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Great southern land

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The festive spirit was out in full force in the city streets of Melbourne three days before Christmas. As office workers hurried to get last minute presents in their lunch break, we arrived at the discreet entrance of the imposing surrounds of the Sofitel, situated in the tree-lined façade of Collins Street.

After being greeted by the warm hotel staff, we took in the impressive surrounds of the reception and atrium, which sits adjacent to the buzzing Collins Quarter shopping and entertainment precinct.

It was hard to decide which was the better option to start our Melbourne sojourn: reclining in the plush seats of the gallery style Sofi’s Lounge to relax and watch the world go by, or brave the crowds to soak up the pre-Christmas cheer.

In the meantime, the first stop, of course, was to the room. In the elevator on the way up to level 42, a Sofitel advertisement heralded that ‘Life is magnifique’. A description of what was to come perhaps?

Beyond the room’s doors confirmed the Sofitel’s five-star status. The view of Melbourne was indeed magnifique. Jaw dropping in fact.

The room’s design was innovative, if not at first confusing. I found myself thinking, why not have just one entirely open, floor-to-ceiling full-length window to highlight the dramatic view? Instead there was a series of full-length windows, with wooden doors – each one capturing a different, and equally stunning Melbourne vista, almost like a live photo frame.

From the left, the sprawling suburbs reached the foot of the Dandenongs, as trams edged their way up Flinders Street through Richmond and Hawthorn. To the middle, the Melbourne Tennis Centre beckoned, as the glistening Yarra weaved its way past the MCG, the new soccer stadium and the Botannical Gardens. And to the right, Southbank and Port Philip Bay were positioned in all their glory.

The room was tasteful and functional, and included such features as a king size bed, plasma screen, integrated ‘touch pad’ technology for lighting, digital surround sound, a desk and two arm-chairs. The bathroom was roomy, and the mini bar pleasingly well stocked.

After admiring the view, we set out to take advantage of the Sofitel’s prime position in the heart of the city. We started down Collins Street, past the myriad of international designer boutiques, the neo-gothic Scot’s Church and The Regent theatre, down Swanston Street to Degraves Street for coffee in one of the distinctly European-feel cafes.

Even the Christmas crowds weren’t such a bother, or perhaps it was the quality of the food and the coffee, and the friendly waiting staff.

The afternoon sped by as we visited the shopping on offer, making our way through the laneway boutiques, the 19th century Block Arcade, Bourke Street mall, the stunning GPO building, Melbourne Central, the QV building, followed by a leisurely stroll through Southbank. Melbourne is a city made for walking and exploring, much like the Tourism Victoria TV advertisement featuring a lady wandering through the city with the giant ball of red string unravelling while she ‘loses’ herself in Victoria.

After a full afternoon’s walking, deciding on an appropriate dinner destination with so many options wasn’t easy. The acclaimed new restaurant Cumulus Inc or the much-hyped Movida Next Door... As neither take bookings, we decided on the tried and tested, and ever popular, The European, on Spring Street. From the Sofitel we walked two minutes up Collins Street to Spring Street, taking in the summer vibe at dusk, as people spilled out onto the pavements from pubs and restaurants. The European is a stylish establishment, and the food matches its warm, moody ambiance. The highlight was a meltingly delicious baby snapper roasted in herbs, butter, garlic and white wine, accompanied by an impressive wine list.

What made the meal more enjoyable was the prospect of sleeping in the Sofitel’s ‘Mybed’ – a super soft goose down bed, with equally comfortable pillows.

The next morning involved a brisk power walk to the Botanical Gardens, to run the circular track of ‘the Tan’. Weaving it’s way from St Kilda Road, running parallel to the Yarra, before snaking its way up around Anderson Road to Domain Road in South Yarra, the Tan doubles as a popular exercise precinct – in the midst of the city.

The finale to our Melbourne trip was a visit to Chinatown to sample some of the renowned Asian fare, before one last glimpse out those magnificent windows of the Sofitel, and a reluctant farewell.

For out-of-towners, and locals alike, a city jaunt and a Sofitel stay rates highly when you need to get away from it all – or get amongst it all in cosmopolitan Melbourne.

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