Decked out ... Healesville's Dairy House, stylish and comfortable.
Justine Costigan finds flowers, good coffee and a well-stocked kitchen at the Dairy House.
The line, "'Twas a dark and stormy night," may be the classic opening for a gothic novel but as the beginning of an eagerly awaited weekend away, it's not such a page turner. It's cold and wet with a biting wind and blinding rain. We are driving through some of Victoria's prettiest countryside but even with the windscreen wipers working to the maximum, you wouldn't know it.
It's only 6.30pm but by the time we get to the Healesville Hotel the town is deserted, with some locals taking refuge in front of a warming fire in the pub. It's where we'd like to be, too, but as we're staying at one of two properties on the outskirts of town run by the hotel, this is just a brief stop to collect a map, keys and breakfast provisions for the following day.
The hotel also runs the Harvest Cafe and the Kitchen & Butcher food store and with its reputation for fabulous produce and hospitality, we're hopeful of a lovely stay.
The hotel receptionist loads me up with food and explains where to find the accommodation. "It's only a few minutes' drive away," she says. "You can't miss it."
But we do, of course, because the weather is awful and I can't read a map.
But we finally find the turn-off to Harvest Farm where the Dairy House (our accommodation) and the Harvest House are located. My mood lifts. I see a sweet little house that's lit up to welcome us. We open the door; a heater has already been turned on. A fire is laid and there's a large sofa, a big rug and a polished wood dining table. Everywhere, vases are filled with flowers.
Through a pretty kitchen are two large bedrooms, both decorated simply with vintage furniture, thick-wool carpet and beds piled high with quilts, cushions and blankets. A modern bathroom with spa bath completes the picture.
The Dairy House may be a simple fibro cottage but it has been given a makeover that makes it stylish and comfortable without losing any of its rustic charm. There's a TV and DVD player, of course, but also a great collection of jazz CDs and plenty of games and books for the children. A large deck includes a barbecue and the garden has a hammock. The balance is just right.
It's the extra touches that make the Dairy House special. The owners clearly love food - cookbooks and food magazines are scattered about and the kitchen is as well stocked as my own.
Many holiday rentals provide the bare minimum: four plates, four spoons and four bowls. Here, there are a dozen wine glasses, platters for serving food, saucepans and sharp knives.
But it's the flowers that really charm - cut from the camellia bushes that line the driveway to the property, they're fresh for our visit.
After our first night's sleep we wake to drizzle but there's hope for blue sky. Our provisions include eggs from the nearby chooks, Kitchen & Butcher bacon, Phillippa's bread, fresh tomatoes, good coffee, organic orange juice and jam. The next day we'll head into town to use our breakfast vouchers at the Harvest Cafe but for our first morning, eating in is just perfect.
Under the kitchen bench there is chook food. The girls head out to feed them and meet the other animals. A cubby house is another big attraction. We plan a wintry day in the mountains - a trip to Lake Mountain or maybe a visit to TarraWarra Museum. Now we know how to find our way back here, we're ready to explore.
The Dairy House
Address Harvest Farm, Healesville. Contact the Healesville Hotel for bookings. Phone 5962 4002; see yarravalleyharvest.com.au.
Cost From $220 a couple for a midweek night, including breakfast.
Getting there Healesville is about one hour's drive from Melbourne.
Summary A weekender run by people who understand the meaning of hospitality. Charming, welcoming and hard to leave.
The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.
All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.