Daylesford: A funky spa town
Natural mineral springs, hatted restaurants and "Australia's best regional hotel".
Lake fishing, a forest made for mountain biking and a pretty 18-hole golf course.
Artsy clothing boutiques, funky vintage shops and homeware stores - including one specialising in Finnish brand Marimekko - concentrated along a short stretch of the main drag of Howe St.
And it's only one hour from Australia's most edgy city, Melbourne.
Daylesford - and its joined-at-the-hip town Hepburn Springs - are refreshingly sophisticated little spots.
The longer you can linger here the better. If you have an aching body and tired mind then you'll need at least two to three days to soak your way to an updated version of yourself in the mineral springs.
Then there's the gourmet produce to sample, the Convent Gallery (a three-level haven of fine art) and Lavandula (a "Swiss Italian farm") to discover.
I'm travelling alone on this jaunt where I have only two nights and one full day to tick off my extensive must-do list: soak in the mineral springs; have a meal at Breakfast & Beer, a funky cafe that serves beer with breakfast, visit the Lake House for a massage at Salus Spa and then dinner at the destination restaurant, walk through the Wombat Botanic Gardens and eat at Sault Restaurant, a fine dining establishment popular with the locals for its fresh, local food and 180 degrees views of lavender and a lake.
Once I'm installed at Circa Red London, a one-bedroom cottage near the main roundabout in Daylesford, I hop back in my hire car and head to the icon of the region, the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa.
Once inside the reception area of the communal bathhouse (AU$27, NZ$29 for two hours) I feel I've entered a world of calmness and contemplation - although I wouldn't say the unisex change rooms is the most relaxing experience: men in various states of undress. Where to look? However, there are separate changing cubicles.
After a quick shower, I venture into the sleek main pool with its constant supply of mineral-rich water.
I'm one of only a handful of floaters today: a mum with her bub bob past; several couples gaze into one another's steamy eyes; and two old men natter the afternoon away in the adjacent spa.
After being submerged for an hour I emerge from the deep to discover, shock horror, that my hotel towel has gone. Vanished. Never to be seen again.
I head off for dinner at Sault with damp hair, worried that Circa Red London might bill me for loss of their expensive looking white towel (they never do).
The next morning I potter in my car around the countryside and about 15 minutes out of town I begin to wonder: could this place be any more stunning? By now, the trees have pretty much completely lost it; they've thrown their orange accessories to the ground. How will I drag myself away from this lovely place?
After a day of shopping, more soaking and popping in to cafes, I point the hire car towards the Lake House, the country's top regional hotel as awarded by Gourmet Traveller magazine.
Following a divine spa treatment by masseuse Ben, I arrive for dinner sporting a unique straight-from-the-shower look.
At the restaurant, the creation of Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker, the ambience is formal yet relaxed, with white tablecloths, plush cushions and vibrant paintings by Allan.
I opt for the Rivers and Lakes dish that I've seen recently on MasterChef. The Murray cod, trout, yabbies and eel are ridiculously delicious. It's such a special dish that I close my eyes to imprint the taste in my memory.
Suddenly, the waiter, slick yet friendly, tinkers with the wine and water glasses at my table. Did he think I dozed off?
"Peanut butter parfait, madam?" he asks.
"Yes, yes," I stutter.
Soon the salty, sweet parfait, teamed with black sesame ice cream and caramel banana is before me. Did I just dribble onto the large white plate?
The swoonsome dessert is quickly gobbled up and exhausted by all my hot water healing and feeding on fishes I return to my temporary abode to take my position in the sumptuous canopy bed.
After just two nights in Daylesford I can understand why this spa town is so popular with Melbournians. Now they can count me in amongst its biggest fans.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Daylesford is an hour northwest of Melbourne.
STAYING THERE: Circa Red London is a centrally located one-bedroom cottage with a canopy bed, spa bath and gas log fire. It's one of Dayget's many properties in the Daylesford area. Their other accommodation options include holiday houses, historic period homes, villas and hotels (dayget.com.au).
PLAYING THERE: Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, Mineral Springs Reserve Road, Hepburn Springs (a 5 minute drive from Daylesford) offers communal bathing in the relaxation pool and spa (AU$27 for 2 hours) or you can opt for the Salt Therapy Pool, Spa Couches and Aroma Steam Room in The Sanctuary. Bookings for The Bathhouse are not necessary, however bookings for the Sanctuary are recommended. Open 9am to 6.30pm daily (hepburnbathhouse.com).
Breakfast & Beer, 117 Vincent Street, Daylesford, is a toasty place to relax and sip local and international beer with breakfast and lunch. Open daily 8am to 3pm (breakfastandbeer.com.au).
Sault Restaurant, 2349 Ballan Daylesford Road, Daylesford, serves dishes featuring their own herbs, vegetables and trout smoked on site. The restaurant has lovely views of the lavender farm and lake. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday and lunch Friday to Sunday (sault.com.au).
Lake House, King Street, Daylesford, lies on the shores of Lake Daylesford. It offers luxury accommodation, a restaurant (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and Salus Spa with nine treatment rooms (lakehouse.com.au)
For more on what to do in the region, go to visitvictoria.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria.