Melbourne: Glam it up a little

By Tim Roxborogh

Tim Roxborogh gets a taste of the high life in Melbourne

The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne. Photo / Supplied
The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne. Photo / Supplied

Melbourne: The Hotel Windsor

I was in Melbourne for two nights to see the second most successful songwriter in history, so I thought it only fitting to hunt down one of the city's most luxurious and historic hotels. For an occasion as auspicious as a Barry Gibb concert (220 million albums as a Bee Gee, songwriter of 21 US or UK #1 hits, second only to Paul McCartney), I did a bit of research to find the grandest of grand dame Australian establishments and came up trumps with the Hotel Windsor.

The adage if it's good enough for Katherine Hepburn, Muhammad Ali and Barry Humprhies, it's good enough for me, rang true. Not surprisingly, in the 130 years the Hotel Windsor has been operating, some of the biggest celebrities in the world have made it their temporary home. And while a full refurbishment is still in the (near) future, the present day Hotel Windsor remains something to behold, with its Victorian era grandeur. With a proud notability as the only surviving Australian hotel of its era (and older than London's Ritz and New York's Plaza), this is no ordinary address.

Complete with "do not touch" grand pianos dotting the floors, a ballroom with stained-glass windows, and a dining room of such old world detail to make this youngish mind recall the sets of the movie The Titanic, my home for this Barry Gibb weekend was in room 217 - The Windsor Suite. It's fair to say that for an unromantic travelling party of one, it cut the mustard.

Indeed, mustard would've easily been cut with a travelling party of four. There was the regal master bedroom the size of most 5-star hotel suites, a spare bedroom, a full-sized living room, a marble bathroom and a dining-room with six leather seats of Gatsby-esque opulence. They looked like the sort of seats to make flatulent noises when sat on in the way only fancy leather seats can. I loved them.

Located opposite the old Victorian parliament buildings and on the edge of Fitzroy Park, within minutes of setting out on foot I realised that Melbourne gets to have its cake and eat it too. Sure, I'd visited many times before, but this was the first time in a CBD hotel in the middle of summer.

Amid the civic buildings, the parks, the office towers and the genuinely awe-inspiring apartment-skyscrapers, it made me wonder why we won't do the same in Auckland. A love of stunning old architecture like that of the hotel, built in 1883, and of unique, modern skyscrapers like the 297m Eureka Tower needn't be mutually exclusive.

With an early morning arrival and a late checkout, there was plenty of time to explore the famous laneways, as well as tourist must-dos like the Queen Victoria Markets, Captain Cook's parents' house in Fitzroy Gardens (built in 1755, transported from England in the 1930s), Bar 28 at the Crown Hotel, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the Rod Laver Arena.

There's also pleasure in walking around the inner-city. In a place famed for its trams and public transport, central Melbourne is at its most rewarding when explored as a pedestrian and without time constraints. This metropolis can sustain a specialty shop of, for example, nothing but ever-decreasing Russian dolls.

As for your home base, a hotel's architecture will always be an added drawcard in the luxury market. While it's true that Melbourne has several grand newer hotels to rest the head and lighten the wallet, The Windsor is so comfortably in a separate class as to make it a must-visit destination for history and architecture buffs as well as for people who just want a treat with a bit of a difference.

TimRoxborogh stayed as a guest of the Hotel Windsor.

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