So Ballarat is not on the top of the list when it comes to many people's 'must' travel destinations... but I'm here to persuade you that as a cyclist, it should be.
A couple of weeks ago, I packed up the car with two bikes, my wife and two young kids to try and achieve the holy grail, a cycling weekend away... with family in tow. Is it possible?
Ballarat is an easy hour and a half drive from Melbourne... I found the toughest part was actually leaving the house, with a simply crazy volume of equipment required, especially by our four month old, leaving me with about 10cm square of bag space for what I needed to take.
Visit Ballarat and RACV Goldfields Resort sponsored our trip away and provided us with accommodation at the the RACV resort at Creswick, a short 10 minute drive from Ballarat. Once I'd single handedly moved about 500kg of luggage to our room... I had time to take a look around, check out where to ride and chat to the staff.
There's some great riding available from the RACV's location in Creswick. Out the door you can head north towards Daylesford and the surrounding towns. There's plenty of back roads to enjoy plus a good volume of gravel if that's your thing.
I chose to check out a route planned out by our friends at Corporate Cycling. It took me directly north before heading east toward Daylesford and Hepburn Springs via some awesome back roads, then back to Creswick to complete just over 100km. A brilliant route and done in time to be back for a day exploring Ballarat with the family.
Day two's riding was at what is quickly establishing itself as a must for every self respecting Australian Cyclist. Buninyong. In case you've been living under a rock, Buninyong is a small town just outside Ballarat that marks the start finish point for the Australian National Road Race circuit.
I took myself out for a few laps in pretty much perfect conditions. The 10km lap is an up and down (read my ride write up HERE), it's fast, rolling, with a nice pinch at the start of each lap. There's something pretty special about taking in laps of a course that has seen some brilliant battles over thew last few years, and will no doubt see more in the future. It's a the chance to ride the same climbs as the hero's of Australian cycling and really see how quick you can go.
Now I've had my opportunity to get in some sneaky practice laps 'm ready for the Grand Fondo on 7 January. I am really looking forward to sending the La Velocita team up to race along this route next month, in a full race set up and closed at the Cycling Australia Gran Fondo!
Lastly, and in a change up from the normal road theme here at La Velocita, I took on a lap of the RACV Goldfields purpose build mountain bike course. To say I had a massive smile on my face at the end on the lap is a understatement. I always forget how utterly engaging mountain biking is, and in clear, warm conditions flying along underneath the tree canopy, in and out of shade, up and down, through flowing single track and some nice technical sections was absolutely brilliant.
I have to give a big shout out to the RACV for taking this initiative on and making great use of largely unused land around and through their golf course to build the mountain bike track. Even better, you can arrive at course with just your helmet and hire a perfectly respectable bike to take on a few laps. Overall I'd class the course as suitable for all levels, with options to push as hard as you like to increase difficulty or roll through at an easy pace.
BREAKFAST AND COFFEE
Our room came with breakfast... but we did not find that out until day two. Oh well, no problem, we discovered the absolutely awesome L'Espresso in Sturt Street Ballarat. This slightly quirky cafe is full of CD's and records, I'm not sure if it was a music store first or cafe first, but the coffee in spot on and the breakfast was really great, good quality and put together with love.
Being 'with Children' we chose to stay at the RACV Goldfields Resort both nights when it came to getting food in... The restaurant and bar both offer good options, but for feeding the masses I'd stick with the bar meals or head out to a local pub as the restaurant is on the pricy side.
After getting in my riding fix each morning, and a spot of mountain biking one afternoon, we had the opportunity to try out a few family activities, heading to the Botanical Gardens and Lake Wendouree made for a good afternoon of exploring and the new inclusive play space at Victoria park was huge, safe and had play equipment that even the adults at the park were getting into.
If you're up for more of an adventure head to the Ballarat Wildlife Park or the 'must do' of Ballarat, Sovereign Hill.
RACV Goldfields Resort - The team at RACV were very accommodating when it came to looking after bikes, pushers, bags etc. The hotel is well located and there are plenty of activities to keep everyone busy. Make sure you choose late check out on your final day or you'll be out of the room with all your equipment pretty early.
Is it possible to have a weekend away with the family and get some good riding in? Yes, of course it is. Getting La Velocita up and running has involved loads of traveling with the bike and non cycling family... Just be prepared to be on the go at all times and show no signs of weakness to the kids when you start feeling a bit fatigued at three in the afternoon after smashing yourself in the mornings....
More information - www.visitballarat.com.au
Full disclosure - A big thank you to Visit Ballarat and RACV Goldfields Resort for looking after us and covering our accommodation. All the other activities were paid for by us...