A travel story honouring the humble yet rejuvenating weekender; also the beauty of Daylesford in Autumn…
Thursday night, quite late.
Up late one night a few weeks back…working away on a tight deadline when I should have been tucked away, reading a book late instead, I took a moment’s break.
Cup of tea, new Internet tab and a well-visited site called Wotif.com later, I sighed (not just saying that for dramatic effect, think I really did) and began dreaming.
Daylesford dreaming, that is.
And why not? The region of Daylesford is situated in the Macedon Ranges, deep in Victoria’s ‘Spa Country’ and to me, is one of the most beautiful places around.
There’s the actual township of Daylesford itself, nearby Hepburn Springs and lots of charming country towns all around the area.
For some reason, our family has been going there for years. And that reason is certainly more than one… there are so many draw cards to the area.
Relaxation. The mineral spas. The fresh, sweet air. Pretty bushland. An incredible lake area. Plus, lots of wonderful food options.
So my friend Wotif and I spent some time together and I found a deal at a Hepburn Springs hotel which I’ve always wanted to stay at. The husband was asleep (this was the deadline and dreaming hour, remember…) so I waited until the morning to chat with him about my late-night idea.
Cue the next day: a Friday.
Morning came and with it my question: did he want to get away for a night to the Daylesford region, staying in the Hepburn Springs hotel I saw? Sure.
So I visited Mr. Wotif again to book but alas, I was not the Early Bird at all! Meaning, there was no Daylesford/Hepburn Springs wormy for me… meaning EVERYTHING in the area was booked out on Wotif. Everything!
I felt I really didn’t want to leave it for another time… the idea of a weekender in the Spa Country had captured my imagination… so I went to another friend, Google, and looked at private rentals.
This proved fruitful – and we were booked to leave the next day! Back to my deadline…
Passing by the lush green forests and Daylesford’s wind power energy sources, we pull into Vincent Street… the main strip of the town. Keep going along it and you’ll soon find yourself in Hepburn Springs.
Picking up our keys from the accommodation agency, we deliberate on a couple of options…
Like, 1) stopping for a coffee (always a good idea);
2) Swing past the supermarket and pick up local supplies. [I’d already packed a few supplies sourced from Aldi: Brie cheese, wine, mineral water, crackers, fruit, quince paste … perfect nibbly snacks for a small kitchen…]
But something within us just wanted to check in – and check out – our digs for the night.. options 1 and 2 could wait for a bit…
We were staying in Glenlyon, about a ten minute drive from the Daylesford centre. The drive was pretty, and especially so as we drove through Glenlyon’s main street.
An avenue of generously sized Autumn trees framed the country road with a natural canopy… historic little cottages dotted the road, some with artistic flair. Fresh air streaming through car windows and lots of bush around us, we already felt relaxed.
Checking in at our place, we arrived and explored. Yes, I checked out the toiletries and breaky provisions…Not only was there the usual toiletries, there was bubble bath (score!) and “country breakfast provisions” including local coffee, jams and the like. Sigh.
(Ok, the four slices of bread in the tiny freezer section of the bar fridge wasn’t quite so sigh-soliciting, but that’s ok!)
There was a fireplace, spa bath and country views. And Foxtel/cable TV too … not that it mattered: like the city/suburbs folk that we were, we didn’t come to watch TV.
Instead, we went outside and watched (saw, touched, felt, breathed in) the beauty of the estate.
All around were Autumn leaves in golds and reds… a crunchy, thick carpet on the grass.
Some parts, which were not so trodden by Autumn-lover appreciators like ourselves, seemed almost a foot high; untouched and simply inviting to leap on!
A swing hung from a sturdy tree branch; little metal creations and formidable garden sculptures added interest all throughout the property.
And – there it was – best of all: a discarded miner’s cottage in a hidden corner of the block.
An old, weather-board house, it was almost completely worn out…broken floorboards, long-gone windows, neither the front door nor the back one left… but there were still some remain left of its historic past.
Horse bridling equipment hung proudly from the front of the house; testifying to a pastoral history.
I didn’t dare step into the home: it was definitely not OH&S friendly but it was a treasure to find, and wonder about. What secrets, what past had this cottage?
We kept exploring around the property, walking towards where bush and garden met a grand tennis court that guests could use.
As we strolled up, we noticed two sets of eyes were on us and watching our every move; shocked – and maybe just a little curious – to find our presence.
Lhamas. Two of them. Both gorgeous. I didn’t expect meet these new friends on our country ramble but was delighted to, all the same.
We walked not too far from them as we kept wandering around.
They weren’t sure about us.
Big eyes, heads tall; continued synchronised shock: they eyed us for a good thirty seconds and then went back to eating grass. Every time we moved a bit or came too close to where they are, they stared at us again.
They were so cute, I just wanted to hug them but I resisted…
Instead, I took time to do something I hardly ever take the opportunity to do: just sit down in nature bush and ‘be quiet’.
The sun was streaming down and there were also an array of textures surrounding: bark, eucalyptus trees, thick grass, crunchy fallen leaves and many other plants and shrubs I don’t know the name of.
Rubbing eucalyptus leaves between my hands, releasing the smell and breathing in that heavenly, quintessentially Australian scent…
(Had I a cold or flu, I’m sure that would have helped.)
As I just sat and took in the beauty of the surroundings, I noticed I was being watched again.
One lhama, with large brown eyes as pretty as a Disney princess, was slowly making her way towards me.
In that moment, I felt so privilleged. It also made me realise the importance of being quiet.
The power of being still. Just sitting and reflecting…
I don’t understand it but there seems to be a law in the animal kingdom (very apparent with cats) where …if you don’t actually care about cuddling that cute cat or dog and just sit down and talk on the phone or start another task, they’ll soon interrupt you to jump on your lap. I’m still to test this in other countries, but it seems to me like a universal law.
After exploring a bit more, we headed into town and walked around Lake Daylesford. We were fortunate enough to see the beauty of the sunset over the water. We breathed in that sweet air, as twilight changed to night.
There were lots of great places to eat out but we just wanted to get back to our little hideaway, so we cooked a simple meal in our kitchen.
We ignored the TV, even with its Foxtel offerings, in favour of getting a wood fire going. It’s amazing how rejuvenating even just a few hours disconnection from anything with a screen can be.
That night, I felt a bit like a New Yorker or something, even though the town where I live has no hurtling underground system and certainly no Starbucks on every corner. I felt like a city-sider because it was hard to sleep in silence, that country silence which seems even more potent than ‘city silence’. It was if every sound: a very early bird or a car passing by every half an hour or so was even more acute to my suburbia acclimatised hearing.
When I finally got to sleep, though, I slept deeply and woke refreshed.
For some reason, it feels like a mild crime to sleep in when in the country.
The birds were out in glory – galahs, magpies, rosellas – and singing their song; and the sunlight soared through the skylight in the cottage. None of this I minded; quite the opposite.
What a pleasure to walk out our back door in our dressing gowns and breathe in that beautiful air… waking up to the bold, white shapes of galahs high in the trees, moving about.
We had breakfast outside for most of it; but when a bee/wasp was insistent on joining us and getting inside my cup of orange juice, we decided to finish it off inside.
Taking a final walk around the property, we said our goodbyes to our lhama friends, jumped (well I did) on crunchy Autumn leaves for the last time and made our way back into town to drop off the keys.
Wandering around the Daylesford Sunday markets, where the smell of roasted chestnuts and sight of a flamenco dancer restrained to a square box and the bustle of many mid-morning market goes, filled the senses, I couldn’t help but buy some handmade soaps. One, with little flecks of ‘gold dust’ amidst glycerine and honey smells, was called ‘Gold Rush’.
Next was the Convent Gallery ‘Bad Habits’ cafe, where a modestly portioned yet quality lunch was just the ticket after a walk in usually warm April weather…
But, now – the real star of the day! A visit to the Lavender Farm.
This was simply beautiful…better than I expected.
Yes, the scent of lavender filled the air at times, especially in the gift shop, with lavender filled teddy bears and lavender scented eye masks (I bought one), but there was more than that…
Emus paced the fence lines of large paddocks; bouncers just waiting to confront any person who dared come past.
Llamas slept in the sun while gaggles of geese took group activities together.
First they drank water – all at the same time – then they walked around for a bit, then it was time a wash… It was time for them to hop into the little pools of water scattered around, fluffing and preening their feathers. They all did these things at once, occassionally running away from the little kid or tourist who wanted to touch them.
We sat and had tea, coffee (respectively) and culinary delights showcasing lavender.
I ordered lavender ice-cream and a lavender infused, citrus almond cake – I could have also ordered lavender tea, if I wanted to, but I felt some lavender restraint was needed.
For some reason, I expected the ice-cream to be a light purple (can I use the word ‘lavender’ again?) colour and so because of this unwarranted expectation, I felt slightly disappointed when a trio of three vanilla-looking scoops of ice cream came out.
Any disappointment, however, soon turned to delightful surprise as I tasted…a subtle lavender taste was evident, and I quickly I learnt that a hint of lavender is more than enough.
(Time to attribute the first person who said, “A little bit goes a long way”- who ever you are: words of truth.)
Digress over, let’s go back to the Lavender Farm.
We sat in the sun then walked around the grounds.
With gardens, a fruit orchard, a little creek, farm animals, a historical cottage which you can peer into and go inside at certain times …there was definitely more to see than just lavender.
Yet, it was getting onto home time …. and so we were on the road again, headed back home.
Before we left, though, I took a moment and just breathed in that beautiful, crisp air that is Daylesford. I don’t know why it’s so invigorating yet relaxing … it just is.
I needn’t make a claim that I’ll be back, because this is one of the most beautiful places on earth – and I definitely intend to be. Always.
And, especially in the Autumn.