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Divert to Daylesford (Victoria, Australia)

Initially some rellies expressed disappointment that the wedding wasn’t next to a shopping mall in Melbourne city, but all of us fell in love with Daylesford within minutes of our arrival by charter bus from the airport.

The region contains as much as 80% of all the mineral springs in Victoria. Not long after settlement Daylesford, originally a gold-mining town, and its nearby neighbour Hepburn Springs, had been noted for these mineral springs and from the 1880s to the 1920s the Daylesford was a major spa resort after the railway reached the town in 1880.

We were particularly lucky visiting in April.  The autumn colours were just stunning, bright hillsides contrasted against the crisp clear blue skies and Lake Daylesford just down the hill.

Just 115kms, most of it by motorway, from Melbourne CBD you are taken back in time with the main street made up of delightful single or two story buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s.  And within these buildings there is a myriad of interesting boutiques, gift shops, and galleries. Daylesford is well known for its antiques, second hand shops and especially for its book shops.

Some come to Daylesford just to visit Paradise Book Shop. It is famous with two storeys and countless rooms, nooks and crannies filled from floor to ceiling. The Bookbarn on the edge of Daylesford Lake is also well known for miles! The owner here was noteworthy in welcoming my mother and sister into his store when they sheltered on his verandah during a rain shower. He insisted on making them flat whites even though they’d gone out for their walk with no money! The people are friendly!

Sprinkled around town are a good number of cafés and restaurants. With over 40 eating establishments ranging from fine dining, small specialty restaurants through to old style Aussie pubs, in and around the town centre you certainly won’t go hungry in Daylesford! A number are located in the galleries and bookshops and there are some great names among them - like the Black Cauldron café, Breakfast and Beer, Bad Habits Café, Rhubarb café to name a few.

A family favourite was the chocolate shop in the main street – 'Sweet Decadence at Locantro'. This was in true European coffee house style with superb chocolates made on site. They are beautifully displayed with your choice served on special mini dishes with your favourite brew! 

With all of this to investigate you can literally get lost shopping for hours at a time! Probably the best known of the Daylesford diversions is the Convent Gallery on Wombat Hill next to the beautiful botanic gardens. Described as ‘the most beautiful gallery in Australia’ it started life as a private residence in the gold-rush era becoming a convent and boarding school before falling into disrepair! It was rescued by its current owner, Tina Banitska who lovingly restored it to become a leading gallery and wedding venue, using the old chapel and wonderful reception area. Bad Habits Café and the Altar Bar add to the gallery experience!

It’s not all commercial at The Convent though, upstairs in the attic area Tina has preserved the nun’s infirmary and one of the nuns ‘cells’ or bedrooms un-restored to give visitors an insight into how things once were – I didn’t venture up there but those who did came back with an appreciation of the hardships the sisters endured in the old days!

There is a wide range of choice when it comes to accommodation. The old Aussie hotels, several motels and motor-lodges through to the Lake House a small boutique hotel on the shores of the small lake. There are literally a hundred or more cottages and houses available for short and longer stay rentals through two or three major letting agencies. Many of the cottages and houses are the original settlers homes, most renovated with modern fittings and amenities. The gardens are a delight.

There are also a number of new small villa/apartment developments and we stayed in one of these, Lake Daylesford Lodge with the two and three bedroom villas surprisingly luxurious for the price and giving us the flexibility to accommodate our hoard!

So after four days together as a family in Daylesford including a beautiful wedding at The Convent I think we all regretted getting back on the bus to Melbourne, except for those who had extended their stay for three days shopping in Melbourne – they just couldn’t resist!

Written by Gerard Murphy