Our new travel series The Overnighter is all about ideal itineraries for compact but memorable adventures around Australia.
Daylesford has long been known as Victoria’s spa country, but with its volcanic soil and history of small-scale farming, the area is also a centre for excellent produce.
Pack light and leave room in your bags to bring home some of the region’s treasures, including farmers market produce, pantry goods, gin and cool-climate pinot noir.
On the way: stop at Mini Mr Gisborne
If you need some sustenance to see you through the 90-minute drive from Melbourne, this eatery – the sibling to the original Mr Macedon cafe – is worth a quick stop. It’s about halfway between Daylesford and Melbourne.
Coffee is by Allpress and there are Dr Marty’s crumpets, poke bowls, scrolls from Kyneton’s Dr Scroll, and Zeally Bay Sourdough toasties filled with salami and goat’s cheese or roast veggies and Swiss cheese.
On Monday and Friday evenings, it's burger night – try the Old McDonald with both fried chicken and a beef patty, or get nachos to share.
Friday 6pm: check-in at Dairy Flat Farm and Lodge
This new boutique hotel and 38-acre farm – from the owners of Lake House Restaurant – has only six rooms, set among olive groves at the centre of a rambling Alice in Wonderland-style hedge garden.
There’s an onsite concierge and private breakfast chef, and each suite is decked out in maximalist glamour with silky velvet furnishings, Victorian ephemera and embroidery.
Unwind in the outdoor hot-tub, overlooking chardonnay vines, to get your weekend off to the perfect start.
Rooms start at $1340 per night for up to four guests.
Friday 8pm: dinner at the Farmers Arms Hotel
There’s something about getting out of the city that inspires a desire for country pub food, generous glasses of shiraz and open fires.
The Farmers Arms fulfils all those needs. It’s a cosy red-brick building that dates back to 1857. There are 16 mostly-local beers on tap, including the pub’s own Farmers Arms dark ale, a hefty, wintery brew.
The food is elevated but comforting. There’s eye fillet with pancetta; braised lamb shanks and mash; a vegan chickpea tagine spiked with harissa; and house-made chicken and vegetable pies served with chunky chips.
There’s accommodation here, too, just over the road from the pub.
Saturday 9am: breakfast at Wombat Hill House
Start the day with a wander through the lush fernery of the botanic gardens at Wombat Hill, which are built on top of a dormant volcano, then get breakfast at this cafe set in a 1940s caretakers cottage.
Kick back in an armchair by the open fire or sit in the glass conservatory among the planters. Coffee is by Allpress and the menu includes a breakfast pizza topped with eggs, mozzarella and caramelised onion.
Slow-fermented sourdough, lemon curd-filled doughnuts and feather-light blackberry danishes from Dairy Flat Bakery (headed up by renowned baker Michael James, who co-founded Melbourne’s popular Tivoli Road) are available to take home, too.
Saturday 10.30am: stroll around Lake Daylesford
At just under two kilometres, this walk is a nice counterpoint to the area’s many food-focused attractions. The man-made lake is home to raucous cockatoos, egrets and other birds.
Use the trackside pump to fill your water bottle with water from the mineral springs. If you’re after a bit more exercise, this track is also the starting point for a few more challenging trails.
Start from Central Lake Reserve, Daylesford
Saturday 12pm: lunch at Pancho
This former butcher’s shop in a two-storey terrace feels like an indoor jungle, with potted plants and rambling vines on every surface. The regularly changing menu is omnivorous but plant-focused, with plenty for vegetarians and vegans.
Try the potato-and-leek rosti with soft-boiled egg, avocado, goat’s cheese and romesco, or the gently spiced cauliflower and hummus bowl. There are pretty house-made cakes, and slices might include dulce de leche brownies.
There’s also Wide Open Road coffee, a good selection of local beers, and a leafy, dog-friendly courtyard.
Pancho is currently closed for renovations.
Saturday 2pm: wine tasting and snacks at Musk Lane Wine
Hidden down a laneway in Kyneton, about a 30-minute drive from Daylesford, this is an unusual location for a winery – but this old hardware shop and timber yard has been turned into a contemporary, casual bar-slash-cellar-door.
Musk Lane has none of the stuffiness of some wine-tasting venues. Young winemaker Brendan Lane’s focus is on small batches of unusual varietals with distinctive flavour profiles. The 2019 Malvasia – a first for the winery – is a layered, complex, slightly cloudy white with hints of caramelised stone fruit and vanilla.
After Lane talks you through the hands-on process of making his low-intervention wines, you can buy a bottle, sit on the huge dog-and-kid-friendly lawn under strings of fairy lights, and order snacks from the old airstream.
Saturday 4pm: get relaxed and radiant at the Hepburn Bathhouse
If you need a break from all the eating and drinking, the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, at the site of the natural Hepburn Springs, has been providing therapeutic bathing experiences since 1895.
The larger shared pools are popular, so for something a bit more chill, consider booking a private bath experience. You’ll get your own dimly lit spa room, fluffy robes and various bath additives. Try getting coated in thermal mud from Rotorua, which leaves your skin exfoliated and feeling soft.
Saturday 6pm: gin flights at Animus Distillery
Part cellar door, part cocktail bar, Animus is a gin fan’s paradise. One end of the spacious, high-ceilinged lounge is the distillery itself, its copper stills and winding pipes lending an alchemical vibe.
Animus Distillery uses both native Australian botanicals (pepper berry, lemon myrtle) and some from Southeast Asia (galangal, kaffir limes) to develop its gins.
G&Ts come garnished with red capsicum, ginger or rosemary, and there are gin-based cocktails, too.
For the full experience, start with a gin flight. If straight gin is too daunting, there’s the option to taste with tonic, or go the Negroni flight. It includes an excellent mandarin Negroni, with mandarin zest steeped in the company’s Ambrosian Gin.
Saturday 8pm: dinner at Lake House
Part of Australia’s first wave of regional destination restaurants, Lake House has been around for more than 35 years. Dinner here truly feels like a special event.
It’s a polished affair that starts as you step through the leafy entrance and settle in for a pre-dinner cocktail in the library.
At weekends, choose from two degustation menus – one vegetarian, one for meat eaters – by co-owner and culinary director Alla Wolf-Tasker. Both menus focus intensely on provenance, using produce from Dairy Flat Farm, which is made up of 38 acres of restored pastures, orchards, vines and olive trees.
One dish, called Dairy Flat Farm Beans in Two Parts, is a thing of beauty: a tiny cloudlike feuilletée (knot-shaped brioche) with a silky broad-bean hummus and a salad of more broad beans, peach-leaf curd, walnuts and a tart sauce vierge made from olive oil, lemon juice, chopped peach and fresh basil. Buttery Sher Wagyu from nearby Ballan comes with kimchi made from mustard leaves and white lion’s mane mushrooms. In season, dessert might be just-picked strawberries with a sorrel granita.
The wine list is award winning, service is smooth. In short, it’s everything you’d expect from an established culinary icon.
Sunday 9am: recovery brunch at Cliffy’s Emporium
If you overindulged the night before, Daylesford stalwart Cliffy’s Emporium does a solid recovery brunch. The original 1950s general store has been through a few evolutions, but its floor-to-ceiling shelves are always stacked with local produce and pantry staples such as pickles and relishes, chocolates, honey and more.
This bounty also makes appearances on the all-day menu. Poached eggs and haloumi arrive atop house-made flatbread with garlicky cardamom yoghurt and smoked chilli butter, and there are excellent rustic house-made pies and cakes too.
Sunday 11am: stock up at Daylesford Sunday Market
A proper country market with a mix of offbeat knick-knacks and top-notch food. If you’re in the mood to wander, you can pick up everything from cheap houseplants and used vinyl to mysterious antique farm implements.
This is also the place to stock up on jams, heirloom veggies and foraged pine mushrooms. On-site snack options vary, but might include Portuguese tarts, roasted Glenlyon chestnuts and arancini.
Sunday 1pm: lunch at Passing Clouds
It’s safest to book ahead for lunch at Passing Clouds. Despite its low-key vibe, the dining room is immensely popular with locals and visitors.
There’s no formal kitchen; everything is cooked over a half-tonne charcoal fire pit. The banquet is $60 a head and gets you three courses, starting with a generous selection of local charcuterie. Mains might be slow-roasted local lamb with polenta, walnuts and salsa verde, or porchetta with fennel slaw.
Later, work off lunch with a game of bocce looking over the vines.
Sunday 3pm: pinot tasting at Attwoods at Glenlyon Estate Winery
The low-intervention, single-vineyard wines with which winemaker Troy Attwood made his name are on many of Australia’s best wine lists, including at Melbourne’s acclaimed Attica, and Merivale eatery Queen Chow in Sydney.
Located down a few dusty backroads with minimal signage, Attwoods at Glenlyon is something of a hidden treasure. The winemaker has restored a 25-year-old vineyard to grow pinot noir and chardonnay, and has opened a low-key cellar door. You’re unlikely to find wine-tasting tourist buses here, but you will get to taste the producer’s awarded Old Hog range, and get an insider’s view into contemporary winemaking.
Food-wise, it’s simple stuff, based on the lunches that apprentice winemakers eat in France. Accompany your tasting with toasted bread served with generous slabs of terrine, charcuterie and cheese.
This one is well worth the short detour north before you head back to the city.