I feel immensely privileged to live and work in Daylesford. We have the best of both urban and rural lifestyles - a mere 80 minutes from Melbourne, close enough for a theatre fix, but also surrounded by hundreds of hectares of lush rolling farmland and beautiful forest. The area is breathtakingly beautiful - lakes, watercourses, hills, pretty villages and distinctly felt seasons. If you're a dedicated cook or gardener, the rhythm of the seasons is palpable and splendidly manifested in our surroundings and beautiful local produce.
There are magnificent distant vistas and far horizons, beautiful sunsets and still, starry nights. Here, the Milky Way is really something to behold.
My house is five minutes from Lake House. In the mornings I'll often spot a pair of wallabies grazing below, but I can walk down the hill and a few minutes later be in our bustling village full of interesting shops and cafés.
The region attracts an interesting and diverse community of residents. If you're involved in design, media or the arts it's an easy place to run a business, thanks to online connectivity and easy access to Melbourne. There are a lot of tree-changers here, especially designers, writers and artists wanting some tranquillity, but not wanting to entirely give up the stimulation of the nearby city.
There are also many tree-changers among our suppliers - people fulfilling an ambition to raise organic poultry, make beautiful cheeses and olive oils or grow organic fruit and vegetables. There are many heirloom and "lost" varieties grown here and at least 30 kinds of potatoes. Biodynamics, organics, and generally best practice in animal husbandry and produce growing are pretty much the norm. We have a burgeoning industry in rare-breed farming including ethically raised Wessex Saddleback and Black pigs, Shropshire and Dorper lambs, and British White and Belted Galloway cattle.
It's also a great area for some serious foraging. I've been doing it since I was a young child at my mother's knee. There are plenty of wild herbs, elderflowers and berries, self-seeded fruit trees, wild mushrooms in spring and autumn, and quite a few indigenous edible plants.
And ofcourse the region is home to plenty of "characters". A decent touch of eccentricity and creativity enlivens and enriches our community.
ALLA'S TOP PICKS
The area has gained a reputation as an extraordinary food bowl. The volcanic soils (we have several ancient dormant volcanos in the area), coupled with the mineral water aquifer below us, contribute to producing vegetables with a great depth of flavour. We also have some great bakers, beekeepers (we have two hives at Lake House), cheesemakers, and sausage and charcuterie makers. Much of the area's beautiful produce can be bought at the regular farmers' markets (we have one somewhere across the region each week) or from farms with an A-frame sign out front advertising anything from free-range eggs to chestnuts to berries . It's a great way to shop. dmproduce.com.au
The Macedon Ranges wine region is home to many familiar names, such as Cobaw Ridge, Curly Flat, Hanging Rock and Granite Hills, as well as tiny lesser-known establishments. The region's climate is cool to cold, and it produces only small quantities of exceptionally high-quality wines, many available only at cellar doors. Each place has a personality of its own - much like the proprietors. They're all good for a yarn and a story and they'll all offer advice on who to visit next. Many offer local tasting plates and have properties with particularly beautiful vistas.
Liqueurs, cider and beer
In the old butter factory in Daylesford, Roger McLean produces a range of delicious herbal liqueurs. He's also keeping busy working on the area's first single-malt whisky. Down at the Daylesford Cider Company, David Stagg is making beautiful traditional English ciders. His 1500 organic apple trees include 17 varieties of heritage Somerset cider apples with names such as Bulmer's Norman, Tremlett's Bitter, Yarlington Mill, Stoke Red, Brown Snout, Improved Foxwhelp, Somerset Redstreak and Kingston Black. If its boutique beer you're after, check out Dolphin Brewery and Holgate Brewhouse. Both are family-run and doing great things. Paul and Natasha Holgate's brewery is situated in a delightful pub in the pretty village of Woodend and offers simple lovely food.
Great cooks, romantic rooms, our own two-starred table at Lake House - the region has it all. If it's lunchtime cravings you're keen to satisfy, there's a raft of interesting, casual places. Stroll down the main streets of Woodend, Kyneton and Trentham or check out great regional pubs such as the Cosmopolitan in Trentham, the Radio Springs in Lyonville, the Farmers Arms in Daylesford, and the Daylesford Hotel. For the quirky, unusual and very local, try the Glenlyon General Store, and Cliffy's and Wombat Hill House, both in Daylesford.
The region is home to many talented artists. For much of the year their studios are open by appointment only, so it's especially exciting to see their creativity on display for the Daylesford Macedon Ranges Open Studios program. This year's exhibition runs from 1 to 10 November and it's an opportunity to see the works of ceramic, metal and textile artists, as well as painters, sculptors, jewellers, designers and others.
The region has more natural mineral springs than anywhere else in Australia. Over the years it has attracted many healers and we now have the largest concentration of holistic therapists in the Southern Hemisphere. You'll find practitioners of all kinds of therapy here, from traditional Chinese medicine to reiki, shiatsu, naturopathy and more, some of them acknowledged as the best in their field.
Spas and well-being
The region's many day spas offer mineral water bathing and myriad beauty and health treatments in a variety of environments ranging from modern architectural edifices to country cottages. A visit to the region wouldn't be complete without some pampering at places like the Hepburn Bathouse or Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat, both in Hepburn Springs. Our own Salus Spa at Lake House offers bathing and several treatment areas on the edge of a spring-fed creek. Filled with light and great art, it's a haven of tranquillity and indulgence. When I get the time, it's a favourite place to retreat.
Natural mineral springs
The local mineral springs are available everywhere to enjoy. You'll find them bubbling from the ground at the edge of forest tracks but also in dedicated reserves where each spring and pump offers a distinctly different flavour and mineral content. The nearest spring to Lake House is Wombat Flat, on the lake shore directly in front of the property. On a hot day, the cold fizzy water provides the perfect refreshment after a walk around the lake. The oldest pump house and spring is Deep Spring at Eganstown, a few kilometres out of town. The main collections of springs are at Central Springs Reserve in Daylesford, and at Hepburn Springs Reserve. Leitches Creek is another popular spot.
Some great walks commence at the foot of our property, meander around the lake, follow a succession of springs, take off along the Tipperary Track, and proceed onto the Great Dividing Trail. We often pack a picnic for walkers staying with us at Lake House. One of the most beautiful spots along the trail is "the blowhole". It's a waterfall cascading into a rock pool and the perfect place for a swim on a hot day. The majestic and mysterious Hanging Rock just outside Woodend offers the opportunity for walking and climbing. visitmacedonranges.com
Wallabies and kangaroos are common in the area, as are wombats and a large variety of birdlife. Kookaburras fly onto the terraces at Lake House to be fed, and flocks of gang-gangs, corellas and black cockatoos frequently wheel over the lake in front. The specialness of this immediate area is enhanced by the hundreds of acres of Wombat State Forest surrounding our village and many other local hamlets. Almost every route in or out of town brings you into contact with it. It's the natural habitat for many animals and birds including the powerful owl, and it's the lungs of the area. It delineates the village boundaries and helps prevent the suburban sprawl common to many country towns.