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Published September 29th 2014
Secrets on where to stay, get cheap meals and more
If you are wondering what all the Hepburn images are about it is because I stayed at a Hepburn themed guesthouse in Hepburn Springs. So each room had a picture of a famous Hepburn such as Audrey or Katherine although most were of the famous fashion icon and philanthropist Audrey.
Owner Christine Lewis seems to share a few things in common with Audrey especially in her charity work. She is very involved with MAD a group that encourages individuals to "step up and Make A Difference."
After living in large metropolises such as London Christine adores village life in Hepburn Springs. And through MAD ishe is also helping raise money for women in a village in Uganda that will assist them with gaining clean water, healthcare and education.
This is a far cry from Christine's previous role when she worked for a private bank and lived in a London penthouse.
She had her mid-life crisis long before it was due. She was only about 30 when she opted for a eucalpt scented tree change and ended up in Hepburn Springs where she is now intent on being happy, making others happy and generally making the world a happier place.
As well as her charity work Christine prides herself on helping visitors when they come and stay at her lovely old guest house simply called 65 Main. As she says "My biggest achievement is being able to make thousands of people connect to the things that make their heart sing."
There was a book on happiness in my room along with champagne and chocolates (well I was in the lovely champagne suite.) And throughout the cheery establishment with it touches of red decor, and flower filled vases were little take home cards with inspiring sayings.
Christine also sat me down on the red leather couch after I arrived. This was not a cursory "here's you room key and the milk's in the fridge." I filled out a little form where I ticked some of my interests in visiting the area and then Christine supplied me with local knowledge that matched my interests.
As she says "It's not about reading brochures it's the secrets that only a local can give that makes your stay a happy one."
I'd been in the Hepburn/Daylesford region before (the two villages are only 3km apart) so a lot of what I wanted to do were things I hadn't done before - so I was really in need of Christine's local secrets.
I was also keen to learn about where the locals eat so I wouldn't have to pay exorbitant touristy prices and could pass on that information to WEN readers.
By the time I had finished my chat with Christine she had deftly marked up the town map with every one of my conceivable whims catered for including where to buy espresso martinis (The Grande, Perfect Drop, Jimmy's Bar and The Argus.) And even marked the best coffee places, after all I am from Melbourne and not getting a great coffee fix is what stops most of us from travelling far from home.
After my short planning session with the lady of the house I did have a different style of short break than I would have had if I had relied on brochure reading and internet searching.
I did what is known as the Secret Forest Walk to the Blowhole. The start was at the doorstep to 65 Main. It skirts the golf course which has great views and supplies encounters with tame kangaroos. On the side of the creek were rugged, sheer sided gorges and lots of interesting rock formations. The blowhole was fascinating. Nobody knows who blasted it into being. Miners no doubt in their search for gold.
I also visited the old Hepburn Swimming Pool which is no longer used and in the middle of the bush. One can imagine it back in the 1930s when the locals swam in their neck to knee bathers. It remains filled with water as a back up water supply for the CFA.
I also did the famous walk around Lake Daylesford but this time armed with the local secret that Andrew, who runs the Book Barn, opens at 10 am and does a well-priced casual breakfast using local ingredients such as regional cheddar cheeses, ham and freshly cooked bagels.
I swear about thirty locals said good morning to me on that walk around the lake. Friendly town!
Being an op shopper I also did a return visit to the Daylesford op shops and the famous Mill Market. I wrote about these after a previous trip so if you are interested in op shop tourism (yes, such a think exists) click here.
The Hepburn Bath House
The Hepburn Bath House was a mixed experience. The secret part, and a drawcard for me, was that if you go from Monday to Thursday there is a package for $32.50 that grants you entry and includes a Devonshire tea.
This is a much better price that the exorbitant $46 pp price of entry Friday - Monday and on public holidays.
Having been to the wonderful Peninsula Hot Springs with its vast array of entrancing pools the Hepburn Bath House seems quite limited in comparison. There are no nooks and crannies just a couple of inside pools.
It was crowded because it was school holidays so therefore not that relaxing and I think they should warn you to bring thongs because the floor, which has lots of stone in it (so that people won't slip) really hurts the feet.
There is a mixed sexes changing room so if you want privacy you have to go in one of the tiny cubicles off the general area and these are so small they feel like solitary confinement cells.
The nearby Pavilion Cafe for afternoon tea was in a pleasant garden setting but the establishment seemed terribly understaffed. I probably waited 45 minutes for my Devonshire tea and I saw other people demanding their money back after waiting for over an hour.
Thankfully the sun was shining and it it was lovely sitting outside and looking at the gardens.
So if you just want to come to the area and enjoy the walks and lovely gardens then this might be one way to approach your visit.
That said, if you have never been to a mineral spa (I must admit to having been to several) you will probably enjoy the novelty. And despite my angst the mineral waters soon washed away my tensions. Until I stepped out of the pool and onto that rocky surface again that is.
Armed (or should that be footed) with thongs and outside of school holiday time the baths might be a totally different experience.
[BLocal's Night Dining Out[/B]
At night time there were lots of dining secrets that only the locals know about and thankfully Christine passed on lots of these tips.
Hepburn Springs and Daylesford are weekend tourist towns so during weeknights the locals are lured with attractive deals to encourage them to eat out.
And if you happen to be a non-local you can also share in some of these great specials.
Mercato in Daylesford is a gorgeous upmarket restaurant. Many of their dishes are well over the $40 mark normally.
On Monday they offer a main and a glass of superb local wine for $30 a head. Some locals come every Monday. And why wouldn't they? As my waiter explained it is a chance to have a top quality restaurant experience at the a smidge of the usual price.There are four meal options and it is a chance for the chefs to try out new dishes that later make their way onto the menu. It is a fancy restaurant with lots of rave reviews. Waiters wear black and white and long aprons and dash around attending to your every need.
Desserts are not part of the package. But my Macadamia encrusted fish, shown above was so gorgeous I had to see how they handled desserts. This was a rhubarb creation best suited to be shared by two people or by one guts like me. The serving has three small portions. There is a slice that consisted of rhubarb and raspberries in a house made jelly. Quite tart and sets you up for the next number which is a sweet meringue with a rhubarb compote. Amazing texture of the stringy rhubarb set agains the sweet chewiness of the meringue. Lastly there is a small slice of a dense rich rhubarb cake.
Visiting Mercato means sadly I missed out on the Grande Hotel in Hepburn Springs that also runs its local's night on Monday nights. This includes two courses and a drink of house wine beer or bubbly. Two course for $38 and three course for $47. Food here I heard from fellow guests is amazing. This isn't pub food but rather a grand experience. Sample dishes from the menu include: Mahi-mahi fillets, Dutch cream potatoes, wild fennel, spiced tomato and caper dressing and cinnamon and sugar cured grilled duck breast, harissa baked nectarines or how about slow roasted suckling pig, potato skordalia and tomato kasundi?
On Tuesday night I walked down to a little local place called The Cosy Corner. Very different from my restaurant meal the night before as it was home cooking at its best rather than fancy dining. Tuesday night is their Curry and Hot Pot Night and all meals are $18. There were various curries that the locals were tucking into but I opted for one of their hot pots -- lamb shanks. It was homely with loads of vegetables and a bit of mash. Nice balance after last night's fine dining.