Read our writer's views on this property below
THE rain jacket is Prada, the wellies are limited-edition Hunter. We must be in Daylesford. If I were enacting the vivid dreams of my beautiful life, I would leap in my convertible and motor to Hepburn Springs. But the reality is, it's raining and my car has a hard roof.
However, the destination is still the same — Hepburn's newly renovated Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat.
A staple on the scene since it was built in the 1930s, this elegant country hotel has been loved anew and is revelling in its design roots: antique glass mirrors, polished timbers and ornate mantelpieces. The new restaurant, Wild Birch, is headed by Michelin-star British chef Martin Horsely.
The retreat has 40 rooms and suites with vintage fireplaces, private terraces and little balconies designed for naughty tete-a-tetes.
Wander down the back and you will find two spa villas set in a small vineyard. With modern interiors amid such rusticity, the villas are deeply private. But, for my money, the ultimate country party is to be had at the retreat's nearby Italianate Villa Parma. Built in 1864 and exquisitely restored, the four-bedroom villa is the place in which you would pen your novel or just send boastful postcards to friends.
Daylesford and Hepburn have more restaurants than is good for cholesterol levels but we make a date for high tea at the retreat's Tipperary Bar+Lounge — think fireplaces, leather sofas, oriental rugs and lots of tiny sweet things to eat accompanied by tea served in gold-rimmed cups.
A waitress waves a few champagne glasses at us, trying to tempt me down a road that I know has no return. To negate my gluttony at high tea, I could go for a run or visit the retreat's spa, with its three hot and cold open-air mineral pools, as well as steam rooms, sauna and spa treatments using Pevonia Botanica and Aboriginal-inspired Li'Tya products.
I meet a local recently returned from London, who explains the phenomenon of this sophisticated retreat set in Australia's most chic parish. "It's Armani meets Ned Kelly," she says. Exactly.
Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat & Spa, 124 Main Road, Hepburn Springs. Rooms from $215 a night; Spa Villa from $375; Villa Parma room from $850 a night, minimum two-night stay. Phone 1300 987 600; see peppers.com.au. Hepburn Springs is about an hour's drive north-west of Melbourne.