If you’re after an alternative to a coastal weekend escape, Daylesford and the nearby Hepburn Springs are absolute gems hidden in Victoria’s spa country. While the phrase ‘spa country’ might fuel your bourgeois nightmares, dismissing Daylesford as a retreat for middle-aged couples sells it very short indeed.
Daylesford is about a 70-minute drive from Melbourne, but the carless can catch a V/Line train to Ballarat, Woodend or Castlemaine and then a connecting bus. However, if you want to experience the springs, the lake, and surrounding wineries, a car is necessary.
If you’re looking for a tasty drop, daily winery tours leave from the main street and can accommodate groups or solo connoisseurs. You might prefer to visit Passing Clouds, the closest winery, a five-minute drive from the township. If you are pushed for time, the must-see Convent Gallery is just a short walk from the main street. The old convent was converted into a gallery and venue in the ‘80s and is three stories of stunning local history. Entry is cheap, and there’s a café and bar inside.
There are numerous high quality eateries, but Larder on Vincent Street delivers when it comes to a quality coffee and lunch. Service at most places in Daylesford is stellar, and you could be forgiven for mistaking the town’s population for participants in one continuous episode of Escape to the Country.
Daylesford has almost too much choice in accommodation, with something for every budget. If you’ve got a cheeky $300 to spend each night, you might splash out on the Penthouse Suite in the Convent itself. Thriftier travellers might be more inclined to stay at one of the many caravan parks near the lakes. Staying in an original Edwardian building with a solid dose of terrifying Picnic at Hanging Rock vibes is highly recommended. The Manse, the Albert Hotel and the Town View Guesthouse all fulfil this criterion, and you can get a room at any of these for around $100 a night during the off season.
A ten-minute drive out of town will bring you to the Hepburn Springs Bathhouse, the renowned home of the natural mineral pools. Warning: it’s not the cheapest venture, nor are any of the available spa treatments. That being said, it’s well worth it, especially if you’ve never been.
Daylesford is regularly referred to as a gay capital, an accolade in part earned by its annual ChillOut Festival, the largest country Mardi Gras in Australia. A local gay and lesbian business group, the Springs Connection, established the festival in 1997. The festival will run from the 6th through 9th March in 2015, featuring comedy, live music and a street parade amongst a myriad other activities.
Far from being a depressed country town, Daylesford has maintained its old-fashioned charm alongside a thriving cultural calendar. It is lush, with crooked streets, a sprawling manmade lake, and striking original buildings. It is a serene place where refined dining and swanky spas are just as abundant as tarot readers and second hand treasure troves. This sophisticated hippie mecca is well worth a look on your next long weekend.