Exsus’s Australia expert Annette shares her secrets to the hidden gourmet hideaway of Daylesford, near Melbourne, where she recently spent an indulgent weekend.
I’ve been to Melbourne many times before, and used it as a base to visit the Great Ocean Road and the Mornington Peninsula over the years. However, I’ve never been out to spa country, so this time I headed out to Daylesford which is only 90 minutes’ drive from the city – this can be either self-drive or I can arrange a private transfer for you.
Known to the indigenous people as a place of healing, the region is home to the largest number of natural mineral water springs in Australia and the largest concentration of holistic therapists in the southern hemisphere.
Food and wine are consuming passions here, and with good reason. There's an abundance of local producers, winemakers and restaurateurs so expect to wine and dine very well in Daylesford and its surrounds. With such a wide range of experiences, from farm gates, markets, cellar doors, small gourmet food producers, country pubs and wine bars to world-class fine dining, you'll be spoilt for choice.
My destination was the Lake House – the home of a 2 Chef’s Hat restaurant, a state-of-the-art cooking school and an award-winning spa, it was voted one of the world’s best hotels by Tatler magazine in the UK and has recently been crowned Australia's best regional hotel by Australian Gourmet Traveller, as well as being a member of the Luxury Lodges of Australia- so you know before you arrive that it’s going to be special.
I stayed in a waterfront suite with a prime location opening out to the edge of Lake Daylesford. It was divine, and with a temperature of around 12C, it was pretty much like London when I left, so I felt right at home – the Aussies were freezing of course!
There are numerous walking trails on the property – it’s an easy 2km around the lake, and be sure to check out the kitchen garden too. The grounds are dotted with a myriad of sculptures and artwork.
The 25-room resort is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the original owners are still very much in charge – their vision of the location and their drive to get the neighbouring food producers to sell their wares locally instead of sending everything to the city of Melbourne and beyond is inspiring. It now has a legendary reputation for both their Salus Spa and their restaurant.
Needless to say, dinner that night was a very special affair. It was $120 per person for three courses or you could go for the option with matched wines especially chosen by their excellent sommelier. Each course had an option that could be shared by two people, and they offered a sharing plate for dessert – quite a relief for me as I may have still been there trying to decide what to choose!
After a very comfortable night’s sleep, I was amazed to find myself ready for breakfast – I blamed the jet lag and the fact that my body clock was out of sync, not my greed! As I was about to have a spa treatment, I kept it light, but the cook to order selection looked wonderful, again using the finest local ingredients – I however was virtuous with my fruit plate....why doesn’t fruit ever taste this good in the UK??!
And then it was that magical spa time – tough choice to make here again, but I opted for an Elemis facial which included a scalp, neck, shoulder, arms and hand massage too. It was an amazing, indulgent and perfect way to start my day. In fact, I’d always recommend a spa treatment when you’ve just got off a long-haul flight – no matter which class you fly, a spot of pampering does wonders for your mind and body clock. I can also highly recommend the Private Treetop Spa where you spend 30 minutes in a private circular spa tub of 100% pure Daylesford mineral water sitting in a secluded tree top cabin looking out through the waterfront willow trees.
Alla Wolf-Tasker (owner of the Lake House) and her team operate the cafe at Wombat Hill House, serving simple food, sourced locally wherever possible and served in one of Daylesford's most beautiful locations.
Nestled on Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, overlooking Daylesford, the Convent boasts expansive views of the countryside and township below. With its retail areas, Mediterranean restaurant, Altar bar and lounge, restored chapel and nuns museum, this multi-award winning gallery is well worth a visit.
Located in Musk (five minutes’ drive from Daylesford), the cellar door at Passing Clouds is open daily from 11am to 5pm. Renowned for their reds, try the Macedon Ranges pinot noir, as well as the aromatic Bendigo shiraz.
Run by the Jurcan family, Istra produces its smallgoods from Western Plains pigs bred free-range near Ballarat, and the business can be credited with putting quality prosciutto, salami and ham on the menus of many of Melbourne's best cafes.
The iconic Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa has been welcoming visitors since 1895 to soak in the region’s mineral waters and hot springs. It’s located within the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve near Daylesford, and draws mineral waters directly from the source to offer a unique spa and bathhouse experience. No bookings are required for the bathhouse but you need to book for the day spa.
On your way to or from Daylesford, make sure you stop off here. They have Sunday workshops on sourdough making – the bread is AMAZING!!!
If this insider guide to Daylesford has inspired you, Exsus can tailor-make virtually any kind of trip to Melbourne, Daylesford and around Australia. Call +44 207 337 9010 or enquire now