Toni Krasicki squeezes in some fun activities, delicious food and still has plenty of time to ‘take the waters’ in Victoria’s spa country.
Who knew that the highest concentration of mineral springs in Australia can be found just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne? At the heart of this vibrant region are the twin towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs that sit atop the source of at least 60 mineral springs. Foodies will revel in the local cuisine and cellar doors, nature lovers can enjoy the plethora of outdoor activities and those in search of relaxation and restoration can ‘take the waters’ and try any number of holistic treatments.
Feel the Burn
Grab your mountain bike or hire one at Woodend Cycles (www.woodendcycles.com.au) and head out to the Wombat State Forest on the outskirts of Woodend to tackle the Wombat mountain bike track. Opened in June 2012, the two trails – 9km and 18 km – have an intermediate IMBA rating and offer several challenges including tight corners, log rides and ramps. The single-track (one way only) winds through native bush that was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires. Expect trees close to the track, rocks and tree roots with sections of rough and loose surfaces and some short climbs and steep descents.
Eat Your Fill
If you are a sourdough fan, you are going to love Red Beard Bakery’s 100 per cent certified organic sourdough breads (www.redbeardbakery.com.au). All breads are handmade and woodfired in an authentic 19th century Scotch oven, and best of all, are great for those intolerant to gluten. Pop your head in to the baker’s den to see the Scotch oven in action, and afterwards try some tasty sourdough. The sandwiches are divine as is everything on the menu. Owners, Al and John Reid, have more than 25 years’ experience in sourdough baking and also run popular ‘baking workshops’. Be sure to take home a loaf or two.
Walk off lunch and taste the naturally occurring mineral waters straight from the source. The Lake Daylesford walking circuit has several public pumps that tap into many of the springs but be prepared for the explosion of bicarbonate, so take a very small sip if you’re not a fan of soda water. For retail therapy, the main street of Daylesford has an array of antique and boutique shops, not to mention cute cafes – try Sweet Decadence for a chocolate hit. The Convent Gallery on Wombat Hill (www.conventgallery.com.au), a mansion built during the 1860s gold rush, is a site in itself! The eclectic art gallery/gift shop/café/bar is as colourful as its owner, Tina Banitska, and a Daylesford institution complete with a fascinating history. The staff are a hoot, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to explore the building as well as the gardens.
Dine with the Locals
There are a more than a few good dining choices in the region, but a meal at the popular Mercato restaurant in Daylesford (www.mercatorestaurant.com.au) is a must. The 1864 restored timber building has polished floorboards and high ceilings, offering a sophisticated yet friendly and comfortable dining experience. Head chef and owner, Richard Mee, has developed a creative menu of modern Australian cuisine highlighting regional flavours.
Take in the Water
A visit to spa country isn’t complete without a soak and spa treatment at the iconic Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (www.hepburnbathhouse.com). Although a renovated version of it’s former self, the bathhouse has been drawing people to its healing waters tapped directly from the source since 1895. There’s one large pool and a spa pool in the main area, but pay extra for access to the Sanctuary where you’ll share spa couches, a salt therapy pool and an aroma steam room with no more than 25 guests. Attached is the spa and offers an indulgent menu of therapeutic and beauty treatments. Try the Spring Rain – 60 minutes of blissful skin polishing, a soothing body mask and finished with an invigorating Vichy shower.
Lunch in the Mineral Springs Reserve
The 1908 Edwardian heritage-listed Pavilion Café (www.hepburnpavilion.com.au) is a few minutes walk from the Bathhouse and the perfect choice to refuel after a morning of relaxation and sensory indulgence. Surrounded by the lush gardens in the Mineral Springs Reserve, the café’s high vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows is home to works of resident artist, Lyn Buddenbaum, who sets up her easel from 12pm on weekends. General Manager of the Hepburn Bathhouse, Kylie Olivia Smith says that they have added several ‘healthy choice’ meals to the menu for the heath conscious. I try the grilled chicken and quinoa salad, followed by their gluten-free signature Devonshire Tea (www.devonshireteas.com.au).
A Taste of History
Lavandula (www.lavandula.com.au), 10-minutes from Hepburn Springs is a testament to the Italian-speaking Swiss and northern Italian immigrants that arrived with the first settlers in the mid 1800s. Wander through the restored stone farmhouse, lavender fields and olive groves or visit during one of the festivals for a European flair. Back in Hepburn Springs, pop in to see Connie and Kyla at Portal 108 – a unique lifestyle store (www.portal108.com.au). The two are wonderful advocates for the village and if you’re at a loose end, they’ll be sure to point you in the right direction.
Dine in Art Deco Splendour
Grab a drink at the Tipperary Bar before slipping in to The Argus Dining Room at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat (www.theargusdiningroom.com.au). Using seasonal produce grown onsite in the Argus Kitchen Garden and at the owners nearby farm ‘Birch Estate’ in Smeaton, the menu is also supplemented by rare breed cattle and sheep from the farm. Linger over a degustation meal with matched wines.
Where to stay:
- Have the whole building to yourself once the doors close, stay in The Convent Gallery’s penthouse suite (www.conventgallery.com.au)
- Peppers Mineral Springs Resort has art deco and contemporary rooms including the restorative Mineral Spa on site (www.peppers.com.au/springs/)
- Dayget Daylesford Getaways (www.dayget.com.au)
For more information:
Produce to Platter: Daylesford, Macedon Ranges, Ballarat & The Pyrenees, By Danielle Wilton and Jonette George ($34.99 Smudge Publishing).