There’s little dispute that fresh country air sharpens the appetite. But when crisp gulps of breath are taken at Daylesford, there’s something else afoot. Here in this veritable food bowl northwest of Melbourne, where even casual signposts promise such delights as Apple Tree Lane, the agricultural bounty is so rich I feel my head spinning. But maybe that’s because chef Rosa and resident concierge Mariana are serving breakfast at Dairy Flat Lodge & Farm.
The generous spread is composed not just of parish produce but ingredients from the sustainable organic estate beyond the window, across the fields and forests, towards the hills but not too far away. Yesterday, on a tour of the expansive holdings with farm manager (and agricultural engineer, late of Brazil) Pedro, I looked a lot of fruit, vegetables, herbs, olives and curious plantings straight in the eye. I pottered about in greenhouses with icy windows. I am now well informed on the mysteries of sharkskin melons and warty-looking galeux d’eysines pumpkins. I peeped into polytunnels housing 24 varieties of tomatoes, but such a figure was soon eclipsed by the 48 types of apples just casually hanging about in the orchard, which is also abundant with pears and stone fruit in season. For a fleeting moment I contemplated a spot of trout fishing in the private spring-fed dam, until I was diverted by the outdoor hot tub and fire-pit.
I walked through high-hedged outdoor “rooms” in the Vita Sackville-West style and passed by orderly rows of flowers in the cutting garden bobbing their heads in a brisk breeze as if to the rhythm of a metronome. To stay at this lodge is to feel immersed in an agricultural and botanical reverie. The temptation to overeat and then lie-down has to be tempered with country hikes, electric bike rides and vigorous strolls through the cool-climate plantings of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, resplendent with heritage trees. But all that is blown when a waft of oven-fresh bread is lingering on an early breeze and the trail leads to the on-site bakehouse where Domenico and his fellow magicians are rustling up slow-fermented sourdough, baguettes, brioche and glazed pastries. And there’s no need to venture into the frosty morn this time of year to visit those master bakers. Just pop down to the lodge’s wine cellar and follow a bunker-style tunnel to the ovens and simply draw up a chair.
But now, Mariana and I must discuss the therapeutic benefits of Portuguese custard tarts from her home city of Lisbon while she shows me how to work the gleaming espresso machine in case I wake with the kookaburras tomorrow morning and need to rustle up coffee for our small house-party of four. We are occupying just two double chambers in one wing of this six-bedroom country house. If we’d arrived with more friends, there’d be the possibility to spread across four guestrooms in the main residence and two vineyard suites in an annexe overlooking chardonnay and pinot noir vines.
The decor differs within the accommodation inventory but there’s a cohesive country-chic feel of deep comfort, patterned fabrics, classy wallpapers, well-chosen furniture and fittings, and free-standing bath-tubs positioned, quite literally, to soak in the views. Every guestroom is ensuite, generous in size and has a TV and a king bed. Bed linens and accessories are what you’d expect in a five-star hotel, and vases and bowls of roses and dahlias add shots of colour.
Larissa, daughter of owners Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker, has overseen the design and there are clear Kit Kemp-style touches in her tactile accessorising, high padded bedheads and mix-it-up colour combos. Allan Wolf-Tasker’s large-scale artworks feature in key positions and bronze animal sculptures by Anthony Vanderzweep add charm and whimsy. Fusty country gingham, this is not.
You could just stay put for an entire weekend and lord it up, rural manor-style, or enjoy Dairy Flat in the style of an Italian agriturismo experience and really explore the farm. But this is also a base camp for thorough exploration of the Macedon region, including nearby towns of Kyneton, Trentham and Woodend, all with good retail and dining, or focus on neighbouring Hepburn Springs with its mineral spas and excellent bath-house.