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Easy breezy lazy days in Sydney are too easy when the city boasts so many coastal towns..
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
Photos by Justin Steinlauf
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.
Tours cost $AUD25 urbanscrawl.com.au
Pulling into the driveway at Merribrook Retreat in Western Australia's glorious Margaret River region, a forgotten yet welcome wholesome feeling takes over. Rolling onto the dirt track sidelined by virgin forest we come across a sign pointing to reception, even though we haven't spotted a single other building yet.
Originally-owned and hosted boutique accommodation, Merribrook Retreat is perched on 160 acres of natural bushland, maintaining its private, luxurious and escapist vibe with just 10 architecturally-designed villas on offer. Warmly greeted by Lorraine and Richard, who founded Merribrook in 1984 and built it from ground up over the years to follow, we are immediately made to feel welcome and easily make ourselves at home.
Despite being located just off a main road and close to wineries, galleries and townships, the retreat is perfectly set in a peaceful valley where the sounds of birds, insects and frogs provide a peaceful backing track and kangaroos freely hop through the grounds.
The true beauty of Merribrook Retreat however lies in its ability to be exactly the kind of holiday you are longing for, whatever that may be. It's the perfect base to explore the Margaret River region's tourist hotspots, as well as a remote sanctuary for those wanting to completely escape all that bustle. It functions as a beautiful conference, training and team-building site, and for those seeking an active holiday there are many peaceful trails to walk, winding roads to ride and beautiful oceans to swim nearby.
Common luxuries for all
With only 10 villas to share all common facilities between, it's not hard to find yourself a quiet spot to relax in. Boasting the largest private pool in the district - 20 metres long and solar-heated - as well as a gorgeous spa with starry sky views and a Swedish sauna, be sure to pack your bathers.
If you find water more relaxing to look at than to swim in, the retreat is perfectly perched on a slope overlooking a freshwater lake, with views from all around the grounds. A small deck and chairs await by the lake, while there's plenty of grass to picnic on.
The Lakeside Lodge, surrounded by beautiful gardens, is a great place to seek respite from your room during an extended stay. The lovely outside verandah overlooks the lake whilst inside it feels much like a warm and cosy ski lodge. You'll find books and DVDs to borrow and tea and coffee making facilities for any time of the day. In the winter, there's even an open wood fire to curl up by.
Kitchen facilities and breakfast
If you aren't heading out to sample the local restaurants at night, a fully stocked commercial kitchen - and a BBQ on the verandah - is available for guest use.
Breakfast however is included. That you will be thankful for. Consisting of a starter buffet of fresh seasonal fruits, cereals, muesli, toast, pancakes, muffins and sweet breakfast loaves, a few different options for a cooked breakfast follows. Locally roasted Yahava coffee and speciality teas are also served.
A villa for every occasion
Merribrook's Lakeview Deluxe Villa provides a high level of comfort for two. It boasts a private verandah and ceiling-to-floor glass offering uninterrupted views over the freshwater lake. Features include a Queensize bed and daybed, exquisite bathroom facilities and a deep double bathtub, and a fan and heating for temperature control.
The Forest Edge Garden Villa suits those looking to bring a few extra people. Recently refurbished, these villas are set amongst beautiful gardens and orchards. Features include a Queensize bed and single daybed in the bedroom, as well as a table and chairs alongside a Queensize bed and single daybed in the main room. It also has a modern bathroom and heating.
The Luxury Lakehouse is Merribrook's answer to your perfect romantic weekend away. Situated well away from the rest of the retreat, and with its own private driveway entrance, full privacy is guaranteed. Fully self-contained, the Luxury Lakehouse boasts its own outdoor starlit spa bath, a natural outdoor shower, and a private deck with BBQ facilities overlooking a small lake. It also features plenty of living space including a couch and kitchen, a Japanese-inspired bathroom, Kingsize bed, reverse cycle air-conditioning, and beautiful robes, candles and flowers to set the scene. If you should wish to leave your hidey hole, breakfast is still included at The Lodge.
All rooms feature a CD and DVD player, iPod dock, small fridge, tea and coffee making facilities. Private massage and pampering services are also available in your villa, which are very popular. It's advised to book ahead.
Take a stroll near or far
A three-kilometre walking/running circuit brings the chance to see more of the Merribrook property if you're feeling active or looking to immerse yourself in nature. Stroll past lakes, mature cork oak, olive and stonepine plantations, and if you want to bring your own bike, you can even ride the track.
For the serious walker, consider the Rails to Trails Track, a five minute drive away, as well as the Cape to Cape Track from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, accessible just four kilometres away. Merribrook Retreat offers Cape to Cape Walking Escape Accommodation Packages, which includes pickup and dropoff each day of your self-guided walk.
Local grooves around Margaret River
From the beautiful coastline to the fresh green forests, and with many charming towns in between, the Margaret River region is world-famous. A prime wine-producing district, there are some 200 vineyards and 90 wineries to choose between, as well as a number of quality cheese and chocolate factories.
Crowds also flock here to experience some of the best surf along the West Australian coastline. Top-notch restaurants, galleries, and arts and crafts outlets also add character to the region. If you plan to really explore, consider buying the Margaret River Gold Pass to get the best value out of your Margaret River holiday.
Armstrong Road 114, Cowaramup, WA, Australia
Contact tel: +61 (0)8 9755 5599, fax: +61 (0)8 9755 5081
Services pool, sauna & steam, massage