A weekend for the girls

Sue Wallace indulges in a few days of delicious dishes and pampering.

A hot-pink invitation marked "Girls Only" arrives by email and I reply in record time — it is definitely one I can't refuse.

"Bring your bling, throw in your stilettos, a dress to impress and your runners for a weekend of cocktails, fine food, spa treatments, shopping and walking."

So here we are in Daylesford — six friends who haven't caught up for ages. Just an 80-minute drive from Melbourne, our weekend home is a cosy lakeside house set in a rambling garden with old trees.

It doesn't take us long to settle in, a pile of fashion magazines appear, "chick flicks" are at the ready and as we pop the first champagne cork, Girls Just Want to Have Fun blares from an iPod.

The Utterly Outrageous Drinking Game is discovered on the book shelf but stays there, as we head out for cocktails at The Convent, nestled on the crest of Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens with wonderful views over Daylesford.

Vibrant Tina Banitska tells us tales of her early days renovating what was once the Holy Cross Convent and home of the Presentation Sisters. Nineteen years on, there's now a much-awarded gallery of eclectic art, a Mediterranean restaurant, restored chapel, nuns' museum, New York-style penthouse, glass-fronted function rooms and beautiful rambling gardens.

We enjoy cocktails at the Altar Bar — complete with an original altar and artefacts rescued from the convent — and then watch the sun sink from the veranda, sipping on an Angel's Kiss or Heavenly Convent Champagne.

Dinner is delicious at Sault Restaurant, a short drive from Daylesford, where Tim Austin has created an innovative menu featuring seasonal produce. Set against the backdrop of the Wombat State Forest, it overlooks a man-made lake amid lilac fields of lavender.


The next morning, our lycra and runners come out for an invigorating walk around Lake Daylesford following a winding track past woodlands and gardens. Ducks and swans splash near the water's edge as we chat and walk.

Today's first stop is Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm, just north of Daylesford, where 20 years ago Carol White set to work planting lavender and restoring the stone cottages where former Italian-speaking Swiss immigrants ran a dairy farm from the 1860s.

Willpower wanes as we order lavender scones with lashings of jam and cream, before walking through the picturesque gardens.

Spa treatments are next and first stop is the redeveloped Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa where we bathe in the region's mineral waters, which were first discovered in 1895. We head to The Sanctuary and plunge into the salt pool, lounge in the aromatherapy steam room then stretch out in bubbling waters on spa couches.

There's an extensive range of relaxation and beauty therapies and I choose an Indulgent Bathing ritual with mineral springs, creamy bath mix, coconut scrub and rich moisturiser and leave feeling relaxed and pampered.

A vote is taken for dinner and we dine at Mercato, an 1864 timber building restored with polished floor boards and high ceilings and enjoy a creative menu prepared by Richard Mee.

On our last morning, we enjoy a decadent shea butter wrap at Daylesford Day Spa, which feels as good as it smells, and then it is a short drive to Peppers Springs Retreat and Spa, a 1935 art deco retreat, offering fine accommodation and dining as well as lots of pampering. After a great facial, I visit the Retreat, where I warm up in the sauna and cool off in the plunge pools overlooking the Italian gardens.

"Spa-ing" works up an appetite and lunch is at the funky shabby-chic Frangos & Frangos, where the Mediterranean menu is scribbled on the wall.

Jim Frangos is set to open a 15-room hotel above the cafe, shop and restaurant later in the year and is taking bookings.

It is then time for retail therapy and we hit the shops, dropping into the Pantechnicon Gallery and Red Pepper Gallery, which feature local artists, then check out the antiques and country-style homewares at Peonies and Picnics in Howe Street.

There's a coffee stop at the Himalaya Bakery, known for its organic sourdough bread, and we all try a chilli chocolate or two at Sweet Decadence at Locantro.

All too soon our girls' weekend is over and as I head home I contemplate that eternal question — what's for dinner? Sadly it comes down to a toss up between tinned tuna or frozen pasta.

Instead I am treated to a candle-lit spread, complete with roses — the perfect finale to a girls' weekend away — then gently reminded of next month's boys-only fishing trip. But I'm certainly not complaining.

Sue Wallace was a guest of Tourism Victoria.


Staying there

Daylesford Getaways has a wide range of accommodation. Phone 5348 4422; see dayget.com.au.

Eating there

The Convent, 7 Daly Street, Daylesford. Phone 5348 3211; see www.conventgallery.com.au.

Sault, 2349 Ballan Road, Daylesford. Phone 5348 6555; see sault.com.au.

Frangos & Frangos, 82 Vincent Street, Daylesford. Phone 5348 2363; see frangosandfrangos.com.

Mercato@daylesford, 32 Raglan Street, Daylesford. Phone 5348 4488; see mercatorestaurant.com.au.

Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm, 350 Hepburn-Newstead Road, Shepherds Flat. Phone 5476 4393; see lavandula.com.au.

Spa treatments

Hepburn Bathhouse, Mineral Springs Reserve Road, Hepburn Springs. Phone 5321 6000; see hepburnbathhouse.com.

Daylesford Day Spa, 25 Albert Street, Daylesford. Phone 5348 2331; see daylesforddayspa.com.au.

Peppers Springs Retreat & Spa, 124 Main Road, Hepburn Springs. Phone 5321 6200; see peppers.com.au/springs.

More information

See visitvictoria.com/dmr.