Daylesford might just be the perfect weekend getaway. It's not too far (about 108km north-west of Melbourne) and it's tucked into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. It's got that cosy, B&B, natural hot springs kind of vibe that just screams 'TURN OFF YOUR EMAILS'.
We’ve chucked together our ultimate list of places to stay, food to eat and things to do in Daylesford (which is home to under 3000 people btw). Pack your bags and stock the car with All Natural lollies, we're going to spa country.
If you’re looking for something super romantic (and you’ve got the extra dosh to spend), The Lakehouse is the perfect spot. This tranquil retreat has thirty-three rooms and suites, and you can choose from either waterfront or garden views. There are a whopping six acres of country gardens at your feet as well, which extend down to the water of Lake Daylesford (hence Lakehouse, duh). You've got direct access to the lake shore and the famous Wombat State Forest. These guys do cooking classes as well (and they don't come much better than Culinary Director, Alla Wolf-Tasker). There's even an in-house day spa if you’re looking to treat yourself.
Cliff Top At Hepburn
Want something a little further out of town? Check out Cliff Top at Hepburn. You have to book about 17 years in advance, but it's totally worth it. The Cliff Top property is mostly glass, framing breath-taking views of an old pine forest and bushland. Sip on a glass of champers in your private spa, warm up by the French-imported fireplace, and fall asleep watching a million stars out the window. You probs won’t want to leave this joint. Keep in mind, this place is super popular, so you’ve gotta get in quick. We recommend making a booking at least two months in advance. It also ain't cheap.
The cheapest of the lot, at just $210 bucks per night, Headland is perfect if you want something romantic that won't tank your bank balance. It’s probs the cutest little cottage you can find down this way, tucked at the end of a long country lane (you can run around nude and no one will see) and just a short stroll from the Main Street and Lake Daylesford. Cook up a storm over the red brick stove and sink into the fluffiest pillows known to science. There’s free wifi and a flat-screen TV too, but we’re hoping you’ve come to this place to escape all that.
You’ve probs cottoned-on to the Daylesford vibe by now. It’s the place you visit when you’re needing a bit of a rest and recharge. Hotel Frangos specialises in just that (warning—don’t come if you’re looking for a wild bachelor trip. You will be disappointed). Frangos offers fifteen individually styled rooms, each with high ceilings and wacky decor. You’re pretty much smack-bang in the middle of everything too: local artisan markets, galleries, bookshops massages and spa treatments are all on your doorstep. These guys have their own café, so if you’re too buggered to roam around one day (we’ll forgive you, as long as you get out at least once) you can dine on-site. Nice.
These guys channel a very Melbourne Northside vibe (so they’ve gotta be cool, right?). Larder is your spot for the perfect cup of Melbourne-style coffee, breaky and lunch. It gets mucho busy on weekends for a reason. Wrap your gobs around some DIY eggs and sides in the morn (breaky is available until 12pm btw, so there’s no need to rise when the rooster crows) or slurp up some seasonal soup in the arvo.
So there are two things you need to know about Sault. First: only come if you’re prepared to fork out an arm and a leg. Second: only come if you’re looking to eat somewhere so insanely beautiful you’ll still be boasting about it to your grandkids in 50 years’ time. The Sault Restaurant sits on a 125-acre estate against the postcard backdrop of the Wombat State Forest (we’ll get to that later) with views overlooking its own lake and lavender fields. There’s a bunch of tasting menus that you can check out, but if you’re wanting dins, we recommend the 4-course choice menu. This bad boy will only set you back $95, but the wine will get ya.
The name Sakana literally means eating and drinking...so it’s safe to say we like them already. This Japanese gem, right in the middle of Daylesford, celebrates a cultural mix of ingredients which combine Australian produce with Japanese foods and techniques. It’s a little more casjz than the other places, but the food’s just as good. Sink down a few cocktails and gobble up fresh sashimi, steamed dumplings and miso grilled black cod.
A lot of travellers miss Cliffy's, because it's off the main drag. You have to drive through town and hook a right, heading up towards the Botanic Gardens. You'll spot a clutch of Range Rovers on the right, with dogs out the front and the smell of roasting coffee. That's Cliffy's. Easily the cutest cafe in town, and one of our personal faves. They've revamped the decor in here recently, but it's still rocking those rustic, barnyard vibes. The baked eggs are a dead-set winner, and don't forget to stock up on local bread, pies, cakes and other goodies from the deli.
Daylesford Cider Company
Quench your thirst (and your cider addiction, we’re not judging) at the Daylesford Cider Company. They make all their ciders from 17 different English-heritage apples, producing a range of traditional bone-dry ciders, as well as lightly carbonated bottles, and sweet drops too. They’re open seven days a week, but lunch is only available Friday to Monday, so be sure to line your stomachs if you decide to come mid-week. These guys are notorious for hosting Chrissy parties and weddings as well. So if you’re looking for a location for a special day, we think you may have just found it.
Here’s where to head if you’re looking for an arvo in the vineyards. Passing Clouds Winery is a second-generation wine company that started up back in 1974. It’s only five mins away from Daylesford proper and offers a huge range of traditionally-crafted, glorious wines. These guys grow their pinot noir and chardonnay grapes on-site, because of the cooler climate, while warmer climate grapes are sourced from vineyards around Bendigo. Treat yourself to a few Cellar Door tastings before you purchase your bottles, and don’t forget to delve deep into the lunch menu, which offers char-grilled meats and home-grown veggies.
Another winery for ya (looks like you might have to stay seven nights instead of one). Fontanella Wines is 10 mins out of Daylesford, and prides itself on creating fine Italian wines. This place is perfect for an intimate date or a big group hang. Check them out from 12pm – 5pm on weekends or make a booking to treat yourself during the week.
Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens
The Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens have got to be at the top of your ‘to-do’ list in Daylesford. The enchanting gardens are crazy beautiful in rain, hail or shine, so there’s no excuse to not check them out. The gardens are built on top of an extinct volcano called Wombat Hill (makes sense) which comes with picturesque views to most of Daylesford. If it’s warm enough, we recommend bringing along a picnic rug and some snacks and settling in for the arvo. Divine.
Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa
So, apparently mineral springs have been around since the Roman times (cool), but it was indigenous Australians who were first to use it Down Under. The special healing water was later discovered by Captain Hepburn in the 1800s, and people have since travelled far and wide to bathe in the magic water. Flash-forward 200 years to the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. They offer a range of spa facilities, therapies and mineral baths, each of which will turn you into a puddle of human ooze. Forget your uni woes and your hectic schedule—you’ve gotta get yourself (and all of your gal pals) here ASAP.
Lake Daylesford is definitely the main attraction in this cute little town. Sit yourself down at the Boathouse Café for a meal, go for a stroll around the ‘Peace Mile Walking Track’ that goes all the way around the lake (it’ll only take you about 40 minutes), visit the Bookbarn and purchase a second-hand book (and a giant vanilla slice), and enjoy non-motorised sports on the water. They've got boat-paddling and stand-up paddle-boarding year-round. Always worth a visit, even in winter when it's freezing as all hell.
The Convent Gallery has been described as the most beautiful gallery in Australia, housing local, international and national works. It’s origins date back to the Gold Rush era in the 1960s, where it was a private property known as ‘Blarney Castle’ (it's pretty bloody big). It was later bought by the Catholic Church in the 1880s as a boarding school for girls, before Tina Banitka (a pretty bloody impressive artist, check her out) turned it into a beautiful gallery. Roam around and enjoy the beautiful works, indulge in a fluffy scone and hot cup of coffee at the café, and purchase a little something from the gift shop on your way out.
Chill Out Festival
Alright, so we’re pretty certain that Daylesford is the King (or Queen) of ultimate chill. But let's be real, behind all things chill is a hidden party animal waiting to come out. And this humble little town is also home to the Chillout Festival, AKA, Australia’s number on Queer Country Pride Festival (fun fact—Daylesford is also the gay capital of regional Victoria. Cheers to you, glorious rainbow town). In true Daylesford style, the festival has a relaxed, down-to-earth atmosphere, with lots of opportunities to let your hair down and just do you, babe. It’s coming back again next year March 7-11 and you can subscribe to the mailing list now.
The Paradise Book Shop is a higgledy-piggledy little gem, housed in an old bank building. Lose yourself for an afternoon in the fourteen rooms, stuffed with new and old books, games, toys and comics. They’ve even got records and CDs, so you just might be able to get your hands on that ABBA album you’ve been searching for, ever since Mamma Mia 2 hit cinemas. They’re motto, in full Daylesford spirit: rest, read, relax, enjoy. If you're after cheaper (slightly more damaged books), hit up the Bookbarn by Lake Daylesford.
The Mill Markets
Forget rushing to an early market on a Sunday morning, Daylesford's Mill Markets are open 7-days a week from 10am – 6pm (finally, a market that understands humans need to SLEEP). Here you’ll find a selection of vintage goodies, from your next fave outfit to a rocking retro lounge chair. There’s also antiques to purchase, home décor, artworks, jewellery and heaps more. It's basically Aladdin's Cave for vintage stuff. Shop around while you sip on a hot coffee and a freshly baked cake from the café next door.
Daylesford Sunday Market
Righto, so the Daylesford Sunday Market operates every Sunday (obviously) from 8am – 3pm. They’ve got everything from fresh local produce and books, to that spare part for your car you’ve been needing to buy for the last month. The market operates at Daylesford station no matter the weather and encourages you to bring along your furry friends (on a leash though…sorry, puppers). Make sure you stop off at Cliffy's (see above) for brekky on the way in.