It’s the year 1888 and a wool storage facility is built in the working class suburb of Pyrmont. In the same year, Kodak launch their first box and roll camera, making selfies accessible to the masses. Today, after two years and $30m worth of developments, the 'world’s first Instagrammable hotel' opens in this very building by boutique hotel operator 8 hotels. Yes, Instagrammable is an adjective now – deal with it. This is a hotel for the hip 20-something who has opinions on architecture, those who took a design subject at uni or the peeps who know their Hefe from their Hudson. Your mum would probably not approve of the exposed brick and splintery pillars in the tiny rooms or the staff dressed in denim – but your mum probably wouldn't stay here. A tour takes us to the hotel’s pièce de résistance- the ‘007 Williamson’ room, which offers its own private entrance. This suite is pimped out with its own bar, a bespoke piece from the 1950s and you can even hire a bartender if you aren’t capable of shaking your own martini. The furniture is eclectic with vintage pieces and modern leather sofas side by side and much of the original building is still on show. “We want the building to do the talking,” says General Manager Roberto Russo. Indeed, if these walls could talk – the round bath is built big enough for three – perfect for when that soirée turns into another popular French expression.
The junior suites are more than adequate with big windows allowing natural light, reclaimed iron bark pillars, exposed brick and bench tops made from the atrium’s original wood.
For the rest of you, the self-aware ‘shoebox’ rooms are deceptively spacious with high ceilings and a bathroom that doesn’t feel like a closet. Yet, starting at $179 a night, does seem a bit steep for something that actually describes itself as cell-block size.
Dining in the hotel is minimal with no room service, a mini bar stocked with healthy, organic snacks and a bar that only serves antipasto plates. The drinking man’s diet might not satisfy everyone but we noticed staff were more than happy to let guests BYO their own takeaway pizza. They do, however, allow you to start the day well – the continental breakfast has all the trimmings, made from locally sourced produce, and a barista who knows his beans.
So why is the year 1888 so important to 8 Hotels?
“The building was opened in 1888 so we thought, ‘what happened in that year that’s relevant today,’” explains Russo. “Taking the Kodak theme, we created the Picture Perfect Package, where guests are treated to free wifi, an antipasto plate with two glasses of wine and breakfast the next day for $239 a night.”
Showing off holiday photos is nothing new, our parents had slide shows in the 80s, so in a way, 8 Hotels are cleverly letting the guests do their marketing. There’s even a gilt frame hanging from the ceiling at reception where you're encouraged to get in on the picture. A true Instagrammer would know that for a perfect fit the frame should be square, not an oversized rectangle, but whatever. There are free iPads and wifi in the rooms so you can lo-fi to your heart’s content, and popular social media fiends with over 10,000 followers are given a free night’s stay. But will it work?
Only time, and the kids, will tell.
“We want guests to become part of the project,” explains Russo. When we point out that you can buy your own followers, their PR company are quick to tell us that you could also buy a night in the hotel for around the same price. Snap. Veruca Salt, they don’t want your money!
If you don’t have 10k worth of followers, you still have the chance to win a free night if you’re really creative with the filtering of your photos. So get in there, relax, recharge the batteries (on your smart phone) and start spreading the news.
Where: 139 Murray St, Pyrmont NSW Rooms: Start at $179/night BOOK NOW
Boquete, Panama has become one of those "it" places that expats have been flocking to relocate to in recent decades. Fortunately, it is still under the radar of places such as Costa Rica and Cuenca, Ecuador; and still retains an authenticity, a low-key vibe, that keep it from simply being gringo-land in Central America. The cool mountain climate, stunning views, great hiking and coffee farming draw short-term tourists, retiring Central Americans and Western expats alike.
Two of these expats are Jane Walker and Barry Robbins from Vancouver, Canada. The couple left their home and stressful lifestyles in high-tech nearly twenty years ago, heading south to Central America yet unsure of where they would finally settle. "As we drove out of the parking lot, I just let go," Jane recalls of their exodus from North America. "The life we were leading was being left behind. I didn't know where we were going, but I knew it would be different."
After a year and a half of exploring the region, they settled in Boquete in 1996 and found six acres of land that was a defunct coffee and orange farm. There, they built La Montaña y el Valle - The Coffee Estate Inn, the first luxury inn in the Boquete area, in a mere 10 months.
The Coffee Estate Inn is exquisite and magical; you can look at the photos and videos online, but they don't prepare you for the riot of flowers and colors and scents that envelop you the second you drive through the gate. Jane and Barry have been avid gardeners all their life, using it as an escape from stresses of the job back in Canada. "We would garden just about as frantically as we worked," Barry says. "So instead of taking the enjoyment and that soul-fulfilling thing of working in the soil, it was just covering up an absence in the rest of our lives." But for the past 18 years, the couple has found their calling and turned their passion for gardening into a labor of love, creating the stunning oasis that is their inn.
"There's no 'growing season' here," Jane says. "You pick up a plant and stick it in the ground, and it simply grows. It's truly a gardener's paradise. It's right for us, right here." Luckily for the rest of us, we have the opportunity to live that paradise if only for a short while. Three very private, luxurious bungalows are the only rooms at the inn, and the couple has thought of every small detail to make the stay wonderful and memorable - right down to heated floors in the bathrooms for those chilly mountain mornings.
There are many very good reasons why VISIONTV out of Canada picked the inn for its "Recreating Eden" television series. The episode featuring Jane, Barry and their Coffee Estate Inn has been syndicated and shown on the Knowledge Network in Canada since January 2008.
The Coffee Estate Inn sits high up on a hill a few kilometers above the town of Boquete, so it is both secluded and peaceful as well as a quick, convenient drive into town as well as local hiking trails and other day trips. Jane and Barry provide loads of detailed information, both during the arrival orientation as well as in the information book left in each guest room; and they always make themselves available to answer questions or provide guests with area information. You can also take a coffee tour of the farm with Barry, who explains the process of coffee farming and roasting, along with interesting tidbits about the gardens in general and life in Panama. The tour is included in stays of three or more nights.
The Coffee Estate Inn remains a small and exclusive hotel by choice. The bright and airy bungalows face the volcano and have spectacular views. All are surrounded and separated by gardens and forest. Each bungalow has a large covered terrace, spacious living room and dining area, kitchenette, separate bedroom with ensuite bathroom, flat screen television with satellite TV and DVD, security safe and free high speed wireless Internet. Windows are screened. Each bungalow also has a fully stocked kitchenette with toaster oven, microwave, mini-fridge and of course - a personal supply of the estate's personally roasted coffee beans, never more than three days out of the roaster.
"Coffee is one of those things that just gets in your blood," says Barry. "This is the place we want to be. This is home."
Rates are $180 per night, per couple using the special internet rate; private breakfast left in the room for each morning is included.
Ecuador has a lot of history, culture, traditions and arts - and with a stay at Morenica del Rosario in one of the country's most charming cities, Cuenca, your accommodations encompass all of that.
Morenica is almost as much a heritage museum as it is a hotel. Sprinkled throughout its four floors are artifacts, handicrafts, antiques and other pieces from Ecuador's cultural timeline. Part of the pleasure of arriving into the hotel is wandering through the place taking it all in; even the stairway is filled with treasures.
This also creates some wonderful common-area spaces in which to relax, work, or socialize. In addition to the K'ipa cafe/bar on the ground level, the second floor has a beautiful, large sitting area. Around the corner is a hidden stairwell to a hideaway nook just beckoning to guests.
Another impressive thing about Morenica del Rosario is the view from the upper floor windows and rooftop terrace; its location right by the Iglesia Santo Domingo allows for stunning views of the cathedral's twin domes from on high - even more dramatic at night, when the church is lit up.
The location can't be beat; Morenica is in the midst of all that is happening in Cuenca, just steps from the main Nueva Cathedral and central plaza, along with top restaurants and shops. Guest rooms are luxurious and comfortable, each with its own unique decor. Amenities include:
Full bed with 2 types of pillows
Digital safe box
High speed wireless
Desk and chair
Rates include breakfast, which is a fairly extensive buffet including fresh fruits and amazing fresh-squeezed juices, hot/savory items and a meat and cheese plate. Every morning there seemed to be a different local specialty also on hand.
It’s not hard to see why Melbourne gets a reputation for being a hipster’s paradise, the city reinvents itself like an aging pop star. When one thing has its day, another springs up. Urban Scrawl conduct daily tours of Melbourne’s CBD, showing you the latest in its ‘underground’ street art culture.
You can’t really call it an underground movement anymore, it’s as present as day and continually changing and growing as the artists populate and evolve.
Starting in Degraves Street in the heart of Melbourne’s city, and pretty much the epitome of its famous café culture, we queue up for lattes and get to know our guide, Zoe, a part-time street artist (of the stencil variety) and passionate lover of the city’s outdoor galleries. Along the way we learn about the different sub-cultures of street art from stickering, to paste-ups to mosaics, to larger than life murals.
“It’s so common now,” Zoe says, “that it’s actually becoming mainstream.” She explains that it’s not uncommon for a bride and groom to shimmy down the lanes to have their wedding photographs taken.
My favourite pieces are the pop culture references, everyone from Michael Jackson to Biggie Smalls and even ex-Prime Minister John Howard and Ned Kelly. “Street artists are the bushrangers of this century,” says Zoe. Which, if you look at a lot of the art, seems true. They have this ‘stick it to the man’ feel. Or perhaps they just all want to be like Banksy, who has famously made Melbourne walls his canvas in 2003.
We learn that there’s even a subversive rivalry between artists, Zoe tells us how disrespectful is can be to go over other’s work. Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a blank space on the walls, so naturally this happens constantly. Some of the detail is astonishing, as are the heights these artists get to, usually in the dead of the night to create their work.
Hosier Lane is one of the most famous spots for street art and it’s here that we get to see an artist at work, because (unlike other cities) it is actually legal in some areas. Armed with a permit and their paint, they go to work in front of the public. It’s like a living, breathing exhibition. Never has watching paint dry been so fascinating.
The Museum of New and Old Art, or MONA, as it is affectionately known, is a weird and wonderful place, where ancient Egyptian mummies are placed next to an overweight Lamborghini and intrigue lingers with you, long after you’ve left the gallery.
I flew down to Hobart hot on the tails of their Lonely Planet accolade (the city was crowned number 7 in the guide book’s top destinations for 2013) with no doubt in my mind that the newest museum in the country had something to do with this.
The first thing I noticed as I walked into the hillside monolithic museum was the smell. Everybody around me could smell it. They looked at each other perplexed. It was worse than any zoo I'd visited. People in museums are inherently polite, but you could hear whispers of disbelief as they furiously checked their guidebooks for clarification. I checked the walls for plaques, but nothing could define this smell.
I decided I had to question an official-looking woman. With nostrils of steel, she answered, without even flinching: "Oh, it's the excrement machine, it mimics the human intestinal system." I had heard that MONA is famous for its shock-factor. But I was expecting a few phallic shaped sculptures and some wild pubic hair brush-strokes - not this.
"We feed it twice a day and it poos daily. You've just missed the 2pm release of faeces, but you can see it over there on the conveyor belt." And there it was - a prize dump, fresh and still steaming before my very eyes. There was a row of machines representing the digestive system, breaking down the food, churning it around like soiled washing machines. "You never know what you're going to get. Yesterday it was runny," I overheard the guide.
We were lucky to see this solid, chorizo-shaped poo. The Mona Lisa of shits. My guidebook, which is actually an iPhone-like device, tells me this is ‘Cloaca Professional’, by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, part of the museum’s Monanism exhibition. The closer you got, the more horrid the smell. And yet, now that my brain has registered this healthy looking shit, the smell was kind of intriguing. Just one more whiff before I go. If this was the ground level, what else was I in for?
MONA is the brainchild of Hobart-born David Walsh, a self-made millionaire, professional gambler, university drop-out and all-round eccentric. He owns the museum and everything in it, therefore he has this I-can-do-whatever-the-fuck-I-want attitude, which is exactly what I love about this museum. This subterranean collection of art could inspire even the most terrified of art-phobics. In fact, the first exhibition is a bar, which we all know helps you digest the experience. (Pun intentional.)
Walsh is also fascinated with death, from the suicide machine, to the collection of funeral songs on a jukebox to the cinerarium where, for $75,000, you can put your ashes on display. I was enamored with the anal lipstick kisses that are prettily pressed on hotel paper. Don't ask. They are exactly as they sound, and perhaps a great idea for a Valentine's Day card, for those who have exhausted every other avenue. That didn't come out right. MONA has certainly perverted me.
Then there's the simple - the white library where the books and bookcases are all painted white. This is the calm before the storm. Outside you are met with 200 porcelain vagina moulds, like the anal kisses, each one tells a different story. Walsh doesn't call it the "subversive adult Disneyland" for nothing. It might not be for everyone but I can tell you there's nothing cheap about it. For a gallery full of shit and genitals it's surprisingly tasteful. Seriously, MONA makes the sex museum in Amsterdam look like a tacky hen's night.