Marie McNamara enjoys the provincial style of a derelict farmhouse transformed into a grand country home.
It could be rural France, but it's Kyneton. We're staying in a 160-year-old bluestone stables conversion, with polished boards, exposed original timber beams, crisp white walls and tasteful French provincial decor.
From the charming attic bedroom window, the paddock below is lushly green in the early spring, and a magnificent Clydesdale horse is dozing beneath a huge old spreading pine tree. At the stallion's nose, a blue wren dances provocatively.
Inside the Stables, it couldn't be cosier. Downstairs, the wood fire heater is glowing and pumping out the heat and the best spots are on the plump sofas crammed with designer cushions.
The view from here is of the historic meandering garden of hedges and herbs, daffodils and roses, still in winter's chilly grip.
The Stables is the work of Australia's answer to Martha Stewart (minus Stewart's conviction for insider trading), Tonia Todman (formerly of TV's Healthy, Wealthy and Wise and Good Morning Australia), and her husband, Michael, a master carpenter.
In less than six years they have transformed a derelict farmhouse, stables, tack room and gardens into a showpiece of two fully furnished, self-contained apartments, a stunning, grand restored home with a semi-commercial kitchen for catering, functions and culinary classes, and 5500 roses for florist supplies.
To be strictly accurate, the Stables never housed horses. It was originally a blacksmith's workshop that made the shoes and shod working Clydesdale horses. The attic bedroom was once the groom's sleeping quarters.
And then we ate We dined in, using the fully equipped kitchen. Yours truly made risotto with chicken, peas and baby spinach and a green salad, accompanied by a 2011 bottle of sauvignon blanc. On Sunday morning we made a cooked breakfast from provisions supplied by Tonia: free-range eggs, plenty of bacon, spinach, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread, yummy jam and several pots of excellent Madura tea.
The deal maker The Stables is very well done. Everything - from its well-appointed kitchen and inviting bathroom to its quality bedding and soft and snug bathrobes - is the best quality.
Tonia is a generous and expansive host who strikes the perfect balance between being available to help guests settle in and giving them enough privacy.
Various rescued animals roam - chooks, dogs, a cat and even the Clydesdale horse - adding a touch of kindness to the place. Tonia acquired "Horsey" as a foal. He had been neglected and was on a one-way trip to the knackers. She brought him home and he is now a rather headstrong five-year-old stallion.
Stepping out Five minutes drive away is Piper Street, Kyneton, with its specialty shops, cafes and excellent restaurants. One of them is Dhaba at the Mill, a fine Indian eatery. Twenty minutes away is Daylesford spa country.
The Stables at Highbank
Address 152 Donnelly Road, Kyneton.
The verdict Fantastic atmosphere, clever, beautiful place.
Price $125 a person a night. Packages available that include culinary classes and catered functions. Price includes gourmet breakfast.
Bookings (03) 5422 2308 or email email@example.com.
Getting there From Melbourne, take the Calder Highway towards Bendigo. Take the first exit to Kyneton, drive into town, turn right at the lights. Turn left at Piper Street, then turn left towards Lauriston and Drummond. Turn left at Sebastopol Road. Highbank is on the corner of Donnelly and Sebastopol roads.
Perfect for Couples, with or without children, or two couples with two children.
Wheelchair access No.
While you're there On the second Saturday of the month, Kyneton Farmers Market comes to St Pauls Park. Stroll Piper Street for a fine example of an intact Victorian-era streetscape.