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The fun begins just before Bacchus Marsh, when the Western Highway’s monotonous departure from Melbourne leads to sinuous bends that take you to Victoria’s lush heart. Turn right shortly after Ballan to plunge into a landscape where eucalypts reaching for the sky block the sun and huge tree ferns provide flashes of wicked greenery.
Central Victoria is a place like no other: temperate rainforests, rolling pastures, historic towns seemingly untouched by the modern age and wineries specialising in cool-climate shiraz and riesling.
Here, in gold-rush country, the riches of the former mining town of Daylesford now come from the natural mineral springs. And its wholesale embrace of la dolce vita is perhaps a testament to the Swiss-Italian settlers who made their mark on the area about 160 years ago. In this gorgeous town, just 90 minutes from Melbourne, iron-lacework-frilled Victorian houses flank the wide, leafy streets and a picturesque six-kilometre drive takes you to tiny Hepburn Springs, which has the highest concentration of mineral springs in Australia.
Follow in the footsteps trod by wellness seekers since 1895 to Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (Mineral Springs Reserve Road, Hepburn Springs) and bathe in the warm, mineral-rich waters or book a massage, body scrub or facial.
Back in Daylesford, visit the Convent Gallery (7 Daly Street, Daylesford), where the works of emerging and established artists are displayed in the town’s imposing former nunnery. In nearby Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, walk along the tree-lined pathways before stopping for coffee at charming Wombat Hill House in the old caretaker’s cottage.
It’s just a short drive to The Boathouse (2 Leggatt Street, Daylesford), a quaint weatherboard on the banks of Lake Daylesford. Shaded tables on the deck are the perfect spot for watching ducks forage for their lunch. Graze on pork terrine, baby-beetroot tarte tatin and steamed mussels then fossick for unusual second-hand books at the Book Barn (bookbarndaylesford.com) next door. Sure, the gold rush is over but you may well strike gold here.
Grab a coffee for the road
Bowery to Williamsburg
Tucked down a laneway, this café pays tribute to New York deli culture but boasts coffee that rises far above America’s tepid brew.
16 Oliver Lane, Melbourne; (03) 9077 0162
Pick up your car
Grand Hyatt Hotel, 123 Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 8633 3300