The words ‘sweet sixteen’ have been dotted about the place in reference to this new year and it has such a beautiful sentiment, I think. New years always feel expansive with possibility, but there’s something different and palpable in the air about this one for me. I feel enabled... like anything, or everything is lingering and in reach.
Last year, I cracked open and unfurled, cautiously, then vividly. I retreated into my bow then launched my arrow straight and direct, full tilt with precision towards my dream. When I think about the words that call me for sweet sixteen, soar comes to mind - in business, in becoming. Play comes to mind - in exploring further, wild and untethered. And lumière (light in French) comes to mind - light in spirit, in approach to life, in love. I think my one word is R A D I E N C E. I want 2016 to be about seeking ease, to go about things in flow. To trust what is written, to live out every little moment from a place of light-filled joy.
The first moments of 2016 began in the orange afterglow of a bonfire in the Byron Bay hinterland. They say that the way you spend your New Year’s Eve says a lot about what’s in store with your year ahead. I spent the night with brand new friends I met on that day, beside my best one, laughing and alight and free. We drank gin under the stars, slept on blow up mattresses and woke to fresh country air and an apricot dawn.
After some days I returned back to Adelaide to immerse in my creative cave and birth some new designs, to extend my Wild Hearts collection, but I was restless. Sometimes you just need to take time to live, to inspire your work. And so, I did. I jumped on a plane over to Victoria, to explore somewhere that’s long been on my bucket list.
We wander to get lost and found. And as it turns out, sometimes things just have a way of finding you.
When I imagined Daylesford, I thought of a crooked and weathered town, French provincial in feel among an expanse of lavender fields. I read some writings about this area steeped in history and poise, with heirloom produce, an internationally acclaimed food scene and prolific wine culture; the allure of a bygone era. And on arriving, it was exactly that.
The town is exquisite and calm, unassuming and welcoming. The locals are conversational and bright eyed and they are just... living well. The light is softer, the food is artisan and the wine is flowing (and flow, it did). The vibe is relaxed, but vibrant. Unpretentious. The buildings are weathered and romantic; there’s a definite rustic charm juxtaposed against contemporary art and a very chic, refined edge, especially for the food scene. And of course, I wanted to stop and photograph every single door, windowsill and weatherboard wall expanse - ruin is so beautiful. The area is a complete treasure trove of magic; a close by, yet faraway land of plenty.
More than anything, I enjoyed three days of more rest, rejuvenation and joy than I can remember. Here’s how it all went down.
The Daylesford and Macedon Ranges are just a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD, or an hour drive direct from Melbourne airport. The area is home to the largest collection of natural mineral springs, formed by its mountainous location and volcanic activity.
My first impression, was how integral and foundationary the element of water is here. Italian speaking Swiss migrants were lured to the area in the 1850’s, after the discovery of gold. And then… they discovered the mineral springs. More than 80% of Australia’s natural mineral springs are found within this region, and today, a plethora of spa houses are smattered about town. Spa culture is deeply rooted in the Daylesford experience - and unsurprisingly, hand in hand, Daylesford and surrounds are also home to the highest concentration of massage therapists in the Southern Hemisphere.
Daylesford is considered a haven of healing and nourishment, and when you arrive, you really feel it. Beyond water, love also flows freely here, with the towns boasting the highest percentage of gay and lesbian residents in rural and regional Australia.
On the outskirts of Daylesford, and set within a beautiful bucolic garden, The Dudley Boutique Hotel (101 Main Road, Hepburn Springs) has been welcoming guests for over 100 years. Built in 1908 and recently refurbished to a level of second-to-none luxury (with more plans in the works), the main property and neighbouring cottages are a private haven of absolute tranquility. The Dudley was recognised as Luxury Boutique Hotel of the Year in Victoria in 2015. What first class plane travel is to a long haul flight, The Dudley is to accommodation: it’s next level.
As the harsh Friday sunlight softened and we stepped through the courtyard's archway entrance, every matter in life apart from that exact here and now fell blissfully away. We stepped into another world. We were personally greeted by the owner/manager Paul, and immediately introduced to our personal butler (!) Philip, who would look after our every need over the coming weekend.
The Dudley Boutique Hotel is steeped in history. Legend has it that Lord Dudley, the fourth Governor General of Australia visited Daylesford during 1908 - and was asked by the owners for his consent to call their new guest house “Dudley House” (...they said yes).
After Dr. Paul Lever and his wife Cate purchased the property in 2013, they have transformed the property to a new level of luxury for the Daylesford Mineral Springs area.
Now called The Dudley Boutique Hotel, the property includes the original 1908 Dudley House, with four fully serviced guest rooms (all with private ensuite bathrooms) and, in the original neighbouring position of the old jamming shed, The Dudley Cottage, housing 2 separate suites.
While the rooms are all styled in a contemporary, sophisticated elegance, I couldn’t help but feel I was living inside a scene from Downton Abbey. Attention to detail is paramount, and no request is too difficult. The bathrooms are kitted out with Molton Brown amenities (who also happen to be an official supplier to HM The Queen). It’s like a home away from home, stepped up a whole lot of notches, and with the happy additions of a perpetually abundant stocked bar, a distinguished library, and a verandah just asking for a late afternoon champagne/cheese platter porch party.
Breakfast - which surely deserves its own blog post - is a serious event at The Dudley. All guests are welcomed to enjoy a daily gourmet breakfast as part of their stay, all prepared by Cate, and we took full advantage, sampling the signature Goats Toast (Meredith’s goats cheese, dill, beetroot puree, avocado, pesto and spinach leaves) and The Dudley Duck Egg Omelette (roasted tomato and freshly carved leg ham omelette with a cheddar and halloumi toastie) - YUM.
Between the sheets and cloud pillows, which felt like cloud (nine), the service, the Royal Doulton crockery and the daily breakfast menus printed with snippets of trivia (such as: Guests at The Dudley in the 1920’s went to the dances held at The Palais and the ladies left their stiletto marks in reception - uncovered by us during renovations in 2015) I seriously couldn’t recommend this accommodation more highly if you're seeking a rejuvenating getaway away from the hustle, and a little touch of fancy.
While our wonderful accommodation made us feel reluctant to ever leave, we knew there were adventures afoot and unmissable. First stop? The Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (Mineral Springs Reserve Road, Hepburn Springs). Bathing rituals are a foundation of Daylesford, which is abundant with world class venues across the region. The Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa is rather an institution, having been open for business since 1895.
Here you’ll find both communal and private bathing experiences - including a Relaxation Pool that is perpetually heated at 32 degrees, a salt therapy pool, said to heal ailments like migraines, insomnia and arthritis, and even 100% mineral water baths available for hire - the only of their kind in Australia - with mineral waters rich in calcium, magnesium and silica drawn straight from the source. I was lucky enough to experience a Moroccan inspired massage, and left feeling rejuvenated and invigorated in equal measure.
We literally arrived in Daylesford at the peak of lavender season - Harvest weekend! Needless to say, Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm was a must on our itinerary. The lavender blooms were heady in full scent, the bees were buzzing and the fields a beautiful place to roam at dusk. If a picture tells a thousand words, I’ll leave the words, and instead paint a visual thesis below for you.
It’s safe to say we never had the chance to get hungry across the entire weekend. We meandered from lavish breakfast, to long lunch, to pick-me-up coffee, evening drinks and finally, dinner (because why not). Every food experience was on point and our exact culinary itinerary entailed as follows:
An arrival dinner at newly re-named Belvedere Social (82B Vincent Street, Daylesford) - the owner Bernard will welcome you like a long lost friend and show you a wonderful time within his fun and lovely establishment. You'll experience charcuterie, tapas share plates and house-designed cocktails that are a pride point of the establishment. We sampled the Rose Mojito and Mulberry Sour, made with fruits picked off his own vine!
For Saturday lunch, we descended on Mercato (32 Raglan Street, Daylesford). Executive Chef Richard Mee welcomed us into his charming 1864 restored home-cum-restaurant, renovated with polished floor boards, open fireplaces and high ceilings. The menu is seasonal, and local produce inspired, and the pork belly was divine!
To offset (and by offset, I mean continue on) with the non-stop eating, we wound up at local favourite Koukla (82 Vincent Street, Daylesford) for wood fired pizzas, because… well, pizza. At the rustic communal longtable we kicked back with the classic margherita and the much in-demand duck pizza recommendations, and soaked up the casual, bohemian and relaxed ambience with the beautiful owner Louise (thank you for such a beautiful welcome, lovely!)
Coffee was not forgotten about - and we were pretty happy to stumble upon Larder (57A Vincent Street, Daylesford), also on Daylesford’s main street. The ‘coffee is god’ mural almost broke Instagram with its popularity - a sentiment that clearly hits home for more than just me!
And as we were told that no trip to Daylesford is complete without a visit to Cliffy’s Emporium (30 Raglan Street, Daylesford), we had gave it a try. This place had me at the yellow cups, naturally.
Although I never wanted these joy-flooded, adventure-soaked days in Daylesford to come to an end, it was a delight to return to Melbourne CBD and check into the Art Series [The Blackman] (452 St Kilda Road, Melbourne) for one final night in this exquisite state, before returning to reality. Set between two parks and in close vicinity to the National Gallery and hub of the CBD, it was a beautiful place to call home for the night.
And the magic certainly continued, being woken in the early pre-dawn, as giant hot air balloons scaled the sky. Just breathtaking.