Frangos & Frangos Hotel, Daylesford review: Victoria's own Manhattan

Read our writer's views on this property below

Spare us the tat: this is one tourist town an hour from Melbourne, with style and substance, writes Wendy Squires.

Having just travelled through country so pretty you expect wood nymphs are giggling behind ancient trees and butterflies swoop on cue, I wasn't expecting downtown Manhattan.

But that's what it felt like upon reaching Victoria's historic spa town of Daylesford and checking in at the hotel Frangos & Frangos, smack bang in the middle of the town's shopping and eating heart, Vincent Street.

Having escaped Melbourne by car only an hour earlier (one traffic light from the city to the door!), my partner and I were ecstatic with room three, or Rose. Think of Marilyn Monroe's bedroom meeting Andy Warhol's Factory; a cacophony of candyfloss-pink walls and white louvre windows dominated by an antique circular bed piled high with plush pillows. Hovering overhead capturing the decadence was a round mirror as large as a car.

It took a bottle of champagne and a strong desire to see the rest the town before this powder puff of paradise could be left. The shopping spree that ensued also helped eased the blow.

Daylesford isn't a replica of most tourist weekender destinations; generic strips of predictable shabby chic repro shops and bad imported hippie tat.

It is a place of artisan-crafted soaps, butter-soft cashmere throws and finest yet affordable linens. But there's also the quirky galleries you hope for in a small town rich with history, along with curio shops so laden with random treasure they're a small step away from an episode of Hoarders.

However, we hadn't visited Daylesford to shop (although I managed to well enough). We were there to eat and soak - as in the region's famous mineral springs, not just the produce of the 40-odd surrounding wineries.

The one-stop way to experience all our goals was at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat in nearby Hepburn Springs. This former 1930s art deco guesthouse not only hosts superb spa facilities with a direct tap into a mineral spring, it also boasts the much-lauded restaurant Argus.

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It was in the Peppers spa, following a morning of luxuriating in warm mineral baths looking over a sculptured garden worthy of Marie Antoinette, I experienced possibly the most relaxing beauty treatment of my entire indulgent life.

It involved a facial on a soft-pack waterbed, which wraps and suspends the body in a cocoon of warm liquid bliss. It's hard to explain but divine to experience. Segueing from that bed to the bar for a pinot then Argus for dinner is my idea of heaven.

If you can't afford them or simply aren't a spa person, that doesn't mean the springs should be avoided. Just hop to Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (hepburnbathhouse.com) and either join the private bathing areas or book a private tub as we did. Be aware, though, the peace and relaxation factor following a mineral spa soak is off the scale, meaning many leave any energetic plans for another day. I felt like a sloth in lead ugg boots after my bath, thus requiring a delightful nana nap before more exploring.

One place that should be high on a very long list of things to do in the area is a visit to the botanic gardens. Not only are the gardens exquisite and the view of the region spectacular, the food is now also on par thanks to Wombat Hill House (wombathillhouse.com.au), a dining extension of Lake House (lakehouse.com.au), the area's famed foodie magnet. Wombat Hill's more casual affair means simple yet superb food that's reasonably priced and portable - ask for a hamper if the weather is nice.

Next we took a stroll down to the gold rush-era historic icon the Convent (theconvent.com.au). Incredible sculpture gardens are only surpassed by the building itself, now a well-stocked art gallery. Much remains in its original convent state, allegedly complete with original tenants, now ghosts.

Yet however much we managed to explore, it must be admitted that dining dominated. Snack, pick, dine and totally pig out - we did it all. There was Devonshire tea (along with a large purchase of incredible-quality creams and oils) at the pretty Lavandula Swiss Italian Lavender Farm (lavandula.com.au), a rabbit ragout gnocchi downed with several boutique brews at the friendly Breakfast & Beer (breakfastandbeer.com.au) and a memorable brekkie and long digestion of the Sunday papers at Hepburn Springs' Red Star Cafe (theredstar.com.au). Oh, and a couple of return visits to Cliffy's Emporium (cliffys.com.au) for cake treats to die for.

But there was one particular meal that perhaps remains most vivid - and not just because I could barely waddle back to my room after. It was at Frangos & Frangos, looking out over a jewel box of turning grape leaves. I could tell you it was a slow-cooked shoulder of goat but that doesn't do it justice. The fact there was nothing left but a smear of sauce somehow missed in mopping may better explain just how good it was.

Wendy Squires was a guest of Tourism Victoria and Frangos & Frangos.

 

Trip notes

Before you leave Check out the website, visitvictoria.com.

Where to stay Frangos & Frangos, from $215 a room a night, frangosandfrangos.com; Peppers Mineral Springs, from $264 a room a night (garden room villas from $453 a night), peppers.com.au/springs.

Getting there Daylesford is about 100 kilometres from Melbourne Airport. Take the Calder Highway to Woodend, turn left and follow the signs.

Perfect for Romantic couples and getaways with the girls.

Kid quota Didn't see or hear one the whole trip.

Best time All year round but there's something special about the colours in autumn and the open fires in winter.