Feature Destination

Head for the hills: Australia's Spa Country

Who knew small towns could reach such heights of sophistication? Australia's Macedon Ranges and Spa Country exude a level of refinement that belies their rural setting. There are art galleries, wineries, gourmet restaurants and cafés, not to mention spas, heritage buildings and historical landscaped gardens, all about an hour's drive from Melbourne.

Soak it up

Hepburn Spa Resort

Australia's largest concentration of mineral springs is found in the region surrounding the towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. The longest operating bathhouse, established in 1895, is the recently refurbished Hepburn Spa Resort. Today the resort offers everything from Dead Sea mud body wraps to hot stone massages. Or keep it simple: Just float in or taste-test the mineral water, straight from the source.

Hepburn Spa Resort, 1 Mineral Springs Reserve, Hepburn Springs, 61-3-5348-8888

See the sites

The area's European settler heritage shines through at the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm, where 1860s stone farm buildings are scattered amid landscaped gardens and Lombardy poplars and the restaurant serves Northern Italian fare. On the art front, The Convent Gallery, a former convent and boarding school, houses seven exhibition spaces and a sprawling retail section selling locally made jewelry, ceramics, housewares and gourmet goodies.

Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm, 350 Newstead Rd., Shepherds Flat, 61-3-5476-4393
The Convent Gallery, 7 Daly St., Daylesford, 61-3-5348-3211

Wines of cool climes

Hanging Rock Winery

Similar in climate to the Burgundy and Loire Valley regions in France, the elevated cool-climate Macedon region is known for its sauvignon blanc, riesling, merlot, pinot noir and chardonnay. Hanging Rock Winery is a particularly welcoming vineyard boasting gorgeous views, a celebrated Bollinger-modelled Macedon NV Brut Cuvée and the prize-winning Heathcoate Shiraz. The charming Granite Hills Winery, set among rolling hills, has won over 400 awards since opening for business in 1970 and is most famous for its riesling and vintage sparkling.

Hanging Rock Winery, Jim Rd., Newham, 61-3-5427-0542
Granite Hills Winery, 1481 Burke and Wills Track, Baynton, 61-3-5423-7264

Food lovers' haven

Alla Wolf-Tasker, owner of the Lake House restaurant, hotel and spa, is largely credited with putting Spa Country on the foodie map. Her passion for local produce is evidenced in the Lake House menu, which lists the exact provenance of such locally sourced products as farmed trout, free-range pork and organic goat's cheese. For exquisite deli fare, much of it locally produced, you can't beat The Gourmet Larder or Cliffy's Emporium for marinated olives, premium cheeses, chutneys, preserves, cold meats, fancy crackers and so much more.

Lake House, King St., Daylesford, 61-3-5348-3329
The Gourmet Larder, 57A Vincent St., Daylesford, 61-3-5348-4700
Cliffy's Emporium, 30 Raglan St., Daylesford, 61-3-5348-3279

Sweet dreams

Craigielea Mountain Retreat

The majestically set Craigielea Mountain Retreat attracts gourmands and esthetes alike. Hidden away in the ranges, each of the three self-contained luxurious suites affords views that span clear to Melbourne and is decorated with contemporary Australian artworks (all for sale – owner Simone Ivanyi is an art dealer by trade). Each suite comes complete with fireplace, sumptuous bathrooms, a well-stocked wine rack and a fridge loaded with the next morning's breakfast (eggs, bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice). Dinner comes in three gourmet courses, delivered at the appointed time.

Peppers Springs Retreat is housed in a historic 1930s building that's been lovingly and meticulously restored to its original Art Deco glory, though the rooms feel modern and plush, with their marble bathrooms and open-plan layouts, and the spa features sleek state-of-the-art treatment rooms. DECO, the restaurant, serves acclaimed modern Australian fare in a magnificent high-ceilinged dining room.

Craigielea Mountain Retreat, address given upon booking, 61-3-5427-0799
Peppers Springs Retreat, 124 Main Rd., Hepburn Springs, 61-3-5348-2202

(Genevieve Paiement is a Montreal-born, Sydney, Australia-based freelance writer. Her twin passions are travel and food.)

Getting There

We have daily direct service between Vancouver and Sydney, with convenient connections from all major Canadian gateways. Book now. Plus, take advantage of our great deals on hotels (with daily room rates as low as $42 CAD) and car rentals.

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May 2006