Getaway: Daylesford & Macedon Ranges
Three decades ago, Daylesford was an unremarkable country town in regional Victoria, well known in the farming community for producing high-quality potatoes from its volcanic soils.
Fast forward to 2019 and Daylesford and its neighbouring wine region, Macedon, has emerged as an alternative weekend getaway to the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula for Melbourne’s gourmet crowd.
Wines from the likes of Bindi, Curly Flat, Cobaw Ridge and Passing Clouds are well established as cool-climate standouts, while Daylesford and next-door Hepburn Springs boast top-notch restaurants, lively country pubs, spas, massage retreats, wine bars and up-market accommodation.
It snows here in winter, making the region ideal for producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although Granite Hills is also well known for its Riesling and Shiraz, while Hanging Rock is a Sparkling producer of repute.
A natural setting
Daylesford first gained attention for its natural spring mineral spas; the likes of Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, the Mineral Spa at Peppers Springs Retreat and Salus Spa at Lake House, the country guest house that has spurred Daylesford’s rise from sleepy getaway to serious gourmand delight.
Foodie Alla Wolf-Tasker and her artist husband Allan discovered a piece of unused, gorse-infested land on the fringes of then down-at-heel Daylesford. The land was overlooking a lake, and they saw immense potential, despite much of it being strewn with rubbish and rusted car parts. That overgrown land eventually emerged as Lake House, one of Australia’s first country chic hotels, leading the way for names like Peppers to follow.
Wolf-Tasker quickly built a reputation as a formidable cook and promoter of rural produce, championing local seasonal cuisine long before that became de rigueur for the industry.
Today, Lake House remains at the pinnacle of regional destination dining – and has 33 rooms and suites in either a waterfront or garden lodge setting. Six acres of country gardens extend down to the waters of Lake Daylesford and provide guests with immediate access to the lake shore and the Wombat State Forest beyond.
Late last year, Lake House unveiled a beautiful new pool and adjoining relaxation terraces overlooking the lake. On-site guests can enjoy a spa treatment, perhaps a game of tennis followed by tea and refreshments in the tennis pavilion, a glass of wine by the fire in the Argyle Library Bar, a sunset degustation dinner or choices from the a la carte menu.
The times are changing, however, and the multiple-award-winning Lake House – a member of Luxury Lodges of Australia – is far from being the only game in town when it comes to upmarket accommodation. There are dozens of country cottages and B&Bs to choose from, but it pays to book in advance to secure the best rooms, as the region is popular all year round.
Take relative newcomer Clifftop at Hepburn, which has been named as one of Australia’s most romantic getaways. Here you can enjoy magnificent views, super-comfortable beds and a range of gourmet treats; including local chocolates. One of the villas here has its own full-sized pinball machine, others boast two-person day beds that double as swings.
Other options include Hepburn at Hepburn, the Dudley Boutique Hotel, and the delightfully peaceful Shizuka Ryokan Japanese Country Spa and Wellness Retreat in Hepburn Springs, where a delicious traditional Japanese breakfast is served while you contemplate life in Zen gardens and natural springs.
Food glorious food
Not only Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, but the whole region (hamlets including Kyneton, Woodend and Trentham) is blessed with gourmet options from artisan bakeries to serious eateries.
Lake House is on every gourmet’s ‘to do’ list, but quirky Frank and Connie’s Kitchen in Hepburn is a divine, more laid-back alternative. Chef Caliopi Buck serves up some delicious small plates and share dishes from an ever-changing blackboard menu.
Lunch at Passing Clouds winery, just out of town at Musk, is another must do. Sample some Pinot and Shiraz and sit down for a rustic feast featuring local meats grilled over coals, and herbs and vegetables from the adjacent potager.
The Daylesford Hotel has a great selection of local wines, beers and even a local gin, and offers good-value pub grub. Other favourites with locals include the Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs, the Farmer’s Arms, the Argus Dining Room at Peppers, Mercato and the fabulous Sault, while long-time favourite Kazuki’s recently closed and was replaced by casual Japanese eatery Sakana.
For a pre-dinner drink, pop into Wine and Country, a local bottle shop and wine bar where the list pairs local boutique offerings like Eastern Peake and Latta Vino (both made by owner Jenny Latta’s husband), along with an impressive selection of minimal-intervention wines and imports.
Breakfast choices include The Boathouse overlooking Lake Daylesford, which serves up excellent scrambled eggs, and Cafe Koukla at Frangos, which offers a warm welcome and excellent casual dining throughout the day, as well as an open fire on days when the mercury plummets.
Time for wine to shine
Lovers of organic wines will want to visit remote Cobaw Ridge, where Alan and Nelly Cooper have also been certified biodynamic since 2011. Their 100% estate-grown wine is all about the site says Alan. “Great wine is made in the vineyard, and we are able to call on the natural balance of our vines, most of which are more than 25 years of age.” Just keep a look out for wallabies in the driveway.
Pinot and Chardonnay specialist Curly Flat now has former Shadowfax winemaker Matt Harrop at the helm. He takes advantage of the high natural acidity from cool climate fruit to craft wines that are both elegant and delicious. Harrop also makes wines under his own Silent Way label.
Wine lovers often seek out cult winery Bindi for good reason, but it should be noted that winemaker Michael Dhillon requests advance bookings for tastings. To refresh, check out Daylesford Cider, which uses organically-grown heritage apples, and offers pâtés and rillettes from locals Max and Delilah.
Those lucky enough to be in Daylesford on a Sunday can visit the markets at the old railway station or take a heritage train ride through the local countryside. Or why not hop on a special train to Passing Clouds winery?
A collaboration between the winery, Spa Country Railway, and Victoria’s Wine Growth Fund, Passing Clouds now has its own platform just six kilometres from Daylesford. The historic Railmotor departs from Daylesford Market five times every Sunday, the journey taking approximately 17 minutes to arrive at Passing Clouds platform at Musk, then on to Bullarto.
Go luxe and book the Passing Clouds train+wine+dine package. At $290 per couple, you can leave the car behind and enjoy lunch at the Dining Room, Sparkling wine on arrival, and a four-course share plate lunch with matching wines.
Daylesford and Macedon offer so much for the food and wine lover, while surrounding villages like Kyneton, Trentham and Woodend also have artisan bakeries, small eateries and traditional country pubs to explore. Blaze a trail north-west of Melbourne and discover this gem of a destination.