While we’re big fans of holiday rentals and serviced apartments for stays longer than a few days, and for shorter periods we’ll opt for a boutique hotel, we do see the advantages of staying in a big city hotel, namely a central location (most boutique hotels can’t afford high CBD rents) and extensive facilities, from restaurants and bars to spas and swimming pools. These are our suggestions as to where to stay in Melbourne, based on our recent trip:
Chic and sleek, this must be Melbourne’s most glamorous hotel, with a dramatic light-filled lobby, the city’s most spectacular swimming pool (pictured above), and some of the most stylish and comfortable rooms around. We tried a couple of different types, including the City Luxe and a one-bedroom Loft. At almost twice the price of the City Luxe, the Loft rooms are for travellers looking for a special weekend away – whether a romantic getaway or a city escape with friends, because with a dining table for four and comfy modular lounge you can actually do some entertaining here. The City Luxe room would suit most travellers and would be the best option if you’re not planning on spending a lot of time in the hotel. There’s the usual iPod docking station, wireless internet, beautiful toiletries, and well-stocked mini bar you expect at this level, but I loved little touches like food and travel magazines scattered about, and jaw-dropping views of the city skyline. If you don’t find Melbourne to be a very attractive city, you might change your mind after gazing at these vistas for a couple of days. I also love that Mr Hive Kitchen & Bar is downstairs and – being located on South Bank, there are a handful of superb restaurants just minutes away, including Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple, The Atlantic, and Bistro Guillaume.
The Hotel Windsor
Oozing history, this majestic old hotel easily has the most atmosphere of any Melbourne accommodation. Opening in 1883, it actually pre-dates the world’s finest grand hotels, including Raffles in Singapore (dating to 1887), The Savoy London (1889), New York’s Waldorf Astoria (1894), and The Ritz Paris (1898). Aptly, in a city obsessed with its coffee, it was once known as the Grand Coffee Palace. Now, it’s famous for offering the city’s oldest, continually running, afternoon tea – a Melbourne tradition and must-do experience (read about it here) We had an appropriately grand room too, plush, spacious and furnished with antiques and fresh flowers, with views of Parliament House, splendidly illuminated at night. The location on Spring Street opposite Parliament House is also terrific. The free City Circle tram stop is on the corner, making moving around the CBD a breeze, while Fitzroy and Richmond are close by, and a short stroll away are some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, including The European, Chin Chin, Flower Drum, Ginger Boy, and the City Wine Shop (a buzzy bar, as well as a great bottle shop.)
With a colossal lobby of the kind you expect in a Grand Hyatt and expansive, comfortable rooms, the Grand Hyatt is a good choice for fans of the brand. It’s another hotel that’s handily located for eating out in Melbourne – with Chin Chin in the street behind and Izakaya Den on the corner, and a long list of great restaurants within walking distance. Disappointingly though, the hotel doesn’t have the array of superb dining and drinking opportunities we usually expect of Hyatts. In Dubai, for instance, we ate at the Grand Hyatt almost every week for many years – it boasted the city’s best Vietnamese, along with a brilliant Singaporean seafood restaurant, Dubai’s best New York-style steakhouse, and a fantastic Lebanese restaurant, while the Park Hyatt was home to one of my favourite bars and a buzzy Thai hawker-inspired eatery. Having said that, aside from entertainment complexes like the Crown, Australians don’t seem to do much eating in big hotels, leaving them to the tourists, so we won’t hold this against the Hyatt. Our only complaint was with the Internet, which didn’t work and we subsequently wasted an hour on the phone talking to an off-site call-centre IT guy who wasn’t very helpful. The only thing that helped us maintain a sense of calm was the stunning city vistas; ask for a room on a high floor.
The Marriott isn’t a hotel brand we’d ever taken much notice of, to be honest, although we’ve stayed in a few when they’ve been convenient and the prices have been right, generally in the Middle East. They seem to be renovating a lot of their older style hotels from what I understand, and if, like us, you overlooked them in the past, it might be time to take another look. The new décor at the Melbourne Marriott is more contemporary in style, with the clean lines, neutral tones accented by bold colours, and the occasional funky piece of furniture, like the cream leather chair and stools in the rooms. There’s a casual-chic eatery and cafe on site, and the location is handy for exploring the CBD, as well as nearby Carlton, Fitzroy and Richmond. But what really struck us from the moment we arrived were the friendly and efficient staff, from the porter who whisked our bags off to our room (not that we had much) to the front desk staff who offered us (and other guests who arrived) glasses of bubbly from a bottle of sparkling in an ice-bucket on the counter. How civilized.
Situated on Collins Street, the Sofitel is another big luxury five star brand that we weren’t fans of in the past and only stayed here as a lot of people had recommended the Melbourne’s Sofitel to us. The hotel has a monumental lobby – in fact it’s a colossal building, with one of the highest atriums that I’ve ever seen. The rooms are spacious and plush, with one of the most comfortable beds we’d had on the trip, along with all the usual amenities you expect in a hotel in this price category. We had interesting views over the cricket ground and stadium, the Yarra River and the sprawling Melbourne suburbs, although I prefer the city vistas, from the other side of the hotel, and would highly recommend asking for one of those rooms. Like the Grand Hyatt and Hotel Windsor, which are in the same neighbourhood, the hotel is an easy stroll to some of the city’s best restaurants, but even better it is home to Mark Best’s new restaurant Pei Modern, where you must have a meal.
This contemporary hotel is another excellent choice of accommodation for foodies, located adjacent to Melbourne’s superb Queen Victoria Market, and the mini-bar in the rooms has enough space for those planning to bring back a tray of oysters and bottle of sparkling white. Book a room with a terrace balcony and you can sit outside in the warmer months and take in the buzz of the streets below. A short stroll from a couple of Melbourne’s city-based universities, Elizabeth Street is lined with affordable Asian eateries, including several excellent Malaysian eateries that are filled with Asian students day and night. The funky shops on Flinders Lane are an easy amble away, and The Junk Company, one of our favourite vintage shops in Melbourne is a few minutes walk from the hotel. The free City Circle tram also cruises by a couple of blocks from here, making getting around the city a cinch. Rooms are spacious and has iPod docking stations, Wi-Fi and flat screen televisions, and the front desk staff are friendly. The hotel is also home to the Jasper Gallery, which shows rotating exhibitions of emerging artists.