If you’re not spending more than a few days in the city and so don’t want an apartment rental, our next suggestion as where to stay in Melbourne would be one of the city’s brilliant boutique hotels.
While we like a luxe place occasionally, our preference for a stay of a couple of nights would always be a boutique hotel because of its individuality of style, its intimacy, the personal service, and the location, which tends to lean toward interesting inner-city suburbs, rather than city centres. These are our picks of Melbourne’s best boutique hotels.
The Lyall Hotel
The lobby bar at this luxury hotel in South Yarra was just buzzing the day we arrived. What we were to discover was that many of those people sipping cocktails or sitting on glasses of wine were locals. One local real estate agent apparently shows up almost every day with his laptop and uses the place as a second office. What’s not to love about a hotel that the locals treat like home? The Lyall was another place we’d been trying to test out for years but never made it, so we were pleased our stars aligned this trip. Firstly, it has to be said that the staff here are the best in Melbourne. No argument. Nothing is too much trouble and they take pride in doing anything anytime for guests, from organizing a helicopter ride or Yarra Valley wine tour to booking a massage. The latter of course being a breeze to do with a superb spa on site, but you know what we mean. The spa, by the way, is first-rate. Light and white, they use Sodashi products and offer a long list of treatments, including body polishes and wraps, hydrotherapy, and ‘rituals’ such as the Time Zone Recovery. This is a family-owned hotel and the lovely owners Rowina and Peter Thomas are frequently around, when they’re not travelling themselves – and the fact that they’re keen travellers shows. This is an all-suites hotel, but in fact the suites are like compact apartments, with an abundance of space, super-comfortable furnishings and bedding, and a kitchen fitted out with all kinds of appliances and utensils. They also offer complimentary Internet – something that we found in many boutique hotels, but rarely in the big luxury sleeps.
This is another family-owned property and again, it shows, in the best possible way. The owners are a former interior designer-cum-antique collector and her sons, one a Victorian winemaker and the other an owner of a boutique hotel and cooking school in Vietnam. As you can imagine, this grand, Italianate 1902 building in South Yarra (seconds from the Botanic Gardens), is idiosyncratically decorated, with a combination of antiques and art that could so easily not work, however, here they do. Expect an eclectic mix of Asian antiques, Aboriginal art, and fascinating old Australian finds, such as the weathered bench discovered in rural Victoria that oozes history, which serves as the counter in the reception area cum café-bar. The managers – former filmmaker/artists (you can see Julian’s work in the hotel) – have been here forever and their passion for the property and care for guests also shows. Many guests are repeats, which is always a good sign, and it’s the warm welcome, relaxed atmosphere and flexible approach that keeps bringing them back. All of the spacious rooms (which, incidentally, are individually decorated and all slightly different) have kitchenettes, and there’s a book with local restaurant menus, so if you feel like staying in, there’s no problem ordering home delivery from one of the local eateries. Forget to pick up a bottle of wine? No problem. You can get a reasonably priced bottle from the downstairs bar – a Hatton wine of course. How personal is that? Having said that, there are a couple of good restaurants in the neighbourhood, including the buzzy Bistro Gitan.
Art Series Hotel Olsen
The Olsen is located in the same South Yarra neighbourhood as The Lyall and Hotel Hatton, and it has to be said that even if you’re not a fan of South Yarra (there are lots of fashion boutiques, cafés and bars, but only a handful of great restaurants), that this is a terrific area to stay in simply because of its superb tram connections that will take you to St Kilda, Richmond, the city, and all the way to Brunswick East (and Rumi – yes, we tested that one out!). Prahran Market (do the market tour) and the superb Market Lane cafe (get along to a coffee cupping), are a ten-minute mosey away. During our Melbourne stay, Mama Baba also opened within seconds of the hotel. Now, while we love the concept of the Art Series hotels – and what’s not to love about a hotel that dedicates itself to a renowned Australian artist, in this case the legendary John Olsen, hangs their work on its walls, fills its rooms with beautiful coffee table books and biographies of the artist, and even has the artist in to the hotel for functions (Olsen himself turned up for a party to open the hotel’s new restaurant during our one-night stay!), and offers art tours of the hotel – we’re still not convinced that this and the other hotels in the Art Series, are indeed boutique hotels. The Olsen is stylish, spacious and the facilities and amenities are fantastic, but with 229 rooms, frankly it’s too big to be a boutique hotel.
This unassuming boutique hotel on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, became a bit of a favourite of ours. It’s not overtly chic and its compact rooms are understated in terms of style, however, the hotel has a subtle quirkiness and cool factor that we liked, most evident most in the public spaces, the funky café, bar and lobby, and the elevator with its kitsch interior. Decorated in a contemporary, minimalist and very functional style, the rooms don’t jump out at you when you enter them, but rather they wrap their arms around you – we felt comfy, almost cocooned, during our stay here. And that’s partly due to the warmth of the staff and manager, who are right up there with the team at The Lyall in the friendliness stakes. While the staff don’t advertise their willingness to go all out, we inadvertently tested them when we asked for an extra chair for our room. I have to say here that I had asked the same of a staff member at the Citadines and was told “no”, they couldn’t give us an extra chair, and we only got one when (horrified) I went to the manager. Here I asked and we received. Nice. The location on Fitzroy Street is also super. It’s a 5-minute stroll to the Esplanade and St Kilda Pier, another 10-minute amble to Acland Street for shopping and pastries, and it’s just a few minutes up Fitzroy Street itself to one of our favourite Melbourne restaurants, Golden Fields.
One of Melbourne’s original boutique hotels, The Prince has been around for as long as we’ve been going to Melbourne. In fact, we were guests here in a former life when our feature film premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival many moons ago. We’ve stayed here a few times since during our stays in Melbourne and we like this property a lot. The hotel is stylish, the location is superb, there’s a famed restaurant, Circa (recently renovated and with a new menu; see this review), and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. And they boast beautiful spa products. The only thing we don’t like about the rooms – apart from the fact they are looking a little tired and need a bit of a spruce up (which is imminent) – is that their small mini-bars don’t allow you to store your own goodies. And what delicious stuff there is to bring home to try with Acland Street, St Kilda’s delicious delicatessens and pastry shops just a short stroll away. St Kilda Pier and The Esplanade are also minutes away. The hotel was recently taken over by the Melbourne Pub Group, the restaurant and bar have been renovated and changed their focus (see this review), plus they have plans to renovate the rooms. We can’t wait to return in a year or so to see what they’ve done with the place.
Middle Park Hotel
This is not strictly a boutique hotel. It’s a pub. And it’s a very atmospheric pub too, with a terrific public bar serving up delicious counter meals and a bistro that is the place to be in Melbourne for Sunday lunch. (Arrive early and order the roast special!) Yet the rooms upstairs feel as if they belong in a smart boutique hotel room rather than a pub, which is why we’ve included it here. This hotel is also owned by the Melbourne Pub Group, and probably exemplifies what they do best: great affordable and accessible food, stylish and casual surrounds, and warm, friendly staff. All that makes for a great stay – and again, we found the staff here super-helpful and lovely. Sometimes pub rooms aren’t the best to recommend unless you’re doing an outback Aussie road trip, but in this case, we’d highly recommend these – they’re fitted out well, super-comfortable, and with a tram station across the road, a superb location halfway between the CBD and St Kilda, Port Melbourne (home to Omah’s) close by, and South Melbourne Market just one tram stop away, this is a brilliant place to base yourself for a Melbourne stay.