Undoubtedly one of the best weekend escapes in Victoria, Daylesford is a small town with a laid-back alternative style that beckons to city-dwellers keen to find a place to unwind without going too far afield. Located just an hour and a half north-west of Melbourne, the region is renowned for its mineral springs, charming scenery and unique culture, and offers a range of hippy boutiques, arty stores, relaxation havens and top-notch eateries.
You won't get the real Daylesford experience without a trip to the Hepburn Regional Park. The park is probably most famous for its mineral springs, allowing visitors to 'take the waters' in whatever mode they see fit (if you're going to pump the water up to drink, prepare yourself, it's a mite 'flavoursome'), however there are a few other things to see and do on the reserve as well.
The Tipperary Walking Track encompasses much of the park, running from Lake Daylesford through approximately sixteen kilometres of forest land, with shorter walks and looped tracks available along this path. There are also lookouts at the Blowhole and around the crater rim and summit of the extinct Mount Franklin volcano, which provide great views of the surrounding scenery and the park's almost unlimited opportunities for picturesque picnics.
For those who want to get into the spirit of the region's history, a spot of fossicking might be just the thing. Originally a gold rush town, Daylesford still attracts quite a few people keen to try their hand at panning. Sailor's Creek is the place to indulge in the mining past-time, though like any part of the reserve, the area must not be left full of holes when you leave (fill them in and leave the creek as you found it) and adults must be in possession of a Miner's Right before fossicking. These cost $30.60 for a two year pass, and can be purchased online.
Eat: Chowder House
Relish a seafood-laden chowder. Photo credit: Gordito.
While Daylesford has quite a few notable dining establishments, the stand-out in terms of experience has to be Chowder House. The eatery is famed for two things: its deliciously rich chowder (especially the seafood variety) with warm cornbread, and its exceptional and unique style of service.
The staff members of Chowder House have a particular flair for interactive and entertaining dining that keeps the whole room abuzz with conversation and laughter – as well as a little bit of friendly competition. Be ready for the daily trivia and the zing of banter as you tuck in to your bowl of soul food.
If you're having a weekend away, you'll need a place to stay, but to make the break really worth your while, it's best to choose accommodation that enhances the whole Daylesford experience. This can be achieved at Bella's Retreat, a self-contained vintage cottage in the heart of the town.
With three bedrooms, a wood heater, full kitchen and bathroom, spa room and a massage studio on site, Bella's Retreat makes for a cosy place to relax after a day of sight-seeing. Every effort is made to ensure guests at the retreat have all that they need for a stress-free stay, including local products in the bathroom, a range of books and games, firewood at the door and a few other extra touches to make the experience complete. Costs are reasonable with various specials available throughout the year, so check the website to obtain a quote or book in a luxury therapy treatment.
Chowder House has recently changed hands and now there's no more chowder! A good alternative for brunch, lunch or dinner in the area is Sault Restaurant. It has a different vibe, and is a more formal dining experience, but it is in the beautiful setting of a lavender farm. Sault also serves many dishes made using local produce and Sault's own harvests.