By Jenny Hewett
May 24, 2021
IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE MOST hated word of 2020, but ‘pivot’ explains so much of what’s been happening in urban hotels around the world. City stays have suffered mightily during the pandemic, especially here in Australia where people are flocking to more rural and coastal areas in the name of social distancing — a trend likely to continue considering our borders will probably be closed to everyone but Kiwis into next year.
The silver lining for metropolitan hotels is that getting savvier with their short-stay offerings can help entice locals and domestic travelers back, and appeal to a whole new customer base. That is coming to mean a whole lot more added value for guests.
Over the last year, work from home has cheekily morphed into “work from hotel,” and local giants, such as Ovolo and QT, are now packaging midweek staycations as the new way to WFH. When Melbourne came out of its lengthy lockdown last year, newbie Element Richmond Melbourne simultaneously announced its Ultimate Sleepover package, transforming an entire floor into an arcade with karaoke rooms, retro games, a posh cinema and wine-tasting (with plenty of Covid-safe procedures in place, of course). The hotel also offers pet-cations, a big trend in these times.
And at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, there is a series of fresh tweaks, such as in-house bar Grain now mixing cocktails in-room, a new high tea exclusively featuring the new Penfolds x Theinot champagne, and kids’ beds cleverly crafted into luxury tents.
Standard room and breakfast packages still exist, of course, but kudos to the hotels that are exceeding expectations and getting us excited about holidaying in cities. Recently, I traveled to some of Australia’s biggest urban sprawls to experience the newest hotels, quirkiest staycation packages and most deeply Aussie DIY itineraries going.
Here’s what I found.
If the ‘sanitizer sommelier’ cart at check-in doesn’t inspire you, then the fairytale-like setup of your suite at this hotel near The Rocks surely will. This historic stay was built as a cargo wharf in the early 1900s and still retains some of its original wooden beams. My sprawling Garden Bubble Suite features a ’gramworthy human-sized bubble strewn with foliage and fairy lights that almost hovers on a huge patio over the harbor. It turns into a luxe igloo in winter and is equal parts bonkers and brilliant.
I’ve not been back long from a picnic in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens courtesy of Sydney Picnic Co. when the doorbell rings. In wheels a sunset spread (though you can book different time slots of the day) that could feed a football team: champagne, fresh prawns, oysters, cheese and charcuterie. We devour what we can before ambitiously stepping out for a multi-course meal at Italian-Japanese fine-diner LuMi, on Pyrmont’s Wharf 10. Think southern rock lobster with corn Japanese chawanmushi (savory custard).
The Garden Bubble Suite sure is a novelty, but for zoomed-in views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a barbecue party for eight of your friends, the Harbour Bridge Balcony Suite is Sydney on steroids.
Doubles from A$307; pieronesydneyharbour.com.au
“This car isn’t branded, so sometimes people just jump in thinking it’s their Uber,” jokes my driver when I hop into my transfer. The town car of choice at this glitzy 143-room hotel in Brisbane’s arts-and-culture district is a black Maserati, just five days old. And hotel guests can request it at their whim for lifts around the city.
As there are a litany of impressive new eats tempting me around town, I indeed hail my chauffeur to new Med spot Greca at Howard Smith Wharves, where the honey-sizzled saganaki comes highly recommended by Mr Maserati himself. But wait; that’s not even the loftiest of options. If you like your lunch 007-style, Emporium offers a helicopter package inclusive of a Maserati transfer to a private chopper for a three-course ‘heli-lunch’ at one of Queensland’s luxury mountain Spicers resorts.
It’s almost superfluous luxury when back at the hotel you’ve got Emporium’s Terrace rooftop bar, a magnet for Brisbane locals, and, on the 21st floor, my plush Poolside Cabana Suite, which steps out onto an infinity pool overlooking Brisbane.
Doubles from A$474; emporiumhotels.com.au
Infinity pools get all the credit in the hotel world. But there really is no comparison to the swanky indoor pool at the new W Melbourne on Flinders Lane. With its undulating, gold-mirrored ceiling, retro-themed murals, skyline views, contemporary apple sculpture and low lighting, this inner city pool is Gatsby-meets-Daft Punk.
My neon-y Fabulous Suite has that signature W party vibe, and is one of 294 rooms and 29 suites that make up this new stay in the heart of the city’s dining district. You’ll want to power-lunch at new fine-diner Gimlet for the table-made steak tartare; slurp on pipis with butter beans, lemon and basil at wine bar Embla; find crackling-like morsels of guanciale in the cassarecce with smoked egg yolk at pasta institution Tipo 00; and chow down on quail sang choy bao at Chinatown mainstay Flower Drum.
Walk it off on your way down to GoBoat in Southbank to skipper your own picnic boat up the Yarra River, or get grounded in Victoria’s peaceful Royal Botanic Gardens. The Aboriginal Heritage Walks you can take here with guide and poet Den the Fish (Dennis Fisher) provide moving insight into nature and humanity and are a beacon for indigenous culture in Australia.
Doubles from A$379; marriott.com.au/hotels/travel/melwh-w-melbourne/
This leafy 12-suite stay in Melbourne’s upmarket South Yarra offers a nature fix with an urban twist. Overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens, the hotel is made up of self-contained private suites with kitchenettes and balconies overlooking the parkland. My Garden Suite is sexy and sleek and features a double shower, Le Labo amenities and a breakfast of French pastries.
Emily Weaving/Courtesy of United Places (3)
If the surroundings give you, like they did me, a strong urge to relax and reset, the hotel’s Reboot package includes a two-hour guided shirinyoku-inspired forest therapy experience with a qualified practitioner. Or head off-property to the new Collingwood bathhouse Sense of Self, a beautiful, calming space with a sauna, steam room, spas and heavenly massages.
In keeping with the Japanese theme, settle in for 20 courses, including raw octopus and Hokkaido scallops, at high-end Tokyo-style sushi stop Minamishima in Richmond. Alternatively, right next door to the hotel, Matilda 159 Domain by award-winning chef Scott Pickett serves up equally tasty bites such as oysters with bone marrow and toasted yeast.
Doubles from A$428; unitedplaces.com.au
This new Adelaide hotel looks like it’s been dipped in gold; little wonder it’s an extension of the casino. With views over the River Torrens and cricket mecca Adelaide Oval, it also has one of the most coveted vistas in the CBD. White marble, polished gold and neat staff greet me at check-in before I step into the elevator (alongside a local celebrity, no less) and make my way to my plush suite.
Locals can’t stop talking about the hotel’s rooftop bar, Sol, but I’ve got my eye on the ethereal Eos Spa + Wellness. The hotel’s Recharge package includes an express 30-minute treatment for two, followed by a bath butler to personally run your in-room bath and season it with salts and frangipanis.
Skip breakfast and head to the Discovery Food Tour at Adelaide Markets to snack on everything from mettwurst to empanadas. Started in 1869, it’s one of the largest food markets in the southern hemisphere. Also worthy of your taste buds are hip South African eatery Africola and dark-and-moody Osteria Oggi. For wine-fiends, the McLaren Vale region, located just 45 minutes from the city, is heaven on a vine. Life Is a Cabernet offers stylish day trips and tours, including to Mitolo and D’Arenberg, in the comfort of a luxury ride.
Doubles from A$386; skycityadelaide.com.au/hotel/eos-by-skycity/
Adam Gibson/Courtesy of Macq01 (2)
Hobart buildings are architectural mullets. Art Deco at the front, slum at the back. “They’re what your granny would call all fur coat and no knickers,” adds Justin Johnson as he passes me a glass of sparkling wine. The master storyteller at Hobart’s contemporary Macq01 hotel is a captivating raconteur with an army of good quotes in his arsenal. Built on the footprint of an old quarantine shed, the hotel’s appeal lies in its unique role in sharing the stories, characters and ordinary people that have come to define the Tasmanian capital over centuries.
According to Justin, a trip to Hobart should include the three Ms: Mount Wellington, Salamanca Market and the Museum of Old and New Art. I take some of his advice (the VIP Posh Pit ferry experience to avant-garde art hub MONA is a must), but make a diversion for a ‘deep-to-dish’ degustation cruise with Tasmanian Wild Seafood Adventures, on which abalone diver Shane surfaces from the depths with sea urchins and periwinkles and indulges us with a fresh oysters, abalone, salmon sashimi and lobster.
One of Tasmania’s most prolific winemakers, Stefano Lubiana, is on Hobart’s doorstep and his European-quality pinot and chardonnay is worth the half-hour drive. If you’re still hungry, squeeze into teeny neighborhood diner Templo for unique wine and shared Italian eats, such as tagliatelle with corn and bottarga.
Doubles from A$300; macq01.com.au