Daylesford, a mere ninety minutes from the centre of Melbourne, is one of the most charming Australian towns I ever did see. You’d assume that it’s status as the jewel of Victoria’s spa country would mean it is gentrified to within an inch of it’s white-slippered life – and there are the gourmet dining options, ornate interior shops and grand lake house accommodation you would expect from such a title – but there are also cracked historical building facades, simple country bakeries and stores with locally knitted finger-less gloves. It retains the heart of a rural town, with the trimmings of an indulgent weekend stay. And after a stroll around the peaceful lake, or a soak in one of the many natural mineral spring bathhouses, you’ll be daydreaming about relocating to country Victoria – or at least Melbourne, so you are within comfy reach.
STAY: Daylesford Hotel
Ain’t nothing wrong with a stay at the local pub, I say! In fact, with many pub/hotels renovating their rooms to include crisp white linen and designer touches, they have become a preferred stay for when we’re trying to save a dollar or two on the road. Daylesford Hotel is the perfect example of when this is done really well, and I would happily cosy up any day beside the fireplace and among the tasteful vintage artworks in the front bar of this gracious country hotel, that’s been kicking for more than 100 years.
At the recommendation of a friendly local photographer, we wound up one of Daylesford’s nearby hills to a ‘secret’ lookout spot with views across the town and beyond. A signpost told us that lads and lasses from Cornwall settled the town, after they had come to mine quartz in the region.
Late on a winter afternoon is a great time to look out over town, as fireplaces start sending warming wafts of smoke into the chilly air.
SHOP: Manteau Noir
This gorgeous apothecary, clothes and homewares store on Vincent Street in the centre of town oozes romance and Victorian charm. From candlesticks to cards, and cushions to petticoats, you’re sure to find something you love in this little store of treasures.
SHOP: Bromley & Co.
Prolific Australian artist David Bromley calls Daylesford home, and he and his wife Yuge have opened a store of artistic delights in town, Bromley & Co. As the Sydney Morning Herald states: “There aren’t many shops worth driving 90 minutes to get to, but this one certainly is”, and I have to agree. With original artworks, sculptures and homewares for sale, as well as works by fellow artists and creatives that they admire, the store is spread over two floors and multiple rooms, some of which can be hired out as event spaces. You can even visit it as a gallery, and you’re sure to leave in awe of how versatile he is an an artist.
I’m not even sure how I stumbled on the Lake House Daylesford on Instagram, but I’ve been following them for years (probably even hence the trip to this neck of the woods). And while saving for a wedding doesn’t really lend itself to luxe stays, a crisp walk down by Daylesford Lake at sunset will give you a glimpse of why it’s such a sought after spot for an indulgent stay. Speaking of crisps, just don’t open any packets of food, or like Skymie, you’ll have more geese on your arse than chips in the packet. Ha!
EAT: Koukla Cafe
When it comes to choosing somewhere to eat, I just need to say the ‘pi…’ word or ‘Ital…’ and Phil has said ‘yes’ before I even realise I’ve offered the suggestion. But with pizza as good as the veggie one at Koukla, next time it will be a statement on not a question: ‘let’s get us some of that damn fine, melty, pesto covered goodness immediately’. Add to that a good wine list (we enjoyed a glass of Charlotte Sound Marlborough Sauv Blanc for $11 a glass), custom David Bromley artworks on the walls and…wait I forgot my train of thought, because PIZZA.
EAT: Belvedere Social
This is a hip, a hip, hip place, man! Belvedere Social takes their philosophy of fresh and local seriously (love it when you see a chef duck to the courtyard on a cold eve to snip some herbs) and the food is really delicious. We booked ahead and ordered the Vegetarian ‘Feed Me’ option of the chef’s selection of 5 share courses, which included the likes of a red oak and persimmon salad, beetroot tortelloni, braised leeks with gruyere and more. The interiors are on point, the service was friendly (if a little all over the place – they may have been having an off night and it seemed like they could benefit from a really great floor manager to keep things flowing), and the wine was delicious too (I recommend the Mount MacLeod Pinot Noir)!
This is a coffee-lovers cafe – where you’re never far from the cold-drip contraptions on the counter and where the signage is a shrine to the Gods of coffee and Instagram. The ‘veggie beans’ were a total winner (Boston beans with okra, asparagus, baby tomatoes, fried egg, on farmhouse cheddar and toast soldiers), while the ‘green is good’ (asparagus, kale, spinach, avocado, broccoli, silverbeet w/ poached eggs and toasted sesame, basil pesto w/ wholewheat toast) could have done with a little more flavour, but so do many green brekky options and nothing shoving some of Skymie’s beans on top couldn’t fix. The place is huge too – so you’re sure to nab a seat even if it seems busy. The service was super friendly, so you’re sure to leave this place with the smile of someone who won breakfast.
LAVANDULA: Visit this charming little Swiss Italian farm, just 10 minutes north of Daylesford at Shepherd’s Flat. Despite winter not being peak lavender weather, you’ll still delight in the leftover auburn and yellow leaves from autumn, and the gardens that have kept their form if not their colour. Eat Tuscan minestrone in the outdoor cafe, visit the feather-footed chickens and warbling geese, or settle into a cosy nook by one of the stone farmhouse buildings. And be sure to pick up some lavender goods at the store on your way out.
SPA TIME: Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa
No trip to the heart of spa country is complete without a visit to one of the area’s bathhouses, and at Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa you experience a slice of history with your salt soak, as visitors have been bathing in Hepburn Springs since 1895! Determined to take some of the Daylesford zen back to Sydney with us, we opted to indulge for two hours in the Sanctuary just before departing town, where we drifted in the salt pool, our gaze drawn to the circular concrete ceiling that winds up towards a skylight.
There were also jet baths where you recline to quite high pressure bubble spouts, and an open air spa heated to 40 degrees right next to a bloody freezing plunge pool. We were told plunging three times for a minute each between resting in the hot spa leads to optimum health. My record was 35 seconds. But reclining in a steamy outdoor spa in the woods is my idea of heaven.
Daylesford is a little slice of heaven to me.
Have you been? Share your tips in the comments below!