About an hour and a half drive away from Melbourne, nestled in peace and quietude, sits the sleepy, rustic town of Daylesford. A pleasant and refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of city life, Daylesford offers an endearing charm with its cutesy English town vibes and a handful yet bustling boutique stores.
But there’s more to Daylesford when you scratch the surface. “How did you spend four full days, in a quaint town, away from the Melbs city hullabaloo and without even exploring what it’s famed for, its natural mineral springs?”, a friend retorted. It took me some pondering to answer that question, but it wasn’t long before I figured it out – it was the elusive charm of a dainty town, perhaps the very excitement of being away from the hullabaloo, of finding the calm, embracing the stillness, and soaking in the serenity.
My December break away in Daylesford was adventuresome in parts, albeit relaxing in whole. A straight drive up passing by rolling haystacks, and canopied trees saw a change of sceneries with countryside views of Angus cow & sheep grazing the green grassy lands. A diversion ahead leading up to an off-road with a left sign pointing to ‘Tamworth’s cabin‘. As the car tyres screeched to a halt, our Bnb host Rhonda came to welcome us. Exuding a characteristic warmth not just in the pleasantries we exchanged, but also in the tiny details found in our farmstay at Porcupine Ridge.
Their property set amidst tall, dense trees, and two dams, is a country lover’s delight. Imagine waking up to the sound of cock-a-doodle-doo, sipping tea with a view of ducks swimming by, only to be interrupted by the chirping of fairywrens or the sight of majestic sulphur-crested cockatoos pruning right in front of you! With the town a few kilometers away, we made good of our time by stocking up some munchies from Coles, browsing through a book store, sniffing in some cocoa delights at a neighboring bakery shop followed by a quick lunch later at Hotel Frangos.
The unanticipated Macedon hike
On an exploratory mission, we welcomed the next day with a drive up to the Macedon ranges. Landscaped views of countryside farms with a whiff of fresh air in my face, made way for dense forestry & tall trees reminiscent of my childhood visits to north-east Indian hill stations. I could tell that Macedon would not disappoint. A biker group parked right next to us, we dashed out of the car park and walked towards the Mt Macedon Memorial Cross.
Considered to be the most significant war memorial in Victoria, the panoramic views of the central highlands that it offered, was a bonus. Recharged after a quick cuppa of cappuccinos, we decided to trek up to Camels Hump. The upbeat part about unplanned hikes is that you never know what to expect! Not knowing the distance we were going to chart out or even the terrain had its own advantages. On the plus, it was a fairly easy hike except the 500m ascent towards the end, which although steep was manageable. The disadvantage of unplanned hikes, on the other hand (albeit minor) presented itself in not carrying water, or the energy bars to keep ourselves fueled. However, the tree shades, strategically placed water faucets, rich flora, and the spectacular country views from the vantage point Camels Hump, kept us going.
Identifying the pit stops we had crossed earlier, while closely monitoring pace and step count on our Apple watches was all the motivation we needed to make it back in time.
The pitstop: Woodened
Our famished selves headed straight after to the local/family run Holgate brewery at Woodend. A glass of fresh brew with a hearty meal was well relished. It was hard to put off the idea of an ice cream in the scorching heat but the long queue outside the only ice cream parlour in the teeny town of Woodend was enough to dissuade us. Bourkies bakery, over 30 years old offers some delightful savouries.
We were ready to hit the road again, and after a quick stop at Daylesford town, we were only too glad to take the evening easy. A walk about the property led us to our next rendezvous with the chooks, which were strangely huge for their size. Evening tea was accompanied by the many goodies that our host had neatly stacked up in the cupboard. I savored the scones, banana bread, yoghurt parfait, cookies, artisan bread with vegemite and jam! Our cozy room had a duck-themed interior with mallards decorating the walls.
The local attractions: Daylesford
Daylesford hosts a refreshing mix of options which suit all palettes. If you love vintage and markets, the Mills Market is a great find – I managed to find some really cool bargains on curios, garden decor, books, metallic hanging plates, poster prints, gourmet tea et al. There are so many sections, one could get lost here for hours! Their inhouse cafe offers some quick eateries like sandwiches, coffee (duh!), and other yum treats.
Another one of our peculiar finds in the town was the Herbal Lore Gin Distillery, which offered some unique tastings in gin and herbal liqueur. Our tasting host, an old lady with a hearty appetite for wit and humor, particularly made the experience more enjoyable. She introduced us to the various options in their listings and acquainted us about their ingredients, the herbs and barrels used to preserve the taste. It was intriguing how Tasmanian saffron, or lemon as basic constituents could render such crisp flavours.
What was particularly fun was how she associated the character of variously flavored liqueur to human behavior. Some who take time to open up and reveal their true selves, yet others who are layered and complicated, I found that comparison strikingly relatable as I gulped down the last sip of their ‘uplifting liqueurs’ range in a shot glass. A gin fan, I learnt the basics in how the brand of tonic water influenced the taste of gin, e.g. fever tonic vs Indian tonic could change the taste of the same flavor of gin. Among their offerings, we picked up Lady Susanne, their berry infused signature gin though I quite enjoyed the limone one as well.
The last of our day was spent exploring the confines of the famous Convent Gallery, the picturesque Daylesford lake and the closeby town of Trentham, known for the Trentham falls. Albeit the falls were rather teeny considering the hype. I found the pitstop artsy shops in Trentham town rather cool, and the eggstatic brunch at Erics Cafe bar rather splendid.
The Convent Gallery, Daylesford as it stands today on the Wombat Hill, was a historic Convent back in the day and was purchased in 1988 by Tina Banitska. Previously a home of the Presentation Sisters for 90 years, the boarding school shut in 1973 owing to maintenance issues. Even before, the original house was a home to many interesting personalities dating back to the 1860’s gold rush. The four levelled Gallery showcases some distinct, quirky pieces of art (some also for sale) including sculptures, besides the nuns museum with artefacts, a cafe ironically named Bad Habits, the impressive Altar bar, fancy gifts shop, a restored chapel and exquisite wedding venues, rated among the top 10 in Australia. I was pleasantly consumed by the Victorian architecture, and the balcony overlooking the gardens and the town.
The scenic Daylesford lake with its calm and sensory charm, is a haven for not just activities; boating, swimming, kayaking but also reflecting in wonderment at the picturesque vistas it has to offer. A stroll later, we indulged in the finger licking, pipping hot Indian food from the Taj Mahal, right in the heart of Daylesford main town.
As we made way for the last saunter at dawn, the pink hued skies and faint music in the pub closeby, orchestrated a mellow symphony, like an ode to a quaint Victorian town, celebrating the richness that regional Victoria has to offer.