Matters of the hearth
Old and new ... Ardenlee has modern conveniences with period appeal. Photo: Patricia Maunder
Patricia Maunder finds a comfortable chair by the fire at an 1860s bed and breakfast.
Ballarat is full of 19th-century history and charm, so 1860s Ardenlee seems a fine place to get away from modern life's stresses.
My first impression of the two-storey classic Victorian house with a high-pitched roof and pretty front garden full of pansies and roses is one of old-fashioned tranquillity, despite its location on the main road leading to the city centre. Once inside, I never notice the traffic.
Autumn's late-afternoon chill is setting in, so the gas fireplace in the lounge room, just inside the entrance, is welcome - as is smiling host Marian Moffett.
I want to slip right into one of the enormous armchairs next to those leaping flames but first things first: the luggage needs to be carried upstairs to our room.
We pay $10 extra for the Wexford room - the largest of Ardenlee's three bedrooms - and, upon seeing it, feel the extra was well worth it. Here, as elsewhere, the Victorian-era architecture is on show, polished and offset with period-inspired colours, fabrics, fittings and reproduction furniture, plus a genuine antique chaise lounge, with a throw elegantly draped across it.
Eager expectations of drifting back in time next to the (gas) fireplace are dashed by a note asking us not to light it (it appears to be broken). An unobtrusive 21st-century heater keeps things warm, however. There is also a wall-mounted television. But it's the spacious bathroom, with its double vanity and bath-style spa (including headrest) that speaks most potently of modern comforts - beautifully dressed up in heritage reproduction tiles, brass fittings and polished wood.
Back in the main room, the queen-size bed piled with pillows looks awfully comfortable but that fireplace downstairs is calling.
Moffett earlier pointed out the dining room's tea- and coffee-making facilities and a covered glass stand housing her home-made muffins. With a hot cuppa and treat in hand, I sink into one of those armchairs by the fire.
Eventually, I haul myself out of the armchair's warm embrace to search for dinner (it would have been infinitely more difficult had a fellow guest not had the lounge-room television on). The city's heart is a pleasant stroll from Ardenlee, so there are plenty of options nearby (Bridge Mall shopping centre is even closer). Next morning, after surveying our domain from the bedroom window, which looks down on the front garden, we head for breakfast around the big dining table. We choose from several self-serve cereal and toast options before Marian and husband, David, appear with smiles and hot breakfasts.
I again settle into the fireside armchair as Marian volunteers a potted history of Ardenlee. Built by successful local retailers in the middle of what had been the battleground of the Eureka Rebellion only a decade earlier, it was later sold to the Catholic Church as accommodation for nuns and a teacher-training facility.
From 1999 until the couple bought it in 2008, this once-graceful space had several roles, including a call centre, before their major renovation turned it into the heritage charmer it is today.
Some might not go for the lace and faux flowers in every room but for a getaway cocooned in good old-fashioned tranquillity, Ardenlee works for me.
Address 113 Victoria Street, Ballarat.
Bookings Phone 5332 2029 or see ardenlee.com.au.
Getting there 80 minutes' drive from Melbourne's city centre.
How much For two people a night, including cooked breakfast, the Wexford room is $180 Sunday to Thursday; $190 Friday-Saturday and public holidays.
Summary Old-fashioned and modern comforts brought together in a tastefully renovated Victorian home.
The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.
All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.