As the urban sprawl spreads further north, the distance between the city and your weekend destination seems less and less of an obstacle. Daylesford is only 90 minutes away and if you skip around the herds departing the city on Friday night, you’ll be in spa country by dinnertime.
It seems like a wave of city folk have crept further from the Melbourne to find sweet country respite more permanently and, as such, regional Victoria is becoming a more accessible place to stop into, even if only for a night or two. Small business is fast becoming the new retirement and Daylesford, blessed with its countless local producers and small businesses, is one of many pockets of the state that is feeling the influx.
It’s pretty easy to fill your days at this popular weekend spot, but we’ve chosen a few things that will undoubtedly make your two days out of town a treat.
For over 150 years the regional Victorian landscape has been luring visitors to its natural mineral springs (there are over 70 of them). Perhaps you’ve filled up a water bottle with murky ‘mineral water’ to take home with you. Drinking this water is said to be beneficial, but simply bathing in it is quite blissful. Hepburn Bath House is definitely one of the key spots. This spa and wellness retreat is set in a small, picturesque valley and offers a host of stunning experiences and facilities, including warm relaxation pools, massage chairs submerged in bubbling water, waterfall showers and a range of treatments. You’ll leave feeling like you're floating.
It’s just a short walk back to your private sanctuary if you’re staying across the road at the luxury villas at Hepburn at Hepburn. This is completely extravagant, designed by David Edellman and owned by 8 Hotels, it is certainly a fancy weekend lodgings. But if you’re after something more town-and-country, there are plenty of other, less extravagant options nearby, like a private house up on the hill for two or more, or a cosy bed and breakfast like Lakeleigh. Owner Jean Steiner also owns Peonies & Picnics, a homewares and antiques store in town selling old prints, picnic baskets, crockery and ornamental urns. Sharing a connecting door is Ego’s Culinaria, a small all-day cafe serving sandwiches, salads and baked goods from sausage rolls to lemon meringue pies.
A Perfect Drop
Just across the road is A Perfect Drop, a stunning wine and food lounge. What looks like a house from the front feels that way on the inside too, and its this comfortable atmosphere that can make lunch (cosied up on a chesterfield) turn into a long afternoon by the fire with a stiff drink. The food is wintery and warm at this time of year, with a seasonal local tasting plate and hearty dishes of rump steak, roast duck, trout from nearby Tuki Trout Farm and locally sourced veggies.
Farmers Arms Hotel
On a wintery night out of town you want to feel as far away from inner city suburbia as possible. The humble Farmers Arms Hotel is a welcome substitute. On any given night the front bar might be full with rowdy locals. Sit up here with a pint of ale before heading out back to the dining room for dinner, though you can also get meals at the bar. The old redbrick building must have been an old RSL or some such and the interior hasn’t changed a great deal, but it’s warm and comfortable. The food is excellent, with sophisticated pub dishes like racks of lamb, pork neck, béarnaise steak and soufflé.
Daytime Cafes – Cliffy’s, Harvest, Chowder House
Other favourite daytime eateries to drop into include Cliffy’s, a cluttered country larder, Harvest cafe, and if you are in Hepburn, check out the Chowder House. This is something straight off a highway in America. Packed full of vinyl-covered chairs around tables, the Chowder House has a diner feel and serves huge bowls of seafood chowder with sweet corn bread on the side. If for no other reason, this place is a great novelty. It’s opposite the Hepburn General Store, which is a cute country milk bar-come-cafe where you can stop in for a loaf of bread or sit down for a sandwich.
If a picnic sounds more appealing, head to Istra Smallgoods, located in the nearby town of Musk. It is a goldmine. Istra Smallgoods produce a range of cured meat products and supply restaurants and cafes all over Melbourne, but this is the headquarters. Run by a Croatian couple, it also sells large jars of pickles, tinned fish, tubes of liver pate, homemade pasta sauce and an array of Slavic sweets.
Markets rate highly on a good to-do list for an out-of-towner. Daylesford has this covered. If you’ve got a few hours to kill, venture to The Mill Markets just out of town. This is like the Chapel Street Bazaar, but bigger. In fact, it is Australia’s largest indoor market of antiques and collectables, with over 140 stallholders. Indeed, it’s a trash and treasure market like no other – crammed full with antiques, clothes, furniture, art and books. You’ll find manual meat mincers and plaster sculls next to vintage posters of Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the swing of 1960s British India and roughed African rugs. For an outdoor market selling local wares alongside local grocers selling fruit and veg, eggs and bread, head up to the Daylesford Sunday Market, every Sunday morning. You’ll also pick up locally made soap, woolly knits and cheap bric-a-brac.
Cidery/Breakfast & Beer
The Daylesford-Macedon region is also, of course, home to a host of local wineries and breweries. Many of these local producers supply to the restaurants in the area, so it’s not hard to track down a local drop. Daylesford also has a cidery just a couple of kilometres down the road making tradition ‘still’ cider, like they did in England before they had bubbles. But if something effervescent is more appealing, try Breakfast & Beer, a toasty place to relax serving a huge selection of international brews. This cosy two-storey bistro is housed in the oldest freestanding building in town, and despite the name, also serves lunch and dinner with beer at any time of the day.
And when you leave to head back into town, drop by the roadside farmer’s gates. Based on an honesty donation system, local traders sell everything from kangaroo poo to potatoes, apples, honey and eggs. Take something back home with you.
Hepburn at Hepburn
2–8 Range Road, Hepburn Springs
(03) 5348 1194
17A Leggatt Street, Daylesford
(03) 5348 4422
Daylesford Sunday Market (every Sunday)
Daylesford Railway Station, Raglan Street, Daylesford
(03) 5348 3503
The Mill Market
105 Central Springs Road, Daylesford
Other things to do:
Mineral Springs Reserve Road Hepburn Springs
(03) 5321 6000