Kelly Allen visits idyllic Lake House Daylesford, our Gold List 2018 Regional Food and Wine Hotel of the Year
From Melbourne Airport, Lake House Daylesford Hotel, Restaurant & Spa is an 80-minute drive via the M8, but not being in a rush, I decide to take the scenic route. I meander through charming country towns, many home only to a post office, general store and pub.
I pass rolling farmlands and old stone walls, horse stud farms and several roadside produce stands with honour boxes. I get caught up in the novelty of it all and buy a five-kilogram bag of potatoes – a bit silly considering I only have a seven-kilo carry-on allowance on the flight home to Sydney.
Such is life on a visit to Lake House Daylesford, awarded Best Australian Hotel in a Food & Wine Region in Luxury Travel Magazine’s Gold List 2018. The Lake House is an oasis of peace and tranquility where time appears to stand still, save for the occasional wandering goose and a couple of locals walking their dogs.
The welcoming smell of wood-smoke is in the air and dry leaves crunch underfoot as I drive up to this iconic destination hotel.
My guest cottage overlooks the hotel’s eponymous lake, a spacious retreat with two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room with vaulted ceiling, a deep cushioned linen sofa and soft leather chair next to a log fireplace.
There are two chic bathrooms with Elemis toiletries, heated marble floors and a chandelier hanging over a deep free-standing tub. French doors off one bedroom lead to a European-inspired courtyard complete with lavender, climbing vines, a water feature and fire pit.
The other bedroom has its own fireplace, a four-poster bed and fur rug. Beyond the glass doors and onto a private courtyard are a day bed and sunken spa. Four touring bikes lean against the fence, should I feel the need to go exploring (zero chance of that right now).
Now in its fourth decade, Lake House has become a multi-award-winning hotel of international renown, quite a feat for a boutique property in a small Victorian country town. But thanks to the ever-enterprising and hard-working Wolf-Tasker family and staff, Lake House is continually evolving.
On my recent visit, a new infinity pool overlooking the lake was being built and renovations on the waterfront studios were nearly complete.
Lake House’s culinary force is matriarch and executive chef, Alla Wolf-Tasker AM, who never seems to slow down. Her passion for local artisan farmers and love of the community is infectious – she is truly a champion for the region. But this is a family affair with husband, Allan, a talented artist whose work delivers splashes of colour across the hotel’s walls.
He has a studio nestled onsite amid the fern groves and is generous about letting guests in for a peek at his latest creation. Daughter Larissa, who was only three when the Lake House dream began, has added her talented touch to the interior design of the 33 rooms and suites scattered across the 2.5-hectare property.
Daylesford and its neighbouring sister town of Hepburn Springs are known for natural mineral springs and spas, so it’s no surprise that Lake House has a dazzling spa of its own.
Salus Spa features private treetop cabins with natural mineral spring spas, along with several unique treatments using products by Elemis.
Therapist Tiffany delivers a 90-minute Salus Signature Bliss treatment combining a volcanic rock and warm oil massage followed by a lime-ginger salt body scrub before I’m wrapped in a cocoon, while I have my face and scalp massaged. The treatment concludes with 15 minutes in the Hydrostorm steam and water jet shower to rinse the salts off. Bliss is the word.
There are many things to like about Lake House, but the highlight has to be its acclaimed restaurant, awarded two Chef’s Hats by the Good Food Guide. It might be cold outside, but the dining room is warm and cosy with an open fire in the centre of the room. Large windows on two sides look out to the lake and the walls feature paintings of local landscapes by Allan.
The service is warm and polished but doesn’t feel formal. Son-in-law Rob Wilson is Beverage Director and recommends the eight-course Tasting Menu, which changes depending on what is available locally and in season.
It starts with a sliver of kangaroo sandwiched between flaxseed crackers and just keeps getting better. The freshly foraged forest mushrooms with a truffled mushroom bun are arguably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
Next is Milking Yard Farm chicken with local shaved truffle followed by charcoal-grilled Sher Wagyu with tempura shiitake. I finish with Chocolate in Winter, a delicious roasted apple with chocolate and sorghum.
The wine menu is more than 40 pages long, while the award-winning cellar is home to 13,000 bottles and is available for private dinners and tastings.
The next morning, a private yoga session in my cottage in front of the open fire kick-starts my day. Instructor Adrian brings all the equipment and takes me through 75 minutes of twists and stretches before breakfast.
While the food is an undoubted highlight, there are many activities in the area. A walk around the lake is a must, and you should at least try the mineral water fresh from the pump, footsteps from Lake House. The health benefits are renowned, even if it’s an acquired taste.
Walking to town takes only a few minutes and there are plenty of art galleries, cafes and bakeries, quirky bookshops and enticing boutiques with handcrafted jewellery, decadent candles and French linens.
A stroll to the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens doesn’t take long, and you can treat yourself to a hot apple cider at the cafe (also run by Lake House) in front of the fire when you get there.
Just try to avoid buying too much fresh produce from the many roadside stands you will pass, or like me you will be handing out potatoes to people you meet on the way to the airport.