Wish Magazine

The Retreat at Lake House, Daylesford

The North - West outskirts of Melbourne  ease gently into  a  rural  pastiche  of  meandering  byways and  signs announcing free-range  eggs  and · organic  strawberries, tractors for sale and  wombats crossing. I have  escaped the   spaghetti  tangle  of  Tullamarine\'s   ring-roads and meandered  off the  Calder  Freeway at Woodend,  where corner landmark  Bourkies Bake house does a fine line in pies and award-winning vanilla slices. My course is set for Daylesford, in the heart of so-called spa country. This pretty country town, which all but merges with its mineral-springs neighbour (and rival) Hepburn  Springs, is the home of the 33-room Lake House, routinely considered one of country Victoria\'s best gourmet getaways since the mid 198os.

Owner-chef Alla Wolf-Tasker is a bold, brave force of nature, a one-woman storm of publicity for her property and the region.  She’s passionate about the produce of the parish and enormously supportive of young chefs, local growers and providores. At present she\'s campaigning  for better  school-canteen fare and  praying for the  downfall of chicken nuggets, but patrons of The Lake House need not  fear  about  any  collapsed  standards  of catering  on her own patch - this ·is Michelin-worthy  territory and all just 8o minutes from Melbourne.

At \"the start  of the  year, Wolf-Tasker  and  daughter Larissa, who handles the property\'s brand and marketing, opened  The Retreat,  linked  by pathways to The  Lake House  proper but discreetly screened  with bamboo  and brush fencing. It\'s a single-storey two-bedroom abode with a hot tub on the deck off the master bedroom, spacious rooms and an enclave sense of privacy. It has cemented The Lake House\'s reputation as the place to bed down in the Macedon Ranges region and added a much-needed two-bedroom option to the property\'s inventory.

Dining Of course, you would eat in, and you\'d be scoffing in style in a big, airy dining room surrounded by greenery, like a grown-up treehouse overlooking Lake Daylesford. There\'s seasonal  a la carte  or degustation  menus  (also available  as vegetarian)   and  Wolf-Tasker lists  all  her providers at the back, from makers of honey and cheese to suppliers of pork and lamb, most of which are members of  Daylesford  Macedon   Produce   and   have  stalls  at Daylesford Farmers  market on the first Saturday of each month. Breakfast is a delight here, too, with the best eggs you may ever taste and house-made jams and relishes.  As I watch the silver lake, a host of ducks suddenly appears as if a gate has been opened for their release. Bottoms up, they dive for food as breakfasters at The  Lake House spread their toast with apple and lime preserves and plan a clay of farmgate trails and spa appointments.

Hot tip The Daylesford and Hepburn Springs nexus has more day spas than any other  region in Australia, 8o per cent  of the  country\'s  naturally  occurring  mineral  water and, says Alla, \"the biggest critical mass of spa therapists\". But  you  will do  no  better  than  heading straight  from your  room  to  Salus  Spa,  a  two-storey facility on  The Lake   House  premises . Dramatically decorated   with canvases of David Bromley nudes, the spa offers a range of wet treatments, healing massages and facials but  its stand-out  feature  is a pair of cedar  cabins  set above the poplar and silver birch-fringed  lake. These  are equipped with deep   tubs  in  which   to  soak  in  warm,  muscle­ unknotting mineral  water  rich  in magnesium, sodium, silica and  iron; shuttered  windows can  be opened  into the branches and to the watery view below.

Stepping out Daylesford\'s main drag, Vincent Street, is wide and   old-fashioned,   with centre   parking   and veranda posts.  But beyond this country   facade   are myriad homewares stores, cafes and speciality shops. Drop into  House  of Benjamin  Bandicoot  for gorgeous  gifts, Ex  Libris  Prints  for  Florentine stationery  and  French cushions, and Sweet Decadence for handmade chocolates in flavours as amazing as lavender, chilli and sticky fig. Be sure to cline in brasserie style at Frangos & Frangos or head to its casual sibling Koukla Cafe for a sourdough wood-fired pizza in combinations as unexpected as pear with gorgonzola, prosciutto and rocket.  Have lunch   at the delightfully   jumbled   Cliffy\'s Emporium (Raglan Street) and do not miss a visit to the remodelled Hepburn Bathhouse   & Spa; its 19th-century   heritage   core has been cleverly incorporated within a glassy, contemporary building with hot pools, steam rooms infused with lime and black pepper sprays, and a full range of spa treatments.

Everyone\'s talking about The Retreat is being much whispered  about  among  members  of the  local  tourism industry;  it has lifted the  bar at a time when  such  self-contained digs are a recognised accommodation trend. Taking   cues   from  designers  Auckland-based  Virginia Fisher (Huka    Retreats)    and    Britain\'s    Kit   Kemp (Firmdale Hotels  in  London  and  New York ), Alla and Larissa enlisted Coco Republic  to achieve an eclectic residential  feel with a mix of statement pieces and quirky local finds, a clever blend of textures and eras.

There are freestanding tubs in two grey-tiled and white­ shuttered bathrooms, stacks of magazines and books, soft throw rugs and cushions by the barrow load, a Provencal tea-set with bird handles and an equally zany bird-motif chandelier in the lounge room. On the bookcase are displayed ceramic  plates painted  by Victorian  artist Bern Emmerichs and, in the master bedroom,  a tussocky landscape  by Allan Wolf-Tasker, Alla\'s husband,  who has a garden  studio on site and  whose work also adorns  the walls of the Lake House property, its show plates and menu covers. A kitchen stocked with nougat and sweet goodies, fruit, Nespresso coffees and good teas, and two automatic gas fires ready to fire up, combine to ensure this is the haven from heaven to hunker down and wait out winter. Essentials  The  Retreat  tariff  includes   country-style buffet breakfast, lunch of seasonal specialities and regional wine, butler service of complimentary pre-dinner  drinks, in-room   minibar   of non-alcoholic   beverages,  honour cocktail  bar, dinner  in The  Lake House  restaurant  and parking. 

Susan Kurosawa is the travel editor of The Australian.

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