Spend a relaxing weekend in the Victorian spa-country resorts of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, just an hour and a half from Melbourne’s CBD.
The Swiss-Italian migrants who settled in Victoria’s Central Highlands during the 1860s gold rush are largely to blame for the popularity of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs today. Besides being home to Australia’s first pasta factory and the country’s highest concentration of natural springs, the twin towns are as pretty as a picture and have a European appetite for the good life (la dolce vita).
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Gastronomy, healthy living and Instagram-friendly interiors are all defining traits of spa country, as are English gardens, native forests and the loveliest lake in the state. Best witnessed in autumn, when the street foliage blazes with colour and families whose names end in a vowel get busy making the region’s specialty bull-boar sausages.
Lake House is the ne plus ultra of spa-country accommodation, not least for its mineral water baths set in treehouses above Lake Daylesford. If the budget permits, The Retreat is the spot to book – a self-contained country house with a fire pit and alfresco hot tub.
Can’t afford five-star rates? Consider the flamboyant Frangos Hotel. Its 12 rooms – some with ceiling mirrors, some with circular beds, all with character to burn – occupy the first floor of a grand gold-rush building on Vincent Street in downtown Daylesford. On site there’s the popular all-day Café Koukla and an Endota Spa, while all the boutiques, galleries and great eating you could wish for are right outside the door.
Breakfast at Larder
Lazy days away require a flexible breakfast policy; Larder caters to even the latest risers with all-day breakfast options, from vanilla rice pudding to quinoa potato cakes with gravlax.
Lunch at Belvedere Social
Belvedere Social’s menu name-checks its favourite local producers: Sher Wagyu appears in a pot-au-feu and Tuki trout comes with horseradish cream and whipped roe. The five-course feasting option takes the chore out of choosing and showcases the best of Belvedere’s kitchen offerings.
Dinner at Lake House
Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker pioneered locavore cuisine in the 1980s when she and husband, Allan, opened Lake House, Victoria’s shrine to exceptional country dining on the shores of Lake Daylesford. Arrive early for aperitivo hour (from 5.30pm daily) on the deck above Lake Daylesford and stay late for a nightcap by the fire in the library bar.
Take the waters
Spa time is compulsory in the Central Highlands. The Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa is the most famous and offers the greatest range of treatments and therapies. But for more discreet encounters, there are boutique establishments such as the Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel just up the road. Go straight to the source of Daylesford’s healing waters by visiting one of the signposted natural springs; their odorous, effervescent waters have lured visitors for centuries.
Visit a regional art gallery
And do visit the regional gallery at The Convent on the slopes of Wombat Hill. It’s a grand establishment with a passion for art, beautiful views, a café, bar and even accommodation. The second-floor Penthouse suite is sleek and fabulous – not at all what you’d expect to find in a former nunnery.
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