Beat a re­treat

Nest and recre­ation in lovely Dayles­ford

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Five-star ho­tels have long had top-tier ac­com­mo­da­tion that sits loftily above the av­er­age gue­stroom in­ven­tory. Fre­quently, these multi-roomed cham­bers fit cat­e­gories such as Ex­ec­u­tive Suite or Ju­nior Suite, the lat­ter al­ways sug­gest­ing (at least to me) that there would be Beatrix Pot­ter wall­pa­per and rub­ber duck­ies in the bath. The name refers, in fact, to size, which is ev­ery­thing in the realms of hos­pi­tal­ity, cul­mi­nat­ing with the Pres­i­den­tial Suite, which usu­ally means a huge din­ing room, a writ­ing desk be­fit­ting a head of state and ad­ja­cent sleep­ing quar­ters for a ret­inue of minions and min­ders.

My friend Jill and I once emerged from camp­ing in Nepal’s Royal Chit­wan Na­tional Park, all dusty khaki jack­ets and fly­away hair, to find we had been up­graded to the Pres­i­den­tial Suite at our next ac­com­mo­da­tion. The re­cep­tion­ist was in­sis­tent about the un­ex­pected treat but the porter she sum­moned was not. He sur­veyed our frankly grubby can­vas bags and muddy footwear and then grudg­ingly led us to a very smart abode filled with sil­ver­ware and silk cush­ions. Upon his exit, and clearly un­der­whelmed by our tip, he couldn’t re­sist a part­ing re­mark. “And which im­pov­er­ished coun­try are the two Madam pres­i­dents rep­re­sent­ing?”

But I di­gress for here I am in Dayles­ford, north­west of Mel­bourne, tidily at­tired and check­ing into The Re­treat at the award-win­ning Lake House. Like the top coun­try hide­aways in New Zealand, such as Huka Lodge at Lake Taupo and Matakauri Lodge at Queen­stown, Lake House has in­cor­po­rated a self-con­tained cot­tage into its tree-filled es­tate. The idea is to of­fer an even more se­cluded ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion that’s flex­i­ble enough for two cou­ples or a fam­ily to share on a sin­gle book­ing or can be con­verted into two one-bed­room vil­las.

The decor of Lake House’s sin­gle-storey Re­treat feels rather like Huka Lodge’s Alan Pye Cot­tage, with in­te­ri­ors by Vir­ginia Fisher, and owner Alla Wolf-Tasker and daugh­ter Larissa clearly are fans of this Auck­land-based de­signer, the dar­ling of kiwi lodge own­ers across the North and South Is­lands. There’s a touch of Bri­tish de­signer Kit Kemp (of Fir­m­dale Ho­tels fame) about it, too, in the mix-and-match colours and tac­tile tex­tures, clus­ters of per­sonal pieces, and a style that is in­nately residential and deeply com­fort­able, with a touch of wood­land whimsy. In­stead of the clin­i­cal cold of a job-lot dec­o­ra­tor’s eye, there are craft pieces by lo­cal mak­ers, in­clud­ing dis­play plates by ce­ram­i­cist Bern Em­merichs, and paint­ings by Alla’s hus­band Allan, a well-re­garded artist whose gar­den stu­dio is tucked into the 2.4ha Lake House es­tate, which also serves as a larder for the kitchen.

So, sink into am­ply cush­ioned Coco Re­pub­lic couches, wal­low in big tubs in lovely grey-and-white bath­rooms, flick a switch for the au­to­matic gas fires, grab a mag­a­zine from the sub­stan­tial stash of cur­rent ti­tles or check the movie col­lec­tion, per­haps with a tip­ple to hand from the hon­our bar. The Re­treat was opened in 2011 and is linked by path­ways to Lake House proper but also has a sep­a­rate street-front en­trance and is nicely screened with brush fences and abun­dant green­ery. From the front ter­race are views of Lake Dayles­ford, skirted with poplars and sil­ver birches and pa­trolled by dab­bling ducks.

One of its court­yards has a cen­tral fire-pit and the other a daybed and bub­bling hot tub reached via the enor­mous master bed­room. The small de­tails are first­class, too, such as Ne­spresso ma­chines, au­to­matic gas fires, Elemis toi­letries and jars of nougat and home­baked bis­cuits. Kitchen fa­cil­i­ties mean guests can self­cater although why you would do that, when one of Aus­tralia’s best restau­rants is steps away, I just can’t imag­ine. Ex­ec­u­tive chef Alla is a great sup­porter of lo­cal tal­ent and sus­tain­able pro­duce, an in­de­fati­ga­ble cam­paigner and men­tor in the food in­dus­try, and her favoured provi­dores (dairy, honey, meat, fruit, cheese, or­ganic veg­eta­bles and so forth) are listed on Lake House menus. There is a pur­pose-built cook­ing school on site, too, with hands-on tu­ition and mas­ter­classes headed by a ros­ter of guest chefs.

Guests of The Re­treat are served pre-din­ner drinks and canapes in the lounge room by a but­ler from the main lodge — in our case, a de­light­ful young French­man named Frank. That’s Frank as in “Fronk” and over two nights he’s gen­er­ous enough to laugh at our silly im­per­son­ations of Martin Short’s so-named char­ac­ter in Fa­ther of the Bride.

Things to do in Dayles­ford? You are in the heart of spa coun­try and the Hep­burn Springs Bath­house & Spa, a 3km skip away at Dayles­ford’s sis­ter set­tle­ment, is a re­mod­elled fa­cil­ity with an 1895-built her­itage core in­cor­po­rated into a con­tem­po­rary build­ing of stone and glass with hot swirling pools and steam rooms. Lake House’s award-win­ning Salus Spa must be sam­pled, too, in­clud­ing a ses­sion in its in­di­vid­ual cedar cab­ins set like lit­tle tree-houses over­look­ing the lake and fea­tur­ing soak­ing tubs filled with mus­cle-melt­ing min­eral wa­ter rich in mag­ne­sium, iron and sil­ica.

Stroll along Dayles­ford’s Vin­cent Street main drag (cen­tre park­ing, wan­der­ing win­dow shop­pers and ve­randa posts) and tick a few must-do boxes. It’s es­sen­tial to fos­sick at Man­teau Noir for French flea-mar­ket finds; Cire Trudon can­dles with de­li­cious base notes of the likes of bit­ter or­ange, Turk­ish rose or sweet lime; and linen cloth­ing (un­struc­tured jack­ets, shirts and slouchy dress-

es) de­signed by owner Vic­to­ria Var­rasso. At Sweet Deca­dence, cho­co­late flavours in­clude laven­der, chilli and sticky fig or scoop up a bag of marsh­mal­low-stud­ded Rocky Road.

Head to Cliffy’s Em­po­rium on Raglan Street, a charm­ingly jum­bled old gro­cery store and cafe where front win­dows are pasted with signs from decades well past for Bushells tea and in­stant cof­fee. In Hep­burn Springs, The Argus Din­ing Room at Pep­pers Min­eral Springs Ho­tel is rec­om­mended for a su­pe­rior nosh, while back in Dayles­ford’s Vin­cent Street, the ter­rific Koukla Cafe is well­re­garded for wood-fired piz­zas that come with top­pings as sub­stan­tial as braised lamb, pre­served le­mon, pesto, rocket and yo­ghurt. This is a very live­able patch of Vic­to­ria, a mag­net for artists and writ­ers and with a pho­to­genic as­sort­ment of cot­tages and civic build­ings and, im­por­tantly, a maze of a bookshop named Par­adise.

If stay­ing at The Re­treat, by now you will be a com­mit­ted fan of all things to do with Lake House, so there’s no re­sist­ing brunch, lunch or high tea livened up with cham­pagne at the Wolf-Taskers’ Wom­bat Hill House, a mag­i­cal cafe and pantry store atop a rise in Dayles­ford’s Wom­bat Hill Botanic Gar­dens. It’s a buzzy place con­verted from the care­taker’s for­mer bun­ga­low; in­stead of a glitzy mod­erni­sa­tion, there’s been a shabby chic makeover with mix-and-match seat­ing, open kitchen, a con­ser­va­tory ad­di­tion and lovely de­sign touches such as mu­rals of winged wom­bats. A veg­etable gar­den is flour­ish­ing and food is of the com­fort­ing, cosy kind. Visit Thurs­days to Mon­days as Wom­bat Hill House “hi­ber­nates” on Tues­days and Wed­nes­days.

Back at The Re­treat, come bur­row­ing time, you’ll find that Elemis good­ies have landed on your pil­low dur­ing turn-down ser­vice, com­plete with di­rec­tions for a Night Time Aro­mather­apy Rit­ual. Drop patchouli and eu­ca­lyp­tus elixir in the bath, spritz a fra­grant sleep spray around the bed and soothe your fore­head, neck and ear­lobes with a tem­ple balm. Or do none of that as I can at­test slum­ber comes deeply and ef­fort­lessly at this beau­ti­ful Aus­tralian bolt­hole.

The Re­treat, Lake House, Dayles­ford, above and be­low right; Alla and Larissa Wolf-Tasker at Wom­bat Hill House, left

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