Daylesford, Kyneton and Trentham serve up the charm and splendour of country Victoria in spades.
Turn right at the fork, follow your nose, then veer left at the big gum and you have reached the mother lode; a land rich in produce, chefs, winemakers, artisans and undulating hills and valleys.
The visit to this former gold prospecting region of Daylesford, Kyneton and Trentham north-west of Melbourne was via Harcourt to Bress, a vineyard and mixed sustainable farm. The energetic and entertaining winemaker Adam Marks has transformed this farm on tough granitic soil by drawing on his time spent in the Bordeaux and Beaujolais regions of France. He has established a thriving vineyard and a verdant greenhouse to service the farmhouse kitchen, which turns out fresh, local fare from spring to autumn, using the morning’s harvest as inspiration. And then there are his chickens, nurtured in the fashion used in the town of Bresse. We and the staff (who were mostly French winemakers) were treated to a farm spread of fresh salads and hearty lasagna.
Further south is Hepburn Springs, famous since the 1880s for its rejuvenating mineral spas. We head on into Daylesford to pick up some electric bikes and ride back to the spa via the bike trail and tree-lined gully. Midweek is an ideal time to sample the range of spas, salt and magnesium pools, the steam room and cool down pools. Thoroughly revived, we were back on the bikes much refreshed and full of verve. There is a range of accommodation in the region from the high end such as the Daylesford Lake House to the more rustic BnB cottages. Our stay was at the recently completed Clifftop at Hepburn which overlooks the ravine, where we were warmly welcomed upon arrival with a blood-red sunset from across the gorge. This series of individual villas is built from corten steel and has perfectly placed day beds for soaking up the views.
We cycled back to Daylesford for more of the French connection at Bistro Terroir, run by chef Matthew Carnell. The family has been heavily involved, with architect father Bill designing the renovation and interior designer sister Megan creating a sophisticated yet relaxed ambience. The food is exceptional due to Matthew’s years spent working in Parisian restaurants.
Heading east of Trentham we visit the Milking Yard Farm, an old dairy set amongst rolling treed hills and lush paddocks, and converted by Bruce Burton into an organic “slow food” farm. This is an exemplar of how quality produce can be created without harmful inorganic fertilisers or pesticides. Sommerlad chickens are allowed to grow in a natural state roaming through a forest, feasting on grubs, grits and organic greens. After the hatching period, Bruce moves the chicks to large mobile A-frame coops which he shifts weekly across the paddocks. As Bruce says, it is a virtuous circle where the chicken manure fertilises the soil enabling nitrogen-fixing sunflower crops to grow, which after harvest provide greens for the hungry chooks.
All this slow food had us anticipating a lunch at the famous Cosmo in Trentham. The restored hotel boasts a wonderful alfresco dining area shaded by magnificent century-old elms. The lunch was an adventurous ploughman’s style spread capped off in a relaxing setting. The Cosmopolitan Hotel now has a cellar and bar with a wide range of local wines to taste and savour.
Further back towards Daylesford we caught up with the dynamic Sharon Flynn at The Fermentary, recently established in an old abattoir. Out of passion and necessity for healthy guts, Sharon has been driven over the years to learn ancient fermenting skills and spread the word via her book Ferment for Good. And out of demand for her krauts, kimchis and kefirs came the need to expand from the home kitchen. Her collaboration with chef Roger Fowler has enabled the production volume to be increased without compromising the traditional artisanal process.
After a lesson in the art of fermenting it was apt to head over to Animus Distillery in Kyneton. Rob and his partners have set up an impressive gin distillery in Piper Street with a welcoming sun-drenched courtyard and cosy cocktail lounge and bar beyond. A vapour pressed production process uses 100 per cent Australian grain spirit and locally grown botanicals for the small batches to maintain quality.
Just over the road the marvellous Stockroom is a hub for artists and designers. The exhibition rooms in a large former butter factory match the presentation of any sophisticated inner-Melbourne gallery. Owners Magali and Jason started transforming the space in 2014 to cater for contemporary product and furniture designers. Additionally they have created a retail space for furniture, fashion, ceramics and jewellery.
Our accommodation in the back streets of Kyneton was the charming Harpsichord House run by Flop House. We were provided with pushies and ride off past the main drag to dine at Colenso, recently relocated from Woodend. Upon our arrival the sheer curtains and venetian blinds add an air of mystery to what lies within. This welcoming restaurant has been repurposed and fitted out with tables and chairs from the 1950s via secondhand sources creating a surprisingly elegant interior. A large vinyl collection lets you select the jazz groove and we are off as Kathryn Russack explains her methods of selecting local produce from nearby markets. We are treated to superb homemade ribbons of pasta with a melt-in-the-mouth wallaby ragout.
We kickstart the next day at Moto Bean with a hearty spread of eggs, spinach and tomatoes. Owner Lachy Evans has a strong belief in dealing directly with his coffee suppliers and travels regularly to South America to ensure quality of produce and process.
There is so much more to explore and indulge in amongst these rural towns and hamlets some 90 minutes from Melbourne. In the days since returning to the big smoke, I have been asked if we went to the amazing RedBeard Bakery, “What about brekky at Duck Duck Goose & Larder?”, and “Did you check out Bromley & Co?”. It’s pleasing to know that it’s just another quick trip out of the city, up the highway and left at the hay-shed.