelong) about an hour and a half's drive from Melbourne, to attend the opening of their Ballarat in Bloom campaign. It's a town I thought I had a clear image of - gold, Sovereign Hill and, like any country town in this state, food that emerges from bakeries claiming they make the best pies and vanilla slices ever.
There's nothing wrong with any of those things, but the image was smashed and replaced with something a whole lot fresher.
These days, Ballarat is emerging from its gold rush history into a new era - an era that pays its respects to history, all the while reinventing itself into a very bright future. Ballarat's new gold is its produce, both natural and human-made. The land in this region is rich with the ability to produce some of our state's best food, wine and gardens, as well as inspiring creativity in those lucky enough to live here.
This place has some serious style. Their strength is a fresh take on classic and vintage, and they're using it to their advantage this spring. The Art Gallery of Ballarat is showcasing some fascinating angles into Australian history with their Capturing Flora exhibition, the local fashionistas are putting forward their best for those who love shopping, the gardens are blooming, and the foodies - well, they're on fire!
Case in point: the lunch I was very lucky to be presented with:
Lamb, eel (!), rabbit, pork and beef all farmed locally. Salads made from local produce, feta and other dairy products made not far out, locally made bread, and even a sneaky taste of a beautiful local cool climate sauvignon blanc. Each item served up had a story behind it - and there is very little that's more fulfilling than eating a meal made of fresh produce that can be easily traced back to the farm.
|The menu included details of where each ingredient came from|
|I sent this photo to Steve, captioned "Tough day in the office for me". He was jealous.|
Best of all, the food I was treated to whilst chatting to the Mayor of Ballarat (who tried very hard to look interested while I explained 'blogging' and 'tweeting' to him) isn't out of reach for you. The streets of Ballarat, as well as the surrounding farming areas, sell this amazing produce straight to the public.
And there's nothing that says spring more than great quality food and the inspiration of freshness all around.
The Ballarat in Bloom celebration is happening throughout spring, all around the Ballarat region. There are heaps of events on, which you can check out by clicking here - but some of the highlights that caught my eye and have me wanting to head back soon are:
* SpringFest market. I've heard this is a huge family-friendly event well worth attending, with stalls set up all around Lake Wendouree showcasing the best the region has to offer in spring.
* BotaniKids. The Ballarat Botanic Gardens holds kid-friendly events during the year, including some things that sound like great fun during spring.
* Ballarat by the Glass. Shall I admit that this is the most tempting for me? Wineries from around the region join forces to celebrate their tasty wares and showcase even products that aren't always available direct to the public.
* Tuki Trout Farm. My daughter is very keen to try fishing, but I'm not sure she's up for a day-long session of sitting still and being quiet. Actually, I'm very sure she's not! This seems like a great compromise: she could have the experience she wants in a setting more suitable and we could then have the end result cooked up for us.
* Capturing Flora exhibition at the art gallery. I enjoyed a brief tour of the exhibition last week but I'd love a quiet stroll around to absorb it (and I'm not usually an art gallery sort).
Disclosure: I was invited to attend the launch of this tourism campaign in order to help promote the region of Ballarat. It was my pleasure to do this, as I have an absolute passion for Victoria and all it has to offer.