Just 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, but a cliched million miles from the stresses of life, lies the lovely rural town of Daylesford.
Its picturesque location in the Macedon Ranges is reason enough to plot the GPS co-ordinates from the Victorian capital, but there are plenty of others as well. From enjoying the famous revitalising properties of the mineral spas, to savouring delicious gourmet cuisine, getting back to nature, and trawling for antiques, the delights of this day trip destination are many and varied.
Here are ten top things to do in Daylesford.
As you drive into Daylesford you’re welcomed to ‘spa country’, and with the country’s highest concentration of natural mineral springs, it’s certainly a case of getting what’s on the tin. While there are plenty of spa and wellness retreats where you can be pampered to within an inch of your life, the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (just three kilometres from Daylesford) is the ultimate mineral springs bathing experience. People have been ‘taking the waters’ here since 1895 and from private mineral baths to invigorating ice plunges, it truly is bliss personified.
If your jaw doesn’t drop below your shoulder line when you walk into the Amazing Mill Markets you’d better check your pulse. This vast indoor market overflows with a dizzying collection of books, furniture, clothes and all manner of kitsch and curious memorabilia. Trash or treasure? You decide. Give yourself at least half a day to get through it.
Take in the extraordinary beauty of the landscape by heading up to the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens for a leisurely stroll on what was once a volcano. Not only will you see some rare and exotic plants and get gorgeous views back over the township and across the Macedon Ranges, but you’ll also be able to treat yourself to lunch at the famous Wombat Hill House café and kitchen garden. Insider tip: The Croque Senor is a culinary treat to die for.
There’s a host of small galleries around the town and surrounds that you really should make an effort to see, but one of the most impressive and historically significant is the Convent Gallery. Set on a hill behind the town, this former 19th century convent is now an important showcase of national and international fine art. It’s also frequently described as ‘Australia’s most beautiful gallery’, so how are you going to resist that? And why would you try?
Fun fact: the town’s tranquil centerpiece, Lake Daylesford, is actually man-made! You can enjoy a peaceful meander along the walking paths and daydream about owning one of the lovely lakeside houses, stop for a bite to eat on the deck at the Boathouse Restaurant (or perhaps push the boat out on a tasting menu at the famous Lakehouse), feed the very friendly ducks, or just make like a twitcher and check out the abundant and highly vocal birdlife.
Cliffy’s Emporium has been an absolute institution since the 1950s, and even though it’s a little bit off the beaten track (aka not on Vincent Street), just ask anyone and you’ll have no trouble being pointed in the right direction. A tiny treasure trove of fresh local produce, preserves, cheese, honey, coffee and other gourmet treats, you can stock up at Cliffy’s for your own picnic or sit and soak up the authentic rustic surrounds and order from their menu of all day breakfast dishes and grazing plates. They even have wine!
Speaking of which, the Macedon region has been producing mighty fine vintages since the 1800s, so it would be rude not to give them a try, right? Luckily you don’t have to go too far (about a five minute drive in fact) from Daylesford to find one of the best wineries in the area. Still in the hands of the original family that established it, a visit to Passing Clouds is a must for anyone who loves a tipple. You can enjoy a tour and tastings at the cellar door, then hunker down for a long, long lunch overlooking the vineyards.
There really is only one main street to Daylesford, although it’s spilling around a few corners these days as the town grows. But to be honest, the European-inspired architecture of Vincent Street is so jam-packed with eclectic craft shops, galleries, boutiques and even a fourteen-room bookshop in an old bank (Paradise Books), that one street is all that’s needed. Pick a side and wander up one way, then cross over and come back down the other to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Expect to make a few diversions to the car and back to drop off your shopping bags — resistance is useless…
Just ten minutes’ drive from Daylesford, the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm transports you out of the rural Victorian landscape and drops you off right in heart of Europe. The stunning ordered farm gardens provide the produce for all things lavender made on the premises, including skin and therapeutic products, herbs, essential oils and, of course, scented bags of the dried lavender flowers themselves. Breathe in deep and lose yourself in the purple haze.
The distinctive wrought iron exterior, original artworks and leafy courtyard at the Hotel Frangos are what attract a lot of people, but it’s the prime people-watching opportunities that keep enticing them back! Set on a top corner of Vincent Street, draped in vines and featuring Parisian-style seating on the pavement, this is the perfect place to kick back with an afternoon vino and contemplate your next move. Which, after a few days in Daylesford, might just be a permanent one…
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of top things to do in Daylesford? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.