Daylesford & Hepburn Springs, a place where pampering and indulgence is not just recommended, it’s expected. We can almost hear your collective – and weary – sigh. So, why not be treated to a romantic weekend away?
Church spires, smoking chimneys, gabled roofs, intricate flower beds… the region of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs is often referred to as a slice of Europe in rural Victoria, and it’s easy to see why. Swiss Italians migrated to the area back in the mid 1800s and left a distinctly Roman-Catholic stamp on the area. But the area’s real claim to fame – its mineral springs – is what the tourism industry have taken and run with. ‘Australia’s spa country’ is full of bathhouses, spas and retreats, most of which incorporate the local mineral water into the treatments in some way.
What’s it known for?
The brochures aren’t lying – this is Australia’s spa country. There’s also a thriving local food culture and it’s these two factors, along with the area’s picturesque charm, that draws Victorians here in search of an escape from civilisation. A civilised escape, that is. The area also attracts tree-changers here by the Prius-load, so the landscape is dotted with slickly-executed, boutique experiences alongside your typical country town gems (the downmarket pub, an old-school milk bar, a couple of real-deal motels…).
What’s it really like?
It’s not actually postcard-perfect in the symmetrically flawless way that photographs suggest. But the slightly higgledy-piggledy feel is precisely what makes this area so charming. Even a vacant lot of land, which seems to be a temporary home to several ratty old cars, is whimsically pretty: covered in fluffy dandelions and rambling bushes sprouting flowers in various enthusiastic shades. Expect neatly pruned rose bushes and crab apple trees (remember those?).
What you didn’t know
Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are actually two separate towns, but don’t let that confuse you – they’re so close to each other that you could pass them off as the one (don’t mention that to the locals, though). As with any rural area that has experienced an influx of wealth, there is a clear leftist/alternative way of thinking here – which is probably given away by the various painted purple houses or, at the very least, by the several advertising clairvoyants, tarot reading stores, health food cafés, and local organic wineries.
This area also has Australia’s highest concentration of mineral springs – and it’s said that the easier the mineral springs are to access, the worse they taste. They also say that the worse it tastes, the better it is for you, thanks to the high mineral content… but we reckon the local bottled stuff, which you’ll find just about everywhere, is the most pleasant way to sample it.
What to do
The Daylesford and Hepburn Springs region isn’t really the kind of place where you come to ‘do’; it’s more the sort of spot where you come to be. Stress-heads fear not; there is a surprising amount to keep you occupied here – just don’t say we didn’t warn you when, after a couple of days, you realise you’ve seen and done nothing that you meant to… and don’t care.
Hepburn Springs Bathhouse
Mineral Springs Reserve Rd, Hepburn Springs
If you can drag yourself away from your pillow or picnic rug, the most obvious box to tick is the spa treatment. Top of mind is Hepburn Springs Bathhouse It’s situated almost on top of several mineral springs and has been operating since 1895 – not that you’d necessarily know it, being housed in a beautifully renovated triumph of sloping timber and huge glass panes.
Skip the shared ‘bath’ (basically a hot, highly chlorinated public pool) and head straight for a private mineral bath (from $169 for 45 minutes). They’re for one or two people only and are run with 100% mineral water, said to be beneficial for all sorts of bodily ailments. While we can’t vouch for that, we can guarantee that the water is the real deal – a cupful out of the tap tastes like zingy San Pellegrino.
Peppers Mineral Spa
124 Main Rd, Hepburn Springs
Alternatively, head to The Mineral Spa at Peppers Springs Mineral Retreat – a multi-multi-award-winning retreat offering shared (but intimately so) mineral water baths overlooking beautiful gardens. Or head straight to their treatment rooms – the highlight here is their soft pack flotation beds, the only ones of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere. These allow you to ‘float’ on toasty warm water, wrapped up in a water-filled blanket (without getting wet).
Salus Spa at The Lake House
4 King St, Daylesford
And, of course, the other stand-out is fairly obvious: Salus Spa at The Lake House; a light, white, traditional spa set amongst various David Bromley paintings with stringybark treetops out the window. We had the Salus Bliss signature body treatment but we’d only recommend it if you’ve got time for a nap afterwards, as you’ll be blissfully wobbly.
Lavendula Lavender Farm
350 Hepburn-Newstead Rd, Shepherds Flat
Speaking of bliss, Lavandula Lavender Farm is one of the loveliest spots we know of for a wander and a bite for lunch. The farm, set on six or seven acres, is the kind of place just trawling with photo opportunities – rambling vines, manicured gardens, sweet little picnic spots and, of course, plenty of lavender.
We recommend trying their lavender scones. Explore the restored 1850s homestead, coo at the runabout emus and make your way to the little restaurant outback, where you can sit under light green leaves and watch as a gaggle of geese perform their synchronised routine following each other around the grass. They break formation only to chase after scraps. Or the occasional small child.
The Convent Gallery
7 Daly St, Daylesford
More pottering should be done at The Convent Gallery. It looks like a grand federation mansion from the outside, but is an airy Hamptons-style abode on the inside filled with a carefully-curated selection of art ranging from the traditional to the fabulous. You can stop for a bite at the café Bad Habits but we prefer on-site lounge Altar, a Victorian-style retreat complete with ragtime jazz and heavy curtains falling from the sky-high ceilings.
Regional Farmers’ Markets
Vincent St, Daylesford
Then walk yourself to the local Farmers’ Markets. These are held on the first Saturday morning of every month from around 9:00am till 1:00pm at Daylesford Primary School. Enter for a gold coin donation and wander around with no greater purpose than to look, and you’re guaranteed to end up deep in conversation with a group of locals whose greatest agenda is to have a good time… and maybe sell a few of their wares while they’re at it. You may leave with a new rose bush, a couple of silky pet hens and a jumbo jar of local honey, but that’s neither here nor there.
Brick Lane Bazaar
34 Vincent St, Daylesford
Along the main road (Vincent Street) a few enterprising individuals have also set up shops filled with the kind of goods that really belong at a 1980s garage sale. Brick Lane Bazaar is the best of them; full of Star Wars collectibles, Troll Dolls, Benson & Hedges ashtrays and other kinds of branded paraphernalia, including an old SHELL poster and a sign claiming Peters ice-cream to be ‘the health food of a nation’. And, of course, there are several gift shops to browse through; though you won’t find much here that you wouldn’t find in Melbourne – even the prices are identical.
Where to eat
It’s hard to have a bad meal here – even the less pretty (shall we say) eateries have beautiful offerings, thanks to a highly involved community and the local food initiative, Daylesford-Macedon Produce (DMP). DMP is a collaboration between all kinds of gourmands, with over 140 members including restaurateurs, publicans, vignerons, fromagères, chefs, provedores, suppliers and growers. Not bad.
If you’re planning to eat your way around town, the obvious place to start is our Best places to eat in Daylesford guide.
Where to stay
Central Springs Inn
6 Camp St, Daylesford
Where you sleep can really influence the kind of holiday you have here, although happily there’s a real selection of options to choose from and because of the competition, standards are generally good. Even local motel Central Springs Inn is sweetly outfitted, complete with colourful flower beds, freshly painted exteriors and well-maintained rooms.
Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat
124 Main Rd, Hepburn Springs
If you’re an Art Deco fan and inclined to stay in hotels no matter where you holiday, Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat is a great spot. This is no bland conference centre – it’s owned and run by a hands-on couple whose charismatic whimsies are all over the boutique property and its carefully detailed offerings: beautifully tended-to gardens, an on-site miniature fig orchard, the award-winning spa.
The Lake House
4 King St, Daylesford
Brand queens and cashed-up kings will feel most comfortable at The Lake House, a member of uber-expensive Luxury Lodges of Australia. Set on the lake amidst stringybark gums, it’s not trashy or flashy but rather an easy, laidback country-style bolthole, where everything has been thought of before you’ve lifted a finger. The in-suite styling is lovely – think art, bookshelves and comfy throw rugs.
How to get there
Daylesford is about 110 kilometres north-west of Melbourne – approximately an 80-minute drive from the city or airport (unless you succumb to your urges to stop and take photos). The less-than-scenic Western Freeway (M8) from Melbourne takes some of the fun out of the journey, even though it does make for an incredibly easy trip. But if you’re coming from the airport, the Calder Freeway (M79) via the Tullamarine Freeway is gorgeously picturesque: think giant gum forests, vividly green paddocks, rustic little farmhouses.