As many of you are aware, over the Christmas period, my boyfriend & I fled Melbourne in search of Australia’s spa capital — & relaxation holy grail — Daylesford, Victoria. Daylesford is a tiny little town, set at the base of an enormous mountain range. It is most well-known for the mineral springs that surround the area, & the mineral water that is used in the multitude of spa treatments available there.

Cherry Tree Cottage
I decided that we should do something more exciting than staying in a huge hotel while we were in town, & started searching online for an interesting-looking b&b. I was a little bit concerned that we might end up in a place that seemed like it belonged to someone else’s grandmother, so I had a good poke around. I was sold as soon as I saw Cherry Tree Cottage’s slogan, proclaiming that the cottage was a “doily-free zone”. I thought it was totally hilarious, so after looking at the pictures & showing them to my boyfriend, I called David (the owner) to book in to the Garden Spa Apartment.

One of the first things you should know is that David is awesome. He made me an egg sandwich on Christmas day because I was hungry — what a champion! He has a great personality, he’s an artist & a bit of a kook, & he does a fabulous breakfast. We were presented with a sheet of paper every day to fill out, with options like egg, bacon, avocado, sausage, mushrooms, tomato etc., which we ate in bed. No skimping here! The weather was quite cold while we were in Daylesford, but on the last day it warmed up, so we had breakfast outside at a little table & chairs — very civilised.

The apartment we stayed in was behind the main house, but it was enormous, with a bedroom, kitchen, living area & generous bathroom. The kitchen was well-equipped, with a microwave & a fridge, & there was complimentary champagne & a cheese platter waiting for us when we arrived. The spa bath was absolutely incredible, with fantastic jets & (more than enough) room for two. We spent a lot of time sitting there, water bubbling away, making plans for 2008. Spending time at Cherry Tree Cottage was the best ever way to see out 2007, & make way for 2008. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Old Hepburn Hotel
An Irishman at the visitor’s information centre recommended that we pay a visit to the Old Hepburn Hotel. He said they did amazing pub food, & on our first day there, that was exactly what I was in the mood for. After driving up & down the road & eventually going back to the information centre, we found it. It was a Real Country Pub. Intense. Anyway, the food was mind-blowing. I had the most amazing Chicken Kiev I’ve eaten in my entire life. The plate awash with garlic butter, & a huge, juicy piece of chicken, generously crumbed, sat in the middle. So good. Not necessarily very healthy, but SO GOOD.


Salus, the spa attached to The Lake House, was the first one we visited. I was very impressed with the whole thing. We arrived & were given robes & slippers to change into, before being led down an outdoor pathway to our tree-top mineral spa — pictured above. We walked into a little wooden cabin with a tub near the window. We were given a choice of oils (lavender or rose — we picked lavender), the woman fired up the spa & left us to it. We had booked in for half an hour, with my next treatment following soon after, but as there was a bit of a wait until my boyfriend’s facial, she said he was welcome to stay in the tub until his therapist was ready. Very cool. The spa was lovely: the smell of cedar, shutters that we could open or close as we pleased (without getting out of the tub), the cool fresh air outside, a beautiful view out over the trees.

Simon had an Urban Cleanse facial, while I had a Relaxation Massage in another room. My massage therapist was fantastic, very talented & I felt incredible by the time it was over. I asked him to mostly concentrate his efforts on my back & shoulders, which he did, & I was really happy with everything he did. I don’t think it could have been improved. Simon doesn’t remember much about his facial (any more!), but I know that when he came out of the room, he was totally blissed out & dazed. Salus did everything right. The facilities were clean & modern, the staff were very friendly, personable & skilled, & we left feeling really good about ourselves.

The Lake House
We had Christmas dinner at The Lake House, & were incredibly impressed. The Lake House has won squillions of awards, so we were expecting something pretty impressive, & they really delivered. We had…

Soup: Cucumber vichyssoise, smoked trout custard, house cured salmon, crème fraîche.
Entree: Pressed duck terrine & morello cherry sauce.
Main: Roast breast of free-roaming turkey, wild rice, cranberry & pine nut pilaf, miniature turkey pie, sweet potato.
Dessert: Nougat parfait, berry sorbet & local berries.
As well as miniature plum pudding, mince pies, chocolates & Christmas cake to take home.

The service was efficient & crisp, the food was fabulous, & it was worth the $120/head price-tag. We were also given Christmas crackers!

Mineral Spa
Mineral Spa is adjoined to the infamous Peppers Springs Retreat, a huge old hotel which has been tarted up & given a shiny new visage. It is an imposing piece of architecture, surrounded by sculpted hedges & a gravel driveway. We walked in the front, were issued with robes, slippers & a locker key, then sent off to get changed. The receptionists were very “business-like”, & not particularly welcoming. We then reconvened in this strange waiting room area, which had tiny teacups & a lot of books on the soul etc. We waited in this area for at least half an hour before one of us was called off to begin our treatment. (Not cool — we were there on time.)

I had a Mineral Spa Signature Li’Tya Ritual. At two hours (& at a cost of $240), I expected it to be pretty damn marvellous. This was reinforced by the amazing woman I spoke to on the telephone, who outlined what I’d be getting for my money (I never met her in person, unfortunately). The signature ritual involved “a gentle nourishing facial incorporating our unique pressure point face clay mask, a full body mud wrap, hair & scalp hydrating mask, soft pak float bed, hydrotherapy massage bath, & finish with a complete head to toe sustenance for the skin”. What I got was less impressive.

I walked into the room & was told to sit down & put my feet in a bowl of warm water. My therapist offered me three jars to sniff, & told me to choose which one appealed to me most. As it turned out, I chose the “rejuvenating” oil, which was used in my foot bath & also in my mud wrap. Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The rejuvenating oil was called “pepperberry”, & contained menthol. She said that sometimes, the menthol in the mud was quite cold, so I should be ready for that. I lay down on a bed which was heated underneath, & she started to apply the mud to my body. She put it on quite quickly, then wrapped me in a sheet & pulled up the flaps from the side of the bed, which were filled with warm water. This was quite comforting, kind of like wearing a big hot water bottle, but soon the menthol kicked in & I was freezing. I am one of those people who really feels the cold & oh baby, did I ever feel the cold! She applied a mask to my hair & scalp & gave me a little head massage, which was nice but I couldn’t concentrate on it because I was so cold. It was not relaxing in the slightest. I started to shiver & shake & just when I thought I couldn’t take it any more, she hit a button & I started to sink.

I didn’t know it when I first walked in, but the “bed” I was lying on was actually a waterbed. Somehow, the hard surface which was initially supporting me started to dissipate, & I was lying in a big, warm bed — except I wasn’t getting wet. It was great. I was so warm, I was really happy. She told me she was going to leave me for a bit, so she walked out & I lay there, enjoying the warmth, wriggling about a bit like a mermaid (remembering, of course, that I was stuck to a sheet with a whole lot of mud so I couldn’t move much). When she came back, I was feeling really good, & she told me to clamber out & come through to the next room where there was a hydrotherapy bath awaiting me.

I climbed in but it wasn’t very warm (I was still covered in menthol mud, brrr!), so I asked her if I could have more warm water. Somehow, the taps didn’t work, so she ran off & came back with a jug of hot water, which she poured in. This did the trick. Then she left me to it. The bath was incredible. It had handles on the side & a bar for your feet to go under, as well as a display screen which indicated which parts of the body the jets were working on. The bath went through its routine — jets on the back, jets down the legs, jets on the shoulders, & about a million other combinations. It was great & totally weird & I was loving it. When it finished, about half an hour later, there was a big lovely ring of mud all the way around the bath, & I was squeaky clean & soft.

I went back into the original room & my therapist covered me in oil & massaged me. It was a very, very good massage. This was definitely her forte. Yum. Then she gave me a facial, & I think she hit the button which immersed me, again, & that was the end. I ran to the locker room looking like a troll doll — hair sticking up in the air — rinsed out my hair mask, & got dressed.

It was a strange experience, almost a case of the technology being too advanced for the people, or the technology making the people look amateur. The bath was great but if you don’t know how to make it warmer, then that’s a problem. The woman who took me for my treatment was very kind, but didn’t seem to know what she was doing — I actually had to prompt her to do the hair & scalp hydrating mask, for example. The facial was disappointing, too — it involved her putting some kind of cream on my face & touching about three pressure points once each. Perhaps the problem was that I was expecting one person to be great at all the things involved in the spa ritual, but that’s what you pay for, right? If you’re thinking of going here, I definitely recommend anything that involves the soft pak float bed or their hydrotherapy baths — when it comes to the rest of it, your mileage may vary.

Simon had a Li’Tya Kodo Massage for 90 minutes. He was very impressed by it, & thinks his massage therapist was amazing. Apparently, it was very much like a regular massage, but there was additional limb stretching, a little bit of reflexology & some pressure point work on the hands. Simon uses massage etc. to help him work through emotions & spiritual issues, & he felt that the massage he had was very beneficial in helping him sort through a lot of stuff. Highly recommended!


Also: Simon went to see Ann Holden for a crystal healing, which he said was fantastic. We paid a visit to Lavendula Swiss-Italian Lavender Farm, which was beautiful — unfortunately the proliferation of flies made it impossible to eat our lavender scones. I did buy lavender oil to use in cupcake baking, though! I found a tarot reader on the main street who also practised EFT (exciting!) but she was away so I didn’t manage to see her. We had brilliant fish & chips at the Daylesford Seafood Bar — the best I’ve had in Australia, in fact. People rave about Avant Garden secondhand bookshop, but I didn’t see a single thing I wanted, & MAD magazines were $20 each! Yow! I had much better luck at the Daylesford Book Barn, beside the lake, where I spent $100 & scored an enormous stack of brilliant books.

Daylesford is an excellent town to spend some time in. Don’t expect to rage it up — this is the kind of place where you roll out of bed, get pampered, then roll back into bed early. Our cellphones had no reception whatsoever, & there wasn’t a chance in hell of finding a wireless connection (I took my Macbook), which at first was kind of irritating, but it turned out to be a good thing. We were only away for about four days, but it seriously felt like we had been gone for a month. It was remarkable, & exactly what we needed. If I did it again, I’d either stay at Cherry Tree Cottage or The Lake House, I’d skip the Mineral Spa at Peppers Springs, & I’d pay a visit to Acqua Viva, which I hear is very good.