Farmers Arms Retreat, Lancefield review: Greeted with open arms

Worlds away ... a genial host and superb surrounds make the Farmers Arms Retreat a rare find.
Worlds away ... a genial host and superb surrounds make the Farmers Arms Retreat a rare find. 

A short break feels like a catch-up with friends at this fine old former inn, writes Michelle Potts.

It's late afternoon on a crisp winter's day in the pretty pastoral town of Lancefield when we arrive at the Farmers Arms Retreat - a former 1860s gold-rush inn.

Beyond the wide bullnose verandah of the charming white timber heritage building, we find a sumptuous fit-out with a judicious fusion of oriental and occidental antiques.

Restored pressed-metal walls and ceilings and polished baltic pine floorboards feature throughout. Art, sculpture and urns of fresh flowers add interest.

Five guest rooms, each with a bathroom (two with spas), line one side of the palatial old inn. Softly lit halls contour the grand dining room, TV lounge and conservatory, linking with the sitting rooms, open-plan kitchen, private residence and office on the far side.

We're ushered to king bedroom five at the end of the hall, after a warm welcome from Di and her entourage - black pugs, Isabelle and Lola.

The lovely light-filled bedroom has luxury linens, plump feather pillows and a high-back lounging chair. Heart-shaped chocolates - reduced to empty wrappers in seconds - sit on his bedside table and fragrant yellow roses grace mine. Stepping up into the all-white bathroom, there's a wardrobe, vanity, double shower, overhead radiator and plenty of fluffy towels. By the window, a two-person spa overlooks an elaborate water garden. So tranquil.

Bags unpacked, we hear a gentle tap on the door. "Join us for champagne," whispers our amiable host. Generous and well timed!

Charismatic local artist Salvatore, whose works adorn the walls, is back in town after painting his way across central Europe from his native Sicily. He shares his love of Dubrovnik with Rob the builder, as we join the crew in the conservatory by the fire. Sante!

Hours pass. We swap travel stories, move from Pol Roger to Curly Flat pinot noir and eventually retire to room five.

Pinch me. We're paying and staying in a B&B but it feels like gregarious new friends with exceedingly good taste have invited us to stay the night and join their close friends for drinks. Now that's special.

And then we ate

After a great sleep, we wander into the kitchen following the wafts of freshly baked bread to find Di setting up a breakfast banquet of muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, juice, marmalade, berry jams and plunger coffee, much of it local and organic. Next, baked eggs and bacon made to order. If you plan ahead, for a small fee, Di's happy to cook you dinner or put together a grazing platter with a quality local drop from her nicely priced cellar list.

The deal maker

This is just the perfect B&B - plush, palatial and as private as you like - run by a gracious, intuitive host with fine tastes in food, wine and design.

Stepping out

The Aspy Cafe is a five-minute walk. For a leisurely lunch that's well worth a half hour's side trip, head to Annie Smithers' Bistrot or Mr Carsisi, both in Kyneton's historic Piper Street. Follow the Burke and Wills track through pastures and striking boulder-strewn hills to Heathcote and pit-stop at the region's most celebrated cellar doors along the way. Start off-piste at Curly Flat for the Moraghan's award-winning pinots and chardonnays, then swing up to Cobaw Ridge for a fine example of lagrein - a rare Italian varietal - and finish at Granite Hills to swirl, sniff and sip the newly released, top-end Tor chardonnay and pinot noir among the estate's cool-climate drops.

VISITORS' BOOK

Farmers Arms Retreat

Address 12-14 Dunsford Street, Lancefield.

The Verdict A luxury heritage inn offering exceptional hospitality.

Cost $185-$285 a couple a night, including full organic breakfast. Bookings phone 5429 2288; see farmersarmsretreat.com.au.

Getting there Lancefield is an hour north-west of Melbourne. Take the Tullamarine Freeway towards Sunbury, turn right into Melbourne-Lancefield Road (C325), left into Woodend-Lancefield Road, right at The Crescent and a quick left onto Dunsford Road.

Perfect for Romance and relaxation.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Smell the roses. Enjoy a book under a century-old elm and find sanctuary in Di's beautifully landscaped water garden. Fight puss and the pugs for the fireplace and sip on a glass of something gorgeous in the conservatory. Sink into your spa.