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Why this Aussie town is the country’s best

A jam-packed program of events, one of the country’s best regional art galleries, a UNESCO nod for its food scene and enviable heritage architecture: The only question about Bendigo being named the 2024 Wotif town of the year is why it has taken so long.

The annual award has been given out since 2018, and while Bendigo took out fourth spot in 2019, it’s now the Victorian Gold Rush-era town’s time to shine.

Based on a combination of a survey, online bookings, reviews, affordability and accommodation quality, this year Bendigo beat the likes of Exmouth in WA, Stanley in Tasmania and Tanunda in SA’s Barossa Valley to take out the Wotif booking site’s annual honour.

Here’s why:

Its vibrant art and culture scene

The Bendigo Art Gallery established itself as the best regional gallery for blockbusters, attracting crowds from all over Australia for shows as diverse as Elvis: Direct from Graceland to Grace Kelly: Style Icon to the Australian Women’s Weekly 90th birthday exhibition.

The latest is Paris: Impressions of Life 1880-1925, in conjunction with the Musee Carnavalet, which showcases paintings and objects from the City of Light’s most iconic era.

The gallery might be the big ticket item, but there’s also studios, craftspeople and performing arts around every corner in Bendigo.

Paris: Impressions of Life 1880 – 1925 exhibition

The Paris: Impressions of Life 1880-1925 exhibition is showing at the Bendigo Art Gallery from March 16 to July 14. Photo: City of Greater Bendigo

Make time for: A performance at the stunning Ulumbarra Theatre. Located in the historic grounds of what was once the Sandhurst Gaol, it’s now a 960-seat theatre that fuses heritage and contemporary architecture.

If you can’t make a performance, book a tour. They take place most Tuesdays at 2pm.

Its food

Bendigo was the first Australian city to be named a City and Region of Gastronomy by UNESCO and is still only one of two in the country (with Launceston).

Whether it’s a farmers’ market in the heart of the city, a winery outside of town, a cocktail lounge or a cheese shop, you’d need months to sample all 120 Bendigo and Heathcote wineries and breweries, 400 artisan producers and 16 regular community and farmers markets, to say nothing of the cafes and restaurants.

Start at Bendigo Gastronomy for an interactive guide to plan your day, your weekend or your week.

Make time for: Something sweet at Treacy Patisserie, a contemporary and innovative patisserie in the heart of town, open each Friday and Saturday. Be quick on those days, as these delectable desserts sell out!

Heathcote - Peregrine Ridge

Heathcote – Peregrine Ridge. Photo: City of Greater Bendigo

Its accessibility

It’s a pleasant two-hour train trip from Melbourne to Bendigo, and you’ll alight in the centre of the CBD.

Better yet, tickets are just $10.60.

If you want your car to tour the region, it’s just under two hours from Melbourne via the Calder Freeway.

And if you’re from interstate, there’s daily direct flights between Sydney and Bendigo with Qantaslink. A $4.5 million terminal is set to open at Bendigo airport within weeks.

Make time for: If you want to leave the driving to someone else contact a local food and wine tour operator and let them do the hard work, and the designated driving.

If you love walking, Dumawul Tours offers a 1.5-hour CBD tour that steps you into the city’s past, present, and future by exploring the living Culture of Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung People).

Tours by Djaara

Dumawul Tours. Photo: City of Greater Bendigo

Its events program

With more than 100 major festivals, conferences, and events each year, there’s always something happening in Bendigo.

In the next few months choose from the town’s iconic Easter Festival (March 29-April 1), the Winemakers’ Festival (April 13) and the Illumin8 Festival of Light and Peace (May 13), which celebrates Buddha’s birth and sees the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion (the largest Buddhist temple in the western world) lit up.

Make time for: The Bendigo Writers’ Festival, August 16-18 for panel discussions, book launches and workshops.

Bendigo Easter Festival Parade

Bendigo Easter Festival Parade. Photo: City of Greater Bendigo

Its tourist attractions

From the historic Central Deborah Gold Mine, where visitors can descend into the tunnels of the Gold Rush-era facility, to the Bendigo Tramways, with its vintage talking trams to its Golden Dragon Museum, home to the world’s oldest and longest imperial dragons, Bendigo has something for everyone – families and couples to groups of friends and solo travellers.

Make time for: A session on Bendigo Tramways’ Groove Tram. This moving party features 1.5 hours of local brews and live entertainment as you move through the historic streets each Saturday night.

For more information on Bendigo and upcoming events, visit https://www.bendigoregion.com.au/explore-bendigo/

Topics: Bendigo
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