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Hepburn Springs, Victoria

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In the 1850s, thousands of Italian-speaking migrants travelled to the Hepburn area in the hope of finding gold. They were joined by miners from China, England, Ireland, Germany and France. What they discovered became even more precious then gold — Australia's largest concentration of mineral springs.

Located amongst mountains formed by volcanic activity about five million years ago, the twin towns of Hepburn and Hepburn Springs count their blessings from what nature provided. Hepburn Springs retains a separate identity and is strongly identified with its Swiss Italian families. They came from spring towns such as San Pellegrino in Italy and immediately recognised the value of the natural mineral-packed waters now enjoyed by countless people at the bathhouse and spa retreats. In 1864, these citizens who rated the waters above gold petitioned the government to protect them from mining. A reserve was created in 1865.

About 80 percent of the naturally occurring mineral springs in Australia can be found in the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region. Described as ''taking the waters'', the benefits of bathing in the waters are extensive. Bicarbonate balances the bloodstream pH, while calcium and silica are good for bones and magnesium helps keep kidneys healthy. Potassium is good for the mind and muscles. Sodium helps prevent stomach disorders and sulphate purifies the liver.

Each April, Hepburn Springs hosts the Swiss Italian Festa. Getaway would like to highlight some of the attractions.

The Macaroni Factory is Australia's oldest Italian building. The Lucini family established it in the 1850s to meet the culinary needs of migrants. It is built from creek stones, handmade bricks and glass carried from Melbourne on bullock drays.

Great-granddaughter Maria Viola is keeping it alive today with guided tours. She has extensively researched her family's history and tells the fascinating stories behind Giacamo Lucini's wonderful ceiling frescoes, Australia's oldest. Painted between 1862-64, they reflect complicated political statements and depict the family's homeland at Lake Maggiore.

Parma House, nestled in the grounds of Peppers Springs Retreat and Spa, was built in 1864. The heritage-listed building has been refurbished in a modern manner using Italian fittings and fixtures, marble cobblestone tiles and luxury appliances and furnishings.

The four-bedroom villa has Baltic pine flooring with plush rugs, upholstered bedheads, luxurious fabrics and two-person spas in two of its ensuites. The property has a hot tub and private sauna. There is outdoor dining and the original cellar is wonderful venue for functions.

The ground floor dining room has an old oak dining table with French provincial-style chairs. Limewashed walls with a distressed finish keep the original look intact.

Villa Parma's garden is based on Italian gardens of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There are aromatic bay trees, rose and herb gardens, topiaries, a parterre garden and mulberry and chestnut trees.

The very beautiful Lavandula farm was built in the 1860s as a dairy. The newcomers were also avid growers of lavender, olives and grapes.

Owner Carol White used to live in the cottage and after years of having visitors to the farm peer through her windows and wander into her home, she decided to turn it into a museum. It has been refurbished to its 1860s glory and is now open for short visits each afternoon.

Poplar-lined driveways lead to stone farmhouse buildings, or rustica, built by Italians who stayed after the goldrush. The buildings cluster around a cobbled courtyard at the heart of Lavandula. It is shaded by grape vines, surrounded by gardens and lavender fields, with a creek and distant hills donating the perfect background.

Crops are hand harvested, just the way the Swiss Italian farmers always did. Spanish lavender flowers from late October and English lavender is in full bloom from Christmas. Fields are patterned in white, pink, mauve and deep purple.

In January, flower stems are hand harvested by sickle and bunched for sale, fresh or dried. Some flowers are distilled to produce lavender water or oil for body products which are made in the stillroom.

La Trattoria serves mouthwatering dishes — many of the ingredients grown right here at the farm. Diners can eat under the shade of ash trees, in the snug timber room or in the stone loggia. You can have a simple platter, soup or a full meal.

You can stay at Lavandula in a contemporary country house, tucked in at the head of a secluded valley and overlooking Winter Creek. Just a few steps lead you to the dam for a swim. You will hear magpies and kookaburras and at night the skies are filled with stars.

The self-contained house has three large queen bedrooms, walk-in shower room for two, spacious tub with a view, modern timber and stainless steel kitchen, large lounge with huge windows, open fire, heating and air conditioning.

The Tinetti family, the original owners of the Lavandula farm and cottage, are now neighbours and own Cricket Willow. Their establishment is the only place in the world where visitors can see the making of a cricket bat from go to whoa.

Visitors can take a stroll through the willow grove, see a bat being carefully crafted in the cricket gallery, buy a Jabaroo bat in the shop and even smash a few runs in the Tinetti Field.

Willow trees for cricket bats have been growing at Shepherds Flat for over a century, so the area is keeping yet another wonderful traditional alive.

The Savoia Hotel was named after the royal family of the unified Italy. An Italian library was located at the hotel, and it was a popular place for people to gather. There days it serves inexpensive lunches and dinners and for cool months has a warming open fire.


Hepburn Springs in Victoria's Macedon Ranges.


The Swiss Italian Festa will be held between April 18-27, 2008.

Lavandula Farm entry is $3.50 for adults and $1 for school-aged children. Leashed dogs are welcome. Accommodation starts at $260 a night on weekends, two rooms $360, three rooms $400. Due to its proximity to the dam, it is not appropriate for children.

For further information:

Old Macaroni Factory
62 Main Road
Hepburn Springs 3461
Ph: (03) 5348 4345

Villa Parma at Peppers Springs Retreat
124 Main Road
Hepburn Springs 3461
Ph: (03) 5348 3512
Fax: (03) 5321 6295

Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm
350 Hepburn-Newstead Road
Shepherds Flat via Daylesford 3461
Ph: (03) 5476 4393
Fax: (03) 5476 4390

Cricket Willow
355 Hepburn-Newstead Rd
Shepherds Flat 3461
Ph/ Fax: (03) 5476 4277

Savoia Hotel 69 Main Road
Hepburn Springs
Ph: (03) 5348 2314

Lygon Food Store
263 Lygon Street
Carlton 3053
Ph: (03) 9347 6279

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