In the vast continent of Australia, where travelers can choose between cities, the coast and desert, there is one luxury gourmet destination that stands out as one of the country's best getaways. Daylesford, a charming heritage country town just over an hour's drive from Melbourne, makes the perfect rural hideaway. Some small towns have luxury accommodation or unique shopping, others enough culinary sophistication or scenic beauty to lure townies and travelers. Daylesford has all of these, plus the added gift of natural mineral springs, which gave rise to both the village's former 19th century bathhouse culture and contemporary reputation as a luxury spa capital. After winding through the surrounding woodlands and rocky outcrops of the Macedon Ranges, the glorious canopy of 100 year-old trees and drooping willows that fringe Lake Daylesford greet visitors, ready to cast their spell.
Rent Iloura, your own country cottage
Get into the heritage small town spirit by calling an enchanting cottage home, in Hepburn Springs a few minutes' drive from neighbouring Daylesford's town centre. Iloura's crunchy gravel drive and old-fashioned porch, fireplace setting, sumptuously decorated decor and retro homewares will soon help you forget the concrete, glass and steel of the city.
The tasting menu at Lakehouse
The restaurant's atrium of glass walls let views of the glorious maples and birch trees flood in while artworks line the walls like old friends. The menu is full of beautifully balanced, seasonal produce, locally sourced from the Macedon Ranges region, nicknamed "Victoria's food bowl." Eight small courses are designed to bring river, lake, ocean to life, with the zing of a fresh citrus 'intermission' before dessert. Superstar produce such as velveteen coal-cooked Sher Wagyu or Clarence river prawns are exquisitely plated and allowed to shine.
Luckily for vegetarians, they have their own tasting menu in addition, showcasing the pungency of the forest floor with dishes like 'Chawanmushi' Miso braised shiitake mushrooms, created with that very Lakehouse sensibility of glorifying harvest's bounty. Many non-vegetarian guests on a health retreat weekend take a break from meat and try gourmet dining with a lighter touch, to complement their spa visits to Lakehouse's idyllic, bubbling 'treehouse' private mineral baths and Salus Spa.
Shopping on Vincent Street
A little retail therapy away from the city, amongst charming pioneer-era shopfronts, is not only stimulating and fun but a more relaxing way to shop. The village's boutique stores showcase high-end fashion, textiles, design, homewares, antiques and books that you won't find anywhere else, as well as handcrafted chocolates from Sweet Decadence to sneak back to the hotel. Leave room in your suitcase for something well worth taking home.
Night bathing at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat
When in Rome...the socialised bathing of the ancient world comes to life in this tucked away aquatic playground. All-day lingering between the basalt-stone sauna, treatments and hydrobaths before kicking into nocturnal action under the stars every Friday and Saturday night. Cold and hot water baths overlook the retreat's magnificent, poplar-lined Italianate Garden, and blissfully groggy Peppers Hotel guests are already home if they want to sleep early; or kick on with a fabulous Modern Australian meal at the elegant Angus Dining Room.
The Convent Gallery
This converted nunnery, originally built on a hill to be close to heaven, still prides itself on being a divine destination for visitors. Six acres of garden overlook sweeping views of the township's natural surroundings, exhibitions curate local and international art in the grandeur of a 19th century architectural setting and the rather unholy 'altar bar' serves cocktails and high tea in a gothic setting.
Private Mineral Bathing at Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa
In mineral-waters country, one 'takes the waters' of course. Sinking into a private bath with precious, mineralised water sourced straight from the earth is sure to tip travellers over the edge into Daylesford time. The Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa has been welcoming wellness seekers since 1895, offering the curative and restorative power of natural minerals and specialised salts and herbs to soothe muscles and lift spirits, with a modern glass addition now housing the common bathing areas, with glass walls overlooking lush surrounding greenery.
Breakfast At Cliffy's
Join the local ritual of pulling up a chair on the footpath outside Cliffy's and watching Daylesford greet the day. Bountiful and delicious country breakfast is served - free range eggs, farmhouse cheeses, small goods from the deli, plates bursting with local avocado, ham and spiced fruit toast. The emporium itself has an enchanting step-back-in-time appeal and the shelves are bursting with produce you'll want to snack on later. Tip: the trout paté from Tuki farm is a must-try.
Walk The Goldfields Track
Tap into the active travel trend and experience the region on a four-day walking holiday with operator Park Trek on well-maintained trails around Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Castlemaine, with pristine scenery and local highlights along the way, such as bakeries and mills, a visit to Hepburn Springs — and yes, chocolate.
The guided tour takes care of all transport to and from accommodation — three nights at the stately, Tuscan inspired 8-bedroom property Manor House, perfect for those who like their trekking with luxurious happy endings and soft pillows. Each experience complements the other well. The day's exercise in surrounding wilderness really shakes out the cobwebs, with plenty in the region to explore; and at day's end there's nothing better than sliding off your walking boots for a sensory reward: a massage, spa treatment or gourmet meal.
Trek through the lake, gorges, gulleys, canyons and bushland of the Goldfields Track Spring Creek, revealing Hepburn Springs, Golden Springs and Porcupine Ridge at the slow, intimate pace of true exploration. The Victorian seasonal climate provides plenty of mild days, the preferred weather for bush walking — although it may get so cool in winter months that you should pack a fleece. Park Trek's professional eco guides can deepen your feel for the terrain, bringing it alive with stories as you thread your way through the subtle greens and greys of the Australian bush.
A weekend suite at Frangos
Daylesford's quirkiest hotel celebrates the eclectic, with fifteen lovingly restored suites that each incarnate different decor styles, from clubby and masculine to over the top opulence.
The hotel's location, slap bang in the centre of town, and new restaurant means that yes, you can have that second wine and not worry about driving home. The hotel's instaworthy, infectious sense of fun is a siren call for guests to kick back, go nowhere and enjoy some me-me-me time.
Watch the ducks and feast at The Boathouse
After strolling the entire circuit of Lake Daylesford, and rifling through the hidden secondhand treasures of the lakeside Book Barn for that rare coffee table book, you'll love lingering over long lunch at The Boathouse, right on the waterfront. You can graze all afternoon on fresh, unpretentious, beautifully sourced dishes that are perfect to share, such as creamy duck liver pate and beetroot, ocean trout, slow cooked pulled pork tacos and plates of local cheeses, relishes and meats. The fresh airy interiors and irresistibly moreish dishes (i.e. bread dunked in chilli and garlic mussels) are casual dining at its best.
Clay detox at Endota Spa
Course correct your health with a treatment that draws out the toxins acquired throughout busy, stressful urban schedules. Dry body brushing and a warm clay cocoon slough off dead cells and draw out impurities, in an extraordinary bunker-like space situated in the heart of town, run by a young brother and sister team. Endota's menu also includes spoil-yourself-silly spa packages and high tech therapies like LED Light Therapy and Micro-dermabrasion, so this is the place for weekend treatments with downtime.
Experience Japan in the Australian bush at Shizuka Ryokan
Leave the world truly behind in this temple of relaxation, a combination of Australian birdsong and Japan's hushed, soothing aesthetic and culture. This recreation of a traditional 'ryokan', or rural inn, allows guests to sink back into the intoxicating peace of Japanese cuisine, design (tatami straw matting, shoji rice paper screens and gardens) and non-invasive healing treatments, such as reflexology and shiatsu. A unique chance to experience Japan's otherworldly culture and the peace of the Australian bush all at once.
French bistro dining at Bistro Terroir
Chef-owner Matthew Carnell's celebrates the Macedon Ranges' renowned farm-to-table produce, through the prism of French classics such as homemade charcuterie, Gougêres starters, Tart Tatin (this time with savoury tomato instead of apple), duck and crème brûlée. This is a temple to fine dining, where the coal face of the kitchen is the theatre, and the wine menu is to be explored and savoured (the local wine buff often hosts special dinners here). A lovely chance to try Gallic flavours in the unrushed atmosphere of a small, inky-black rural hideaway.
A hot stone massage at the Daylesford Day Spa & Beauty
Superb massage practitioners and a brilliantly located position in a converted heritage building in the town's centre make this the perfect wellness spot to treat yourself for an afternoon visit between that long lunch and some shopping. The non-clinical atmosphere of heritage architecture, soft beds and cosy blankets means that you never have to break the 19th century spell, as pressure and heat trapped in the stones seeps through to your body, melting muscle tension away. Mani and pedi help is conveniently at hand around if you need to primp before heading home.