108km (67 miles) NW of Melbourne
Daylesford can be a terrific day trip from Melbourne, or can also easily be combined with a trip to the Macedon Ranges. Part of "spa country," this village is a bit of a trendy getaway for Melbournians. Along the main street, you'll find small galleries, homewares shops, and some smart foodie outlets.
Australians have been heading to Hepburn Springs, neighboring Daylesford, to "take the waters" since 1895, and there are now about a dozen or so day spas in the region. The original, and most famous, is Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (tel. 03/5321 6000; www.hepburnbathhouse.com). Not everyone likes the slick, modern, and rather cold new extension that has replaced the elegant old wooden building, but sink into the hot pools and it's easy to forget what the exterior looks like. There's traditional communal bathing in the Bathhouse and the Sanctuary, or you can book in to the Spa (in the original bathhouse building; reservations essential) for the usual range of therapies and treatments. The complex includes an aroma steam room, salt therapy pool, relaxation pool, and "spa couches" submerged in mineral water (which I didn't find very comfortable). The complex is on Mineral Springs Reserve Road and is open daily 9am to 6:30pm. Entry to the Bathhouse for 2 hours costs A$23 per person or A$73 for a family of four Tuesday to Friday, A$33 per person or A$98 families Saturday to Monday and on public holidays. Entry to the Sanctuary is A$55 Tuesday to Friday, A$75 Saturday to Monday and public holidays. Towel hire is A$3.50. A 30-minute private mineral bath at The Spa costs A$65.
On the hill behind Daylesford's main street is the Convent (tel. 03/5348 3211; www.theconvent.com.au), a three-level historic 19th-century mansion, complete with twisting staircases. It is comprised of a restaurant, a gallery, gardens, a chapel, and shops, as well as a small museum that speaks to its origins as a private home, which later became the Holy Cross Convent and Boarding School for Girls. After years of dereliction, it reopened as a gallery in 1991, but the nuns' infirmary and one of the "cells," or bedrooms, were left unrestored. You'll find it on the corner of Hill and Daly streets. It's open daily 10am to 4pm, and admission is A$5 per person. A self-contained luxury "penthouse" on the second level can be yours from A$300 per night, with breakfast. Take time to wander through the lovely gardens, with their sculptures and bench seats.
Just outside Daylesford is Lavandula (tel. 03/5476 4393; www.lavandula.com.au), a Swiss-Italian lavender farm that has a rustic trattoria-style cafe and a cobblestone courtyard with a cluster of farmhouse buildings. Swiss immigrants ran a dairy farm here in the 1860s, but today you can see the process of lavender farming and buy lavender products. The restored stone farmhouse is a picturesque backdrop to gardens where you can picnic, play boules (like bocce), or just relax and admire the scenery. The lavender is in full bloom in December, with harvesting in January. Lavandula is at 350 Hepburn-Newstead Rd., Shepherds Flat, about 10 minutes' drive north of Daylesford. It is open daily from 10:30am to 5:30pm September to May (except Dec 24-26), and on weekends, public holidays, and school holidays only in June, July, and August. The cafe is closed during August. Admission is A$3.50 adults, A$1 school-age children.