Daylesford is well known for its anchor spa attraction Hepburn Springs but there’s plenty more beyond its skin-deep beauty. There are rich farmgate trails with luscious casual and fine dining options, unique fun low-cost, family activities and a charming locals’ hotel that also offers gorgeous accommodation. Here is a run down on where to stay and what to do if you have little ones in tow and want a deeper experience of Daylesford.
Food, Drink and Accommodation
The Farmers Arms Hotel
No journey to Daylesford is complete without a stop at The Farmers Arms Hotel. The region’s oldest pub is a tribute to a bygone era of warmth, friendly locals and excellent food. There is also an on-site glamorous motel across the road perfect for stopovers, late nights or base camp for the many expeditions through Daylesford’s picturesque countryside.
The magic of the Farmers Arms Hotel starts at the front door. Bartenders nod hello the moment you enter, no matter how you are dressed or who you are. Everyone is made to feel welcome (think of a tough strong farmer opening their arms to greet in you in a big bear hug – that’s the feeling). Hardened dark timber, sheepskin rugs, fresh provincial flowers and cosy corners make the pub’s atmosphere comfortable and welcoming. There is an old school walk-in front bar for casual drinking, where many a local yarn has been told in the pub’s 163 year history. Drinks are poured and served so quickly and professionally it would make inner city Melbourne nightclub bartenders blush.
The drinks menu showcases many regional beers and wines with cuisine pairing recommendations at the ready. The pub also has its own signature beer and wine. The Farmers Arms Dark Ale is brewed by legendary Coopers Brewery and is distinctly chocolatey. The Farmer Arms Draught is brewed locally by Holgate Brewery and is paler with fruity citrus notes. While The Farmers Arms “The Moonchaser” is a ruby red shiraz-refosco produced with grapes cultivated from the vines of a 400 year old European vineyard.
The culinary standards of Daylesford are set high. As the birthplace of farm to fork, it is only fitting the local pub is an outstanding gastro-pub. The servings are generous. The produce is fresh, really fresh, like it is just been picked, and the menu consists of hearty meat with three veg combinations which have elegant mouth watering twists. For example Crispy skin salmon on cauliflower puree with braised cabbage, chat potatoes, green beans and lemon herb crumb. The menu is carefully crafted with produce from sustainable neighbouring organic farms. Hint: go for anything with potato included. Local potato farmers are some of the best in the world, with multinational corporate companies like McCain’s and McDonalds even trying to source produce here.
The kids’ meals are amply portioned and menu items are perfect for even the fussiest of eaters. Make sure little ones stay occupied with the mini-Farmers Arms colouring book and pencils while waiting for their meals.
It is essential to leave room for dessert, (if you are full, try using a dark ale as a digestive!). The options are delectable and superbly plated with subtle merging of ingredients to maximise taste and texture. They’re excellent value at just $16. A favourite is the Pimms Jelly Served with watermelon and cucumber sorbet. The other must try is Mint Semifreddo with mint curd and choc mint crumb.
In true pioneer spirit, pub owner Mitch Duncan, built a luxe motel just across the road. With 10 suites and a sophisticated country cottage, the accommodation options take motel expectations to a new level and could be the start to a new trend in regional pub accommodation. The savvy publican also bought The Great Western Hotel in Ballan, with more hospitality ventures on the way. The suites are carefully furnished with rich velvety brocaded sofas, cheeky touches like Elvis and Priscilla cushions and locally produced art adorning the walls. The beds have those squeaky clean crisp white sheets, comfy pillows and duvets that guarantee a perfect night sleep. The Heritage Cottage has three bedrooms perfect for families or friends. There is a large private outdoor space cleverly sheltered from the car park perfectly made for alfresco snacking of locally bought farmgate fruit.
The bathroom in the cottage has two toilets, a very large shower and a double vanity unit and basin, (hooray, the kids can brush their teeth and be ready for bed in double time.) Make sure you enjoy a soapy lather – bathroom amenities include the Daylesford Soap Company boutique soap bars that smell and feel like Spa country.
The Farmers Arms Hotel one of Victoria’s finest gems, with colonial Aussie charm, modest prices, exceptional food, even better service and a place to call it a night. Don’t forget to check out the nearby Wombat Hill gardens, a delightful sanctuary of local plants, age-old trees and secret tower with magnificent, sweeping views.
Farmers Arms Daylesford
1 East St, Daylesford
03 5438 2019
What to do
1. Lavandula Lavender Farm
Lavandula is set in a picturesque valley ten minutes from Daylesford’s city centre. The fragrance of lavender draws in visitors like bees to honey. Founder, Carol White, couldn’t be happier. It’s days before the world renowned Harvest Festival and the lavender farm is a hive of activity. Harvested lavender needs to be bundled (its sold as quickly as it can be put on the shelves). The café is bursting with lavender scones and aromatic teas and the pizza oven is pumping out fresh focaccia bread.
Set on 96 acres, White, planted the first lavender seeds over 30 years ago. The locals thought she was mad. Inspired by the successful attractive lavender farms in Southern Europe and wanting a fresh start in the country, her dream of a Lavender farm in Daylesford slowly came to fruition after she lovingly restored the property’s stone cottages and structures that once formed part of the Daylesford’s original post office. The key to Lavandula’s success is White’s sheer determination and of course the beauty of lavender itself.
Lavender’s calmative and restorative powers are used in all sorts of products – from “love” massage oils to sock drawer liners. Lavender is as versatile as it is abundant at the boutique farm. At $6 per bundle, tourists and locals alike go mad for this therapeutic potent smelling herb. The farm also produces olives, olive oils and small crops of local produce such as delicious organic cherries.
Everything on the farm is cultivated by hand; slowly, methodically and genuinely. As one of the first farms to implement paddock to plate ideology in the area (before the term was even invented), White employs farm boys, backpackers and locals to help with the labour intensive harvest. With a $4 entry fee ($1 for kids), resident emu, chickens, alpacas and cow, families can enjoy the beauty and Lavandula year round and take home a little bit of pioneering spirit with them (and a bit of lavender).
2. Maze House
A wonderland of 1920s inspired lawn games, provincial boutique café and a cunning well-kept hedge maze for the kids, the Maze House is a must for families. Owners Chris and Trish have been drawn back to Daylesford from their hometown of Ballarat and created a cute, fun respite for screen addicted city dwellers. The Maze House is the antithesis of on-line gaming. Dump Candy Crush for some outdoor ten-pin bowling, a bit of tennis ball throwing at moving targets, cubby house fairyland fantasy play and horse racing (where the horse moves by you rotating a handle connected to a wire). Kids are given challenge sheet upon entry where they must note the name of the book located in six different locations throughout the maze. They quickly become entranced, engaged and amused with the maze as a series of dead-ends can disorientate even the best of navigators. Once completed, successfully filled out challenge sheets can be swapped for a stamp and an old school treat. You’ll see pure joy as their faces light up as they open up their paper goodie bag.
The café captures Daylesford’s commitment to quality produce with treats, muffins, cakes and slices all sourced and made locally. Try an old fashioned milk shake and take in some of the quirky antique pieces furnishing the café like the original court judges stand from the Ballarat Courthouse.
3. Splinters Café on Lake Daylesford
Only opening a few weeks ago, Splinters Café has quickly become the locals’ favourite hang out. With a lakeside panoramic view, fast and friendly baristas, freshly made wraps/rotis and locally made muffins, there is little more wanting in this comfortable waterfront café. The food is simple and rewarding. Try the salmon and dill patty or the chicken and camembert pie.
The furnishings have a rustic country feel with local timber, white washed finishes and fresh flowers. The walls showcase local artists. This month it’s local artist Paul Ainsworth’s stunning black and white photographs. On weekends kids can delight in the neighbouring candy shop. There is also an AirBnB deluxe Splinters Cottage with even more magnificent sweeping views of the lake available to book.
If you have time stroll around the lake, have a dip in the modest beach where locals indulge in volcanic mineral waters without the spa fee. Experience the mineral springs pump and fill your bottles with natural spring water, and cross the locals love bridge with locks a little lower “key” than Paris’s Pont des Arts Bridge but equally as romantic.
4. Daylesford Cider
Forget your Apple IPhone 11 pro, it’s Daylesford Cider taking apples to the next level. In 2003, 1500 trees were planted across two orchards, which were later happened upon, by Clare and John, aka Mackie (studied environmental science). The couple were interested in creating an apple cider that tasted smashingly good using traditional heritage cider apples and was good for the environment. In 2014 Clare and Mackie took over the cidery, expanded the range, opened a restaurant and made it what it is today.
The popularity of cider is growing as drinkers look for sustainable alternatives to beer and wine. The “health” benefits of organic cider cannot be overlooked. Cider connoisseurs look for a blend of four different styles of apples to make a complex cider; sweet, bittersweet, sharp and bittersharp. The best way to become an instant expert is to try the tasting paddle. Seven different large shot glasses are brought out on a tasting paddle ranging in colour, taste, alcoholic content and scent.
The most popular is the “Sessions” cider that has mass appeal with others preferring the “Vintage Dry” (full stockists list available on their website). The paddle is a great introduction to cider and you’ll probably soon be hooked. Just as many are hooked on the Watermelon Fizz. This new to market, fresh, fun watermelon cider is so drinkable, it’s scary. Daylesford Cider also offers a range of wood-fired pizza, the perfect side to really good cider.
With such an amazing array of things to do (these stops are just a few of many), the depth of Daylesford’s offering is enriching and rewarding for those prepared to immerse themselves in more than just a spa.
The writer, Sonia Komaravalli, was a guest of Daylesford Macedon Tourism. www.daylesfordmacedonlife.com.au