Having visited the Yarra Valley wine region southeast of Melbourne on a previous trip — where I recommend Chateau Yering, a lavish Victorian manor — on this occasion, I opted to explore the area around Daylesford, a spa town in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, a 90-minute drive northwest of the city. Daylesford is also close to the wineries of the Macedon Ranges, which are not as well-known as those of the Yarra Valley but are still worth investigating.
I had been drawn to Daylesford by flattering reviews of the Lake House, a country house hotel with 21 rooms and 12 suites set on a wooded and sheltered hillside overlooking Lake Daylesford. The main house is a gracious structure with pale yellow clapboard, and as soon as I entered, I was taken with the homey atmosphere, especially in the library lounge, with its packed bookshelves, fireplace and spectacular flower arrangements. Our first encounter with the friendly, enthusiastic and professional staff set the tone for our stay.
Following a meandering pathway, we arrived at our Waterfront Suite, which at first sight seemed like a wonderful grown-up version of a tree house. An open studio-like space, our living room came with large sliding glass doors and a patio with Adirondack chairs looking out over a lagoon and the shores of Lake Daylesford. Inside, it was appointed with a plush sofa with Merino wool throws, comfortable armchairs, a large desk, an entertainment center, a stone-topped wet bar and a Nespresso coffee machine. The generous bath provided a separate dual shower, a deep whirlpool tub and a heated floor.
Executive Chef Alla Wolf Tasker and Head Chef David Green have acquired a national reputation for seasonal contemporary Australian cuisine backed by a superlative wine list.
Having taken pre-dinner drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the library, we proceeded to the attractive and tranquil dining room, with its central freestanding fireplace and windows that survey a large, tree-sheltered terrace. There, Executive Chef Alla Wolf Tasker and Head Chef David Green have acquired a national reputation for seasonal contemporary Australian cuisine backed by a superlative wine list. Many of the ingredients come from small local producers and organic farms. An imaginative starter combined quail and nori (dried pressed seaweed) tempura with a wasabi aioli, rice-wine pickles and umeboshi (pickled fruits). Among the main courses, my favorite was slow-cooked pork belly with pork and yellow bean dumplings, fermented cabbage, dashi-marinated turnip and cuttlefish. Most of the waitstaff are French and extremely knowledgeable. The wine list offers more than 800 labels, including those from local wine regions — Heathcote, Bendigo, the Pyrenees and the Grampians — as well as notable vineyards from around the world. The emphasis, however, is on the local terroir.
The hotel’s other principal amenity is the lovely Salus Spa, a serene space of blond wood and Tiffany blue surrounded by streams and a screen of trees, where nine treatment rooms overlook Lake Daylesford. For other activities, the eager and obliging front desk staff are armed with seemingly endless lists of local shops, galleries and wineries.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The stellar cuisine; the idyllic parklike grounds; the accommodating staff.
DISLIKE: The lack of a swimming pool; otherwise, very little.
GOOD TO KNOW: The hillside setting would be a challenge those with mobility issues. The Retreat is a self-contained house on the Lake House estate and would be ideal for up to four people.
Lake House 94 Waterfront Room, $860; Waterfront Suite, $970. 4 King Street, Daylesford, Victoria. Tel. (61) 3-5348-3329.