BLOGGERS and journalists from around Australia are spending the weekend watching Ballarat blossom.
Writers from publications such as Home Life, The Australian and Sunday Style, as well as bloggers from mamamia and Eat and Drink, were invited to spend two days seeing the best Ballarat has to offer in art, culture, food, wine, fashion, shopping, gardens and events.
The journalists were invited as part of the second annual Ballarat Regional Tourism "Ballarat in Bloom" spring-summer marketing campaign.
BRT business development and events manager David McMahon said the event was about showcasing Ballarat to journalists, writers and bloggers from around Australia.
"It's about changing the myth of Ballarat and really exploring it, not just with events but local attractions as well," Mr McMahon said.
"It was the second time we've done it and it was a raging success in 2012.
"It's about getting an online platform to spread the word about Ballarat. The value of this PR Ballarat couldn't buy."
The writers were split into three groups, including one aimed at food critics, one for families and the third for vintage fashion.
Peter Ford Catering created a menu for the first group, which also visited local producers Inglenook Dairy and Spring Creek Organics.
The families group was entertained by Ballarat's four main attractions: Sovereign Hill, the Ballarat Wildlife Park, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka and Kryal Castle.
Quirky retail outlets and vintage specialists were enjoyed by the last group, while there were also visits to local gardens and restaurants.
Ballarat in Bloom events were also promoted, including Ballarat By The Glass, the Festival of Motoring, Ballarat Gardens In Spring, the Cycling Australia Road National Championships, Ballarat Beer Festival and the Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival.
Food, so much food
I WAS chuffed to be invited to be part of the Ballarat in Bloom tour of our beautiful city yesterday – especially when I knew it involved my favourite pastime of eating.
It was also nice to be able to show off our town to people whose only memory was a hazy school tour to Sovereign Hill several years ago.
The day started with scones, jam and cream at Jacksons & Co, where local historian Barry Ryan gave a very humorous presentation on the historic hotel to the 20 or so assembled writers.
(It's not every day that the fact Ballarat once had so many hotels with Royal in the title can be made into a rap song.)
We then split into three groups – I was with the families – and headed off in different directions. I was a bit jealous the food critics were travelling in vintage cars but what I didn't know was my turn was to come.
"I was introduced to a blogger from mamamia and told her I loved the musical"
I also had to overcome an early hiccup when I was introduced to a blogger from mamamia and told her I loved the musical. Luckily, she just thought I was hilarious.
First stop, The Forge where a massive spread of entrees and pizzas awaited us. We nibbled on croquettes and marinated calamari before sampling a wide range of its renowned pizzas, complete with a glass of bubbly.
Halfway through the meal, we were joined by a Sovereign Hill trooper, a digger and a lady of the Goldfields who entertained us with stories of life in the 1850s.
Afterwards I had a chat with The Forge owner Tim Matthews, who said they made sure families were catered for in their Armstrong Street North restaurant, which is named in honour of their grandfather and blacksmith, Frank McGrath.
A large blackboard and a range of old-fashioned toys keep the kids entertained while their parents enjoy a meal out.
"People are pretty critical and quite honest in their feedback so we have to keep on our toes," Mr Matthews said.
A quick walk later and we're lunching at Gee Cees in Sturt Street on delicate finger foods, including bagel burgers, rice paper rolls and bruschetta.
Here, Pickles the wombat makes an appearance courtesy of the Ballarat Wildlife Park's Greg Parker and Julia Leonard, who talk about the new crocodile enclosure currently under construction.
Then, a vintage bus appears to transport us to the Robert Clark Conservatory at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, where we are greeted by a chocolate cake in the shape of the Eureka Stockade.
An iPad demonstration of MADE follows, along with a presentation by a Kryal Castle knight (clearly very hot under all his armour) and wizard.
Back on the bus and it's off to The George Hotel for Pimms and another presentation on the events planned for Ballarat in Bloom.
Six hours, too much food and a cocktail later, I head for home, very full, very happy and hoping I had helped sell our lovely town.