The first time I drove through the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region with my wife, I turned to her, as we meandered past vineyards and through small villages, and said: “what place does this remind you of?”.

“Burgundy,” she said, recalling a time, pre-kids, when we settled into this beautiful part of France for a few days.

That’s what I was thinking as well. Indeed, the region has a long association with Europe.  Back in the mid-1800s, many Swiss Italians moved into the area. To this day, their cultural impact is celebrated with the long running Swiss Italian Festa, and a proliferation of community members with Italian surnames.

Today, the food and wine industry also have a strong European feel. French-style restaurants abound such as Midnight Starling, Colenso and Source Dining in Kyneton and Bistro Terroir in Daylesford. The Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs produces mouth-watering Mediterranean fare, as does Parkland, in Kyneton. Beppe Kitchen + Bar in Daylesford serves up great Italian food, and the iconic Lake House is inspired by Executive Chef, Alla Wolf-Tasker’s formative years as a young chef in France. Of course, there’s also du Fermier in Trentham, Le Peche Gourmand in Creswick.

Ms Wolf-Tasker has, for decades, been a driving force in ‘food provenance’ long before it became a hipster trend. We’re lucky here; the climate, soil and mineral water all combine to provide farmers with the ideal environment for growing amazing produce. And many of our restaurants use predominantly locally-grown ingredients.

Bistro Terroir 1 uai
Bistro Terroir, French Bistro in Daylesford

The ‘terroir’ (a French word, referring to the local environment, mainly soil, topography and climate) is hugely important, and also means that the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region produces some exceptional wine. Pinot and chardonnay are the most popular grapes, yet many little-known grape varieties are also produced, including a very rare Italian grape that was carried over by boat, in the form of a cutting, a few generations ago.

We’re also lucky enough to be home to 80% of Australia’s mineral springs. In Europe, the health benefits of these springs have drawn visitors since at least Roman times. Here’s it’s much the same; indigenous people have been coming to the springs for thousands of years and, more recently, European settlers have been ‘taking the waters’ since the mid-1800s.  You can visit one of the many spa centres for a dip, use the numerous pumps to fill your bottles, or take a leisurely bushwalk to some of the more remote springs. The water at each site has slightly different properties, taste, and carbonation…I’m a big fan of Argyle Spring personally, as well as Tipperary Spring, which is also a great spot for some short, creekside walks.

One of the many things I love about Europe is the small, local produce markets. We’ve got you covered here too. ‘Farmer’s Markets’ can be found in Ballan, Castlemaine, Clunes, Creswick, Daylesford, Kyneton, Lancefield, Riddells Creek, Talbot, Trentham and Woodend.  Most are monthly (some weekly) and to find out what, when and where, go to our markets section.  Meeting the producers and chatting about the best way to prepare, cook or use their products is a great experience.

The producers in our region are, without wanting to use a buzzword, artisanal. Low volume and high quality, they use Farmer’s Markets to distribute their product. Living in Daylesford, we buy pretty much all our meat, fruit and veg at one of the local markets. The quality is miles ahead of what you’re sold in the supermarket, it’s cheap, and you know it hasn’t been in cold storage as long as my youngest daughter has been alive.

Market Woodend 1 uai
Fresh produce at one of our many regional farmers' markets

Most of our villages have small produce stores as well, mainly stocking local stuff. One thing you won’t find are chain stores selling mass-produced stuff that you don’t need.  What you will find l find, is niche stores and great mid-late 1800’s pubs. For me, nothing beats a nice country drive, followed by a stroll through one of the twenty or so villages nearby, followed by a pint of local beer in a pub.

The thing my wife and I loved about our time in Europe was the ‘compact diversity’. Villages are minutes apart from one another, and the drive between each is sublime. That’s what you get in the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges. Plus the food…and the wine…and the rest of it.

Best of all, you don’t have to feel all awkward about speaking French, knowing you should be pronouncing croissant like ‘cwasson’ but anxious that you sound a bit like the imbecilic policeman from the tv program ‘Allo ‘Allo.

Come and see us, and get a taste of Europe, just an hour from Melbourne.  After all, none of us will be going to Europe any time soon.

 

Main image: Villa Parma, Mineral Springs Hotel in Hepburn Springs

About the author