The Duchess of Duke Street
Story by Sarah Lang
Photography by Megagraphics
The leaves of the golden elm dance in the breeze, breaking the afternoon sun into a delicate lacework of light. Afternoon tea sits on the dark polished table. Dainty chicken finger sandwiches; small Cornish pasties; fruit tartlets; whisky soaked raisin scones; macarons; a pot of tea surrounded by fine china cups and, of course, bubbles. This is high tea at Holyrood House in Daylesford. This beautiful old Colonial Victorian home, with its wide verandahs, wooden fretwork and stained glass windows, was once a fine dining restaurant. It was also the first home in town to have electric lighting. Back then she was known as the Duchess of Duke Street. Today she is one of nation’s best guesthouses.
After a period of slow decline, Holyrood House and its rambling gardens, were lovingly restored by Andrew Matthews and Keith Cleur. Andrew was the personal butler to one of Australia’s most important business families and Keith spent three decades with one of the nation’s most respected retailers. Together they bring a level of service not found anywhere outside our best restaurants or private clubs. Mention you prefer a certain type of chardonnay and you’ll never need to mention it again. Andrew and Keith are warm and welcoming but then allow guests to feel like the beautifully appointed rooms are their very own.
Pre dinner drinks are served in the early evening. While there is no dinner service at Holyrood House, the offer of fine wines and perfectly affinaged cheeses segues seamlessly into the night where guests head out to the great restaurants around town.
The five rooms are beautifully appointed with fine cotton sheets on superbly comfortable beds. Alpaca rugs sit at the foot of the beds. The heating is hydronic. Most rooms have a spa bath, all have soft bathrobes, wifi and a coffee machine. The turn down service sees a house-made treat and perhaps a freshly picked rose placed in a bud vase on the night stand.
It is the detail in the decor that matches the generous yet understated service at Holyrood House. It feels like a home. A restored home yes, but without destroying a century and a half of patina left by the people who lived here before. There seems to be a lifetime of found objects, antiques and objets d’art around the house that evoke a hundred different stories from walks in the bush to grand adventures around the world.
Breakfast at Holyrood is a simply superb. The menu changes daily and the bread is baked every morning. Fresh pressed juices and a warm croissant follow perhaps a cardamom scented rice pudding and spiced figs. There is an ample choice of hot dishes that may include a fresh pea pancake, stir fried red rice with chicken, brioche with roasted field mushrooms and of course the usual offering eggs cooked any way with bacon and sausages.
There is a minimum two-night stay at Holyrood House, which is probably just as well, as it is very easy to get used to the level of service and hospitality.