Daylesford, Victoria

by Monday, January 15, 2018

This week’s Guest Traveller – a JTC staff writer – returned to Daylesford, a small country town in Victoria which she had visited on numerous occasions, to challenge a long-held belief that she’d ‘been there, done that’. This is her account of having her eyes opened to new possibilities (and impossibilities, like expecting a turn-down service with chocolate and Turkish delight beside her pillow, to magically follow her home)…

I really thought I’d done Daylesford.

My previous encounters in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range of Victoria were so many and varied I figured I’d experienced everything worth seeing/floating in/eating/sleeping in/drinking when it came to this justifiably lauded town…

I’d loved a friend’s high-summer wedding amid the lavender, and a weekend-long party in a house with hot tub, shrouded in wintry mist.

A colourful Labour Day birthday weekend; post-ashram re-tox; and a baby-moon were also memorable.

There was even a trying-to-keep-one-eye-open-for-ghosts stay overnight in a funeral-parlour-cum-hotel. (I slept like the dead in the former Viewing Room and saw nothing.)

See, in my life-long longitudinal study, I’d approached Daylesford from literally every compass point so the idea of going back no longer sated my wanderlust. I mean, what else could Daylesford offer me?

Something rather special, apparently.

On a weekend in October, following a Saturday morning in Ballarat (for the first Open House weekend), I traversed acres of yellow fields, and headed back to verdant Daylesford for just 24 hours, with an itinerary of: Eat. Drink. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Eat. Shop. Eat. Drink.

The result?

An “unmatched guest experience” – just as the brochure promised.

Let me tell you all about it…

There are so many accommodation styles in Daylesford that you could try a different one every day for a month and not double up. I had been fortunate to trial most of them – or so I thought.

There was at least one mode left to try and I didn’t even know it existed.

Think of it as having your every wish anticipated and fulfilled and you’re on the right track. It’s called ‘hosted accommodation’. (Just don’t confuse it with a thin-walled, prying-eyes B&Bs [bed and breakfasts] with dust-catching doilies. Tis not.)

Andrew Matthews & Keith Cleur.

Daylesford’s top, hosted-accommodation establishment, Holyrood House, is known locally as the ‘Duchess of Duke Street’. One-hundred-and-fifty-years-old and beautifully restored, the elegant country house was the first Daylesford property to have electricity connected and the town’s first, fine-dining restaurant. With lush gardens offering views of the surrounding hills, Holyrood is literally down the road from the famous Convent Gallery and just a couple of minutes walk from the centre of town, yet a million miles away from anything I’d ever experienced.

Proprietors Andrew and Keith make all the difference with their level of professionalism and attention to detail. They are consummate hosts, warmly welcoming us in to our grand suites, and inviting us to High Tea served in the parlour or drawing room (take your pick). Then, after an opportunity to unwind and take in the art and antique collections (we could have spent an entire weekend just in the parlour reading books and playing games), we were served sundowners and local cheeses on the patio.

It was here that we first met other guests (there are five double rooms) and were surprised to find they were less like Dame Judy Dench (in age and stage), and more like Colin Farrell (on a good day). These thirty- and forty-plus professionals had found an effective way of spending their hard-earned to fully recharge their run-down batteries. They may go out for a couples-massage and soak at Hepburn Springs, or just while away a couple of hours, reading a magazine on the veranda with the beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog by their feet. Here, it seemed it was all about hurrying up and relaxing, if that makes sense.

Was I the last the know that this ‘hosted accommodation’ was the new, cool ‘Thing’? It certainly felt that way.

The all-inclusive buffet and a la carte breakfast deserves its own paragraph here. From a silver teapot of loose-leaf tea, to the bang-on bircher muesli, and a Malaysian-style, house-special chicken & rice, this meal is now etched into my stomach’s memory.

The fact Andrew is a trained chef and former butler to Australia’s wealthiest business leaders should reassure you about the level of perfection you can expect in everything within this unique experience. From the home-made Cornish pasties, to the linen and towels, and Floris toiletries, it really is something rather special.

But we can’t leave it there. Remember the itinerary? Eat. Drink. Eat. Drink. Eat Drink. Sleep. Eat. Shop. Eat. Drink. Let’s pick it up from the third ‘Eat’…

Dinner was just a short cab ride into neighbouring Hepburn Springs, and through the doors of Frank & Connie’s Kitchen.

‘Whatever comes out of the pot!’ is chef-and-owner Caliopi Buck’s recipe for success and hearty and authentic fare – with a twist. Caliope oversees this cosy venue with a blackboard menu that changes weekly. Each menu has its theme or flavour, depending on the season, so it can be shared. The menu matches a small but select wine list, curated by a well-regarded French sommelier.

Frank & Connie’s Duck Curry with sticky pineapple.

We sensed we were in very safe, and innovative hands here so we invited Caliope to make our dining decisions for us. This was vindicated as we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over prawn tacos with a crab brisque, salads of asparagus, and cauliflower, and a sumptuous duck curry which paired well with the Pinot Noir.

With the sun setting, St. Germain and Sia playing in the background, and our taste buds singing, Daylesford had dished up another surprise package I hadn’t known existed but have already recommended friends make a beeline to enjoy.

Sunday lunch was our final stop, having reluctantly checked out of Holyrood House and re-entered a world where, largely, if you want something, you have to get it for yourself. It was a rude shock to the system. Knowing there wasn’t going to be anyone leaving home-made chocolate-and-vanilla macarons and Turkish delight beside the bed as part of the turn-down service was, frankly, hard!

But let’s return to that lunch at The Boathouse Restaurant on Lake Daylesford because it ensured this revelatory weekend finished on an absolute high in terms of culinary experiences and incredible hospitality.

The Boathouse Restaurant. Photo credit: @dandelion_daylesford

Rising from the ashes in 2014, The Boathouse, which is situated on the banks of picturesque Lake Daylesford, has established itself as a mecca for fresh regional produce and fabulous food. Serving a sophisticated breakfast and lunch menu, seven days a week, with views of the lake, The Boathouse reminded us what this Daylesford stay had been hammering home for 23 hours already: Unlike other parts of the country you slip away to for a weekend, you don’t have to put up with second-rate anything in Daylesford and it is absolutely worth a second, third, fourth visit to explore and enjoy its many facets.

The Boathouse is all about local and seasonal ingredients because it just makes sense and the results of this modus operandi are unwaveringly amazing. We walked in with Andrew’s chicken and rice breakfast still top of mind but it was easy to push that thought aside when we read the menu. The mouthwatering descriptions meant that before long, our appetites were rising to meet the incredible lunch fare served up by passionate people who clearly love what they do because they are doing what they love.

Journeys To Come is indebted to Daylesford & Macedon Ranges Tourism, and the operators mentioned in this story for generously being part of this very special itinerary which revealed a new way of enjoying the best of Daylesford.

The important details: 

Holyrood House. 51 Stanbridge St, Daylesford VIC 3460. 03 5348 1063 Instagram: @holyroodhouse

Frank & Connie’s Kitchen. 79 Main Road, Hepburn Springs Vic 3460. 03 5348 1156 Instagram: @frankandconnies

The Boathouse @ Lake Daylesford. 2 Leggatt Street, Daylesford Vic 3460. 03 5348 2199 Instagram: @boathouse_daylesford