Freelance writer living in Melbourne. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe to my articles. I try to find fun, rewarding and usually free adventures for you in your home town.
It was sad because this grand old dame, built in 1853, had once entertained royalty including Queen Victoria's three sons (Prince Alfred, Prince Albert and younger brother George) the future King George V and Queen Mary and Edward VIII. Not to mention Mark Twain, Nellie Melba and Robert Menzies.
Therefore it was a delight to return last weekend to find the old lady has not only had a facelift but an extreme makeover. She looks stunning. The new owners, John and Mary Finning, who bought the hotel in 1999, decided to put the Royal back into what had been downgraded in everyone's mind to simply Craig's Hotel.
Insignia on bar for Craig's Royal Hotel - new owners put the Royal back into the concept
In fact, if Prince Charles and Camilla had known about this reno, they would probably have made a beeline from Tullamarine and all of Melbourne would have been holding back a certain horse-race until they could be found.
The new owners renovated the old lady in 2010 and have spent millions. False ceilings were removed, marble fireplaces unboarded, the regal carpet unfurled.
Although there is a mistake in the spelling on the carpet - too expensive to rip it all up - linguists will spot it.
Impressed" is an imprecise word to describe the impact caused by the transformation - "gobsmacked" might be better.
We had arrived by train, and walked the short distance down from the station to attend a high tea - which Craig's Royal Hotel now runs every Sunday.
The venue is upstairs in the gargantuan dining room which must have been used as a ballroom at some stage. Walls are hung with tapestries. While these are immense, they seem like triflings against the neck-craning dimensions of far-off ceiling.
Looking around at the well coiffured gentry, some of us were seriously regretting the morning's choice of sensible walking shoes and jeans.
Being a regular high tea attendee, what can one say, but the high-tea was the usual delectable delights. Think three tiered stand, fine china - commencing the wicked indulgence with a glass of bubbly, moving through the assortment of smoked salmon, cucumber, dill and caper and lettuce and herb sandwiches, dainty quiches, homemade scones with cream and organic jams and then ever upwards to the crowning glory of petits fours such as lemon meringue tartlets; chocolate hazelnut truffles; orange and poppyseed friands and various delicacies far to numerous to detail further. All washed down with a variety of teas and plunger coffee.
But the pièce de résistance was the tour afterwards, which is part of the afternoon tea delights.
A young and enthusiastic employee showed us the various room types. With the proviso. "You can open the cupboards, try and find the concealed TVs (far to modern an invention for a place like Craig's), even jump in the bath. But please whatever you do don't sit on the beds as they take housekeeping hours to make."
We started with the suites which are apparently upwards from $500 a night.
Our guide claimed that the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce stays in the princely suite monthly when she comes to Ballarat to get her hair done . While I have no doubt she has stayed in this fine suite, the thought that she makes her way to Ballarat to get her hair done may be a bit of Ballarat folklore.
After the tour, discussions lead to how anyone could afford to stay here. I check Wotif on my phone but even the cheapest room is $290 a night which is a bit pricey for most.
Later I discover on Craig's website, where you can incorporate the high tea into an accommodation package. Given that high teas are $49.50 per person (which by the way is quite reasonable compared to Melbourne prices), the package might be worth considering for a special occasion. A one nighter is $345 but includes continental buffet breakfast, valet parking and high-tea for two.
And if you really want to stay in what I shall now forever remember as the Quentin Bryce suite (I wonder if she wears a hair net with all those huge pillows) then let's face it the cost would be well over most people's heads.
However I did note another package which included one night's accommodation, a dinner package including a bottle of regional wine ( value up to $40) plus breakfast, and a stay in the Royal Suite for $595.
So I guess for a special, special occasion it might just be doable -- like a honeymoon or celebrating winning the lottery.
Or even a golden wedding anniversary. Because after all as we always suspected -- gold can still be unearthed in Ballarat.