Susan Murphy shuns the cold in Victoria’s High Country for a cosy Japanese-inspired experience.

The sound of discordant gamelan music pipes overhead and the fear of catching myself snoring keeps me teetering on the edge of sleep as Monique, my massage therapist at the Onsen Retreat and Spa at Dinner Plain, slathers my hands and arms with vanilla bean scrub to be followed by a creamy mixture of cocoa and honey.

Onsen Retreat and Spa adds a dimension of luxury to the high country experience found in this picturesque village on the south eastern side of the Victorian Alps.

The impressive building blends into its bush setting with timber features and a row of stone pillars following the curve of the roadway that leads to Dinner Plain.

Timber dominates throughout the interior in the polished floorboards, the panelled walls and floor-to-ceiling window frames, and furniture such as Japanese-inspired chairs and slatted platform seats.

The spacious reception area makes an immediate impression; I want to fling myself on the large coffee-coloured modular lounge suite that spreads into multiple branches.

A pair of cerise neoprene chairs break up the earthy colour scheme and sit beside a stone fireplace overlooking the bush outside. It’s a haven of Asian-inspired minimalism, created using materials from the Australian bush.

A nook in one corner stocks a small range of Gingerlilly silk and cotton pyjamas, Waterlily body products used in the treatments and Mother Earth tea, bundled up in sister retreat Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa’s packaging.

The spa menu is an alluring mix of treatments that include the Moroccan Remedy, featuring an elixir of Argan oil; the Aroma Stone Massage using hot basalt stones; and Pure Mineral Therapy, incorporating volcanic mud.


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There are treatments for hair, nails, feet and the Essential Man facial for men. The Body Vitality Signature Ritual ($495) lasts for five hours and includes a regional tasting platter and a glass of wine.

My daughter and I are escorted to the women’s changing rooms and given towels and white waffle dressing gowns. The changing room has a sauna and a plunge pool bathed in sunshine, while a long corridor leads to the lap pool, the gym and the onsen, a rock-strewn outdoor pool, heated to 39°C.

We wait for our treatments in our gowns in the Relaxation Room, lazing comfortably on a day bed stacked with cushions, wellbeing magazines and a majestic view across the mountains.

I have opted for the 45-minute Hand Focus Therapy ($135) to target my over-worked typing muscles, but minutes into the treatment I wish I’d lashed out for longer. My daughter has the Pure Replenishing Facial for 60 minutes ($165); both treatments include a scalp massage.

The treatment rooms are pleasant, the table is well-padded and Monique, imported for the Easter weekend from Hepburn, gives off a calm aura of professionalism.

With glowing skin and relaxed muscles we roam the retreat in our dressing gowns, dipping into the pools but lingering in the onsen, watching the reflection of the gum trees dance on the water.

The Details: Onsen Retreat and Spa

Where: Big Muster Drive, Dinner Plain, 03 5150 8880;

Verdict: Although we were there in autumn, Dinner Plain is predominantly a ski village with inflated prices to match. Despite the cost, the experience was a special treat in a stunning setting.

Score: We rated: The outdoor onsen feels traditionally Japanese without the pre-washing rituals, and bathers must stay on. It is deep, warm and luxurious.

We’d change: Sixteen Huskies baying with excitement on the other side of the onsen wall sounded like the soundtrack from a horror movie and interrupted the tranquillity of the outdoor pool.

Notes: The onsen is open for a short time in summer, the ski season and Easter. The paddock airstrip nearby operates in the ski season with flights from Melbourne and Sydney.

All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.

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