Retreat, surrender

Jayne D'Arcy discovers how easy it is to be seduced by the luxurious indulgence of this Hepburn Springs haven.

I'm surrounded by couples. There are couples with babies taking a break from the new routine, couples about to become parents and new couples connecting. I'm at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat in Hepburn Springs. It's coupledom, but as a singleton, I feel just as welcome.

I've driven past this grand corner-positioned 1930s art-deco building many times; it's there just as you slip down the road to Hepburn's original spa complex. I've often wondered what was inside, and now I know. It's a portal to a luxurious experience that whittles away the stresses of life.

From the minute I check in (reception is hidden behind a wall), it actually feels OK to let my hair down and sink into a relaxed state. The hotel has an ambience that cocoons guests: most of us spend the day reclining on one of six luxury leather couches by the fire, or cozying up in the lounge's nooks.

It's blustery outside, which makes it unappealing to leave the building and, really, there's no need to. Downstairs in this former guesthouse there's a bar, restaurant, bright conservatory and a lounge. The bedrooms upstairs have huge spa baths and decadent minibars.

Outside, the grounds host self-contained villa-style apartments and a day spa.

Soon-to-be new dads connect with their iPads in the lounge while their partners are pampered in the mineral spa. As well as a dozen treatment rooms, a shared area caters to no more than 12 guests. Two hot spas, separated by a not-very-tempting cold plunge pool, overlook perfect gardens.

High tea (held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons) becomes extraordinary when I meet owners Wayne Cross and Chris Malden and secrets are revealed.

When they bought the building more than a decade ago, it needed a huge amount of work, and they did most of it themselves.

They recently brought in an interior designer and, while some of their hard work was undone, it was replaced with great thought. The rugs are made in Nepal and will last a century; the light shades are dyed with tea, and photos of Wayne and Chris' alien-looking Hampshire Down sheep and rare-breed cattle feature on the walls.


I discover that the mineral water in my minibar was sourced by the pair, and that they spent the day delivering calves and watering newly planted quince trees from which the fruit will, eventually, be served in the restaurant.

I'm enjoying high tea, with its delicate china cups, slivers of tasty sandwiches and petits fours, but I'm saving room for dinner. And I'm glad I do. Executive chef David Willcocks recently made the Argus Dining Room his home after years in Spain. His menu includes unique offerings, such as pigeon with miso swedes, and Wayne and Chris' Birch Estate lamb.

Drinking the proprietors' sparkling mineral water while eating their lamb? Surely it doesn't get more local than that.


STAY Peppers Mineral Springs Resort has weekend packages for two from $394 a night, including dinner at the Argus Dining Room and breakfast. See

EAT The Argus offers lunch daily and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.

GETTING THERE Hepburn Springs is an hour's drive from Melbourne via either the Calder or Western freeways.

Jayne D'Arcy was a guest of Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat.