Simple… Minimal… Blissful…
“Shizuka” means tranquility in Japanese. This authentic Japanese guesthouse certainly lives up to its name.
Tucked away in the spa district of Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, Victoria, Shizuka Ryokan is a a 75 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, but couldn’t boast a more different atmosphere.
The retreat accommodates a maximum of six couples. This, along with a no child policy, means that couples or singles have plenty of space to relax, and staff can provide attentive and personalised service.
The current managers purchased the retreat during a visit to the area in 2002. Having lived in Japan in the 70’s, and visiting many times since then, Peter fell in love with the property which just so happened to be for sale. As fate would have it, he and his wife Margie were the proud new owners within a couple of months.
On regular visits to Japan, Margie has tirelessly studied Japanese cuisine, landscaping and design, which she has brought back and incorporated into the Shizuka Ryokan experience.
Specialising in aromatherapy, Margie also manages the spa and wellness facilities which are also on offer to guests.
Whilst accessible by public transport from Melbourne, we’d recommend guests come by car to the retreat as there is so much to explore nearby.
Hepburn Springs is commonly referred to as the “spa country” of Australia. A short hop away from the retreat guests can visit the Hepburn Springs bathhouse, a mineral bathing house which offers both public and private bathing facilities and treatments.
Also nearby is the Mt Franklin chocolate mill, a few vineyards and cellar doors, as well as a multitude of fine dining options, and cultural attractions.
Nearby townships include regional centres of Bendigo and Ballarat, and historic towns like Castlemaine. There is no shortage of attractions to explore, and plenty of beautiful Australian bushland literally in Shizuka’s backyard.
Upon entering, we were warmly welcomed by Peter,who provided us with some information on the retreat and the local area. We were then directed to take off our shoes and leave them, with any cares or worries, by the door.
Peter then introduced us to Hatsumi, a Japanese staff member who would be looking after us and showing us to our room. She had laid out slippers for us to put on which we could wear whilst inside the retreat.
The dining and lounge area of the retreat is bright, spacious, and welcoming.
Beautiful Japanese styled plant displays are set on each of the six tables, and plush, cosy couches are arranged by a fireplace. There is an array of books and boardgames which guests are welcome to take to their rooms to enjoy.
The rooms are beautifully and unobtrusively designed to replicate traditional Japanese-style accommodation.
Authentic tatami matting covers the floor, and guests are asked to remove their slippers by the door to avoid damaging the fragile flooring.
Sliding shoji screens act as a partition between the main room and a small setting overlooking the room’s private Japanese garden courtyard. Each courtyard is complete with relaxing water feature. Relaxing music adds to the ambience. It plays from a stereo, placed unobtrusively in the wardrobe and guests can adjust the volume or switch it off at will.
Each room features a stunning kimono hung as a wall feature. The rooms also feature a decorative “tokonoma alcove”, which traditionally displays a piece of prized Japanese artwork.
The only furniture in the room upon our arrival was a low coffee table, with cushioned floor set chairs.
Hatsumi placed our luggage in the wardrobe and explained that she would lay out our futon bedding while we were at dinner. Our bed would then be ready for when we returned from dining that evening.
Hatsumi then showed us the bathroom, which in all rooms is complete with a two person corner spa and aromatic salts. She then settled us at the table and brought us some green tea and shortbread biscuits, leaving us to revel in the distraction-free ambience.
Three nights a week, Shizuka offers guests the option of a Japanese banquet for dinner which is offered at time of booking for $70 per person.
The food in the banquet had to be the highlight of our stay. Tapas style, and offering about 10 small dishes, the menu changes in line with seasonality and availability of fresh produce.
Our menu contained the likes of de-constructed salmon sushi; rice cracker prawns with a lime and sesame mayonnaise; seared scallops with yuzu and soy dressing; lemon, lime and yuzu cheesecake and a home made chocolate and ginger ice-cream (just to name a few).
Each dish was a flavour sensation, and was freshly prepared by Margie. A range of local wines are also available, as well as a list of different sakes. We gave the Japanese plum wine, and sparkling sake a try – both were delicious!
Whilst western breakfast options are offered, we would recommend trying the traditional Japanese breakfast. This was an array of tasty treats, including cooked salmon, Japanese style omelette, sautéed spinach, white miso soup, and a cucumber and seaweed salad. Needless to say, we were pretty satisfied.
An hour after finishing breakfast Margie greeted me in my room for a spa treatment I had booked.
There are a range of treatments Margie offers guests, some of which form part of an accommodation package, or which you can book before your arrival. I thought I’d try the reflexology treatment, which I’d never experienced before.
Margie led me to the treatment room and if I had thought that the experience at Shizuka couldn’t get any more blissful, I was about to be proved wrong. To make the most of your time at Shizuka, I’d recommend treating yourself to one of Margie’s treatments – the only disappointment is that you can’t take her home with you.
Although our stay was only one night, we left breathing deeper, thinking slower, and much more mindful. The atmosphere of the retreat coupled with the bushland setting made for one of the most rejuvenating get-aways I’ve ever experienced.
It’s the amount of care and attention to detail that makes all the difference. With the help of their Japanese staff, Peter and Margie have managed to create a unique experience for guests; a little piece of Japan that’s close to home.
To see all of the photos we took during our stay at Shizuka Ryokan, visit our Flickr album.