Daylesford is far from a secret destination. Each year more than 1.5 million visitors are wined, dined, pampered, enlightened, cleansed and rejuvenated in the spa capital of Australia. With a Swiss/Italian influence dating back to the Gold Rush days, Daylesford and twin town Hepburn Springs is a bit like Europe without snow (although the white stuff is possible in the depths of winter). Just 80 mins drive from Melbourne, even if you’re a Daylesford tragic (like me), it’s impossible to see and do everything in a weekend, week (or even a year). But here’s few things to do in Daylesford you simply can’t miss…
From paddock to plate
As 85% of Australia’s natural mineral springs are found in this region, it’s no coincidence that anything and everything grows in the rich earth.
There are more award-winning restaurants than any other regional town in Victoria – so you’ll need an empty stomach and full wallet. And a tasting tour of Daylesford’s restaurants is one of the more satisfying things to do in Daylesford.
For the ultimate splurge, Lake House has topped the list for 30 years and is still at its peak.
Recognised as one of the best small hotels in the world, the seasonal menu is creative, bold and elegant. And then there’s the wine cellar.
Also the brainchild of legend status, Alla Wolf Taska, is her more casual Wombat Hill House Café.
Set in the old caretaker’s cottage in the Botanical Gardens, you can either snuggle in front of the open fire, dine in the kitchen garden or grab a picnic pack and go wombat watching.
At Kazuki’s the food is almost too pretty to eat. The fusion of traditional and modern Japanese delicacies showcases local produce in an arty and calming atmosphere.
Book early – nabbing a table here on a Saturday night is like winning the lottery.
The food is great at Jimmy’s Bar, but so too are the cocktails (don’t miss the Jimmy’s Hendricks).
Mercato’s and the Farmer’s Arms are also high on the foodie scene and Breakfast & Beer and Cliffy’s bring a new meaning to the word original. And in Hepburn Springs, for a real nosh up try the highly acclaimed Argus Dining Room (the degustation menu is sublime).
Sweet slumber in Daylesford
Of course if you’re going to splash out on dinner at the Lake House you’ll probably want to stay there too. It doesn’t get any better than the lakeside locale with world-class service.
For something completely out of the ordinary Frangos and Frangos boutique hotel is daring and funky.
Perfectly located in the main street, each room has a unique arty theme from fairly tame to totally wild.
If you prefer a B&B or self catering, local specialist booking agency, Dayget, will get you sorted.
From the incredibly sexy luxe Hepburn on Hepburn to a cutesy restored miner’s cottage there’s something to suit every budget.
A bit of retail therapy in Daylesford
Even if you aren’t a big shopper, you won’t be able to resist browsing the eclectic range of shops, studios and galleries dotted throughout Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Shopping is one of the fun and satisfying things to do in Daylesford.
Amidst the cafés and chocolate shops, you’ll find quirky antiques, serious art, homewares and one-off designer clothing.
In addition to the main street, don’t miss sashaying the side streets. If you have time, climb the hill to the Convent Gallery (next to the Botanical Gardens) it’s well worth the huffing and puffing.
Surrounded by 2.5 hectares of manicured gardens, the meticulously restored 19th century mansion houses three levels of galleries, a museum, chapel, bar, café and function centre (voted in the top 10 wedding venues in Australia).
Come rain, hail, shine or snow the Daylesford Sunday market is held outside the historic railway station.
Full of local producers and specialising in bric a brac, it’s the type of market you think there’s nothing much you want, but before you know it you’re bundling bags into the car.
As an added bonus – hop on-board a meticulously restored train carriage and ride for an hour (round trip) through the Wombat State Forest to Bullarto.
More things to do in Daylesford
The trail around beautiful Lake Daylesford is the perfect length for a stroll (or a faster pace if you have the guilts about the total foodie indulgence).
Early mornings are best, especially in autumn when splashes of yellows, reds and oranges are mirrored in the water.
You might even be lucky enough to catch the lake shrouded in mist.
The Boathouse Café hits the spot for a caffeine fix. And for a change of pace, glide around the lake in a paddle boat amongst the masses of ducks, geese rosellas, cockatoos, kookaburras and swans.
Take to the waters
This is pampering with a capital ‘P’. Whether you drink it or soak in it, the healing power of the 60+ mineral springs in the area has long been revered. During the Gold Rush, it became more valuable than gold.
In fact in the late 1800’s the local council put a halt on sluicing to protect the unique qualities of the water.
As the spa capital of Australia, at last count there were more than 200 types of wellness therapies and treatments on offer in the region.
At the centre of the action is the historic Hepburn Bathhouse (built in 1895). With all the water coming directly from the source, you can choose a range of experiences from the communal bathing pool to private facilities with all the trimmings like massages, body wraps, spa rituals, facials etc.
Once you’re rejuvenated, meander along the walking trails in the adjoining Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve.
Make sure you have a bottle (or two or three) on hand to pump the water directly from the series of springs dotted along the path.
Like millions of people before you, take home the water to prolong that relaxed holiday feeling. Ah bliss. It’s definitely one of the more serene things to do in Daylesford.
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