Fact: Beechworth loves linen, and this tiny spa hotel's fabric game is very, very strong. My room in The Benev boutique hotel is draped in earthy weaves, from the curtains to the layers of bedclothes, throws and pillows.
Having just driven three hours north from Melbourne, my jeans and T-shirt are absolutely out of place. Why am I not swishing around in an unstructured French linen smock, a soft white linen pant or, like the spa attendants, a flowing grey linen tunic?
I need to calm down. "Find your breath," my welcome note advises. While finding my breath, I also find a cupboard containing my very own linen robe to loll about in. Dress-code crisis averted.
But to backtrack: Victoria was on a wild ride during its gold-rush years, and from 1861, the Murray Ovens Benevolent Asylum in Beechworth offered sanctuary and succour to injured miners, homeless women and orphans. From the 1930s until 2005, the aged were benefactors of the asylum. And now it is my turn.
I first saw the old asylum on a visit to Beechworth back in 2017. Abandoned for more than a decade, it was overgrown and as yet unloved, its Flemish gables overlooking Victoria's prettiest gold-rush town.
Its beauty caught the imagination of local spa entrepreneur Deb Donkers, who has spent seven years weaving a boutique hotel and luxury spa into the handmade brick skeleton of the 162-year-old building. The spa opened in August 2018, the accommodation launching six weeks before COVID-19 closed Australia in March 2020.
My room is one of just four - three more rooms, a sensory garden and open-air herbal baths will open later this year. With polished concrete floors, the high king-sized bed faces a stone tub set on a granite plinth and under-lit for a celestial soak. It sounds very hard-edged and industrial, but then, there's the linen factor.
The absence of TV is amply compensated by a Bluetooth speaker and a woodpile beside the fireplace. A complimentary minibar is stocked with granola and yoghurt, fresh juices, ground coffee and plunger, and herbal teas. It's not all puritanical; the kitchenette's cheese knives and fine wine glasses show The Benev isn't afraid to live a little.
Thus draped in linen robe, cut-crystal champagne coupe of chilled turmeric, carrot and orange juice in hand, I'm ready to surrender and slow down, as The Benev recommends.
But lo, a tap at my door. It's Amy, my wellness concierge, who guides me the 30 steps from my room to the spa for my massage, appropriately titled The Slow, where therapist Renee offers a choice of three oil blends.
"Your body will choose what it needs," she says. I can't smell the first one at all. "It's not for you." The second one is faint, but I'm not loving it. The third is just right - the "Well" oil blends sandalwood, ylang ylang, geranium and ho wood - it's my Goldilocks moment.
Massages, I've had a few, and there's something about spas that make me regress to a childlike state. Maybe I surrender too easily, I think as I sip my red tea of hibiscus, mint and chamomile after the 90-minute treatment. But The Benev's signature full-body massage leaves no stone unturned, rendering me to near-liquid state.
The Benev's Pantry is a minimalist white space and menu; I take manager Catherine's recommendation for a mushroom toastie with cashew pesto and a side of pickled red cabbage. She also suggests revving my flat white with a dose of chagra, a mushroom-derived supplement loaded with antioxidants.
The perfect advertisement for such elixirs, Catherine literally glows, a fact I attribute to her serene workplace, trading coffee for elixirs and wearing linen.
It refuels me for an amble down the street - leaving the delicious fragrance of luxury spa in my wake - as I explore Beechworth's historic quarter. There's the courthouse where Ned Kelly was tried, ye olde Instagrammable cafes and distilleries, and several linen-heavy fashion and homewares stores to admire.
Wandering back to The Benev after dinner at Tanswells historic pub on the main street, there's a note on the counter, inviting me to build a platter from the honesty pantry. If I hadn't already mainlined a strip loin, I would have curled up with some smoked trout, camembert and a bottle of Scion's rose, made in nearby Rutherglen.
Instead, I again regress, poring over a tray of bathing accoutrements like a child in a lolly shop: jars of milk powder, sea salt and powdered magnesium, eucalyptus leaves and a dozen bottles of essential oils - fregonia, litsea, mandarin, geranium - are ready to be added to the water. Maybe I should have stuck with one of Deb's suggested blends, but my sorcerer's-apprentice approach does leave me fragrant and ready for sleep. The next morning, a note and a bottle of essential oil await me in the vast shower, inviting me to splash three drops on the floor, so that my shower is infused with its scent. Am I the only person who didn't know this? It's just one of many revelations during my stay. Thus perfumed and hydrated, rejuvenated and educated, The Benev is reason in its own right to visit Victoria's High Country.
Belinda Jackson was a guest of Ride High Country.