Life in Wellington is about to get a little more magnifique come July, when the city's new Sofitel hotel opens its doors, becoming the first new luxury accommodation in the capital for 15 years.
I had a sneak preview of the hotel, located off The Terrace at 11 Bolton St, last week, and was particularly impressed with the way its design features reference its unique environment - specifically the Wellington Botanic Gardens, which are just up the hill and that it overlooks.
Each Sofitel is designed with a "cultural link" in mind; in New Zealand the Auckland Sofitel references the harbour, while in Queenstown it's all about the mountains.
The botanical theme has been fused with the hotel chain's signature French elegance and style and the inspiration is reflected throughout - the green, bronze and gold colours of the decor in the plush lobby, the exquisite floral fresco painted on the ceiling of the open-kitchened Jardin Grill, the custom-made hanging chandelier (each flower containing LED lights) hanging in the centre of the lobby, and - my favourite - the pretty frames displaying mounted butterflies and floral prints on the walls of each room. Certain to be a talking point are the walls of the main ladies' bathroom, which are adorned with giant bright flowers.
The free-flowing lobby is open, light and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows and there is a impressive wooden staircase leading up to the high-tech meeting and conference space. The Green Room at the back of the lobby area doubles as a cafe and bar with its own fireplace, and will serve light meals.
The $51 million, 14-storey, five-star hotel, housed in the repurposed Apple & Pear Board building will have 129 rooms decorated in tones of antique gold and bronze with touches of Sofitel brown. It includes 18 junior suites, one Prestige Suite and, top of the line, one Opera Suite. Rates will start from $225.
Guests will be able to integrate their personal devices with the technology in their rooms - every room will have a Bose sound system and Smart TV with bluetooth connectivity.
The sumptuous top-floor suites have balconies with stunning views of the city: the Botanic Gardens on one side, the city and harbour on the other. All rooms have rain showers, Sofitel MyBeds, Nespresso coffee machines, and memorable details: French quotes on the bathroom doors translated into English on the reverse; crystal light bulbs; leather or tasselled handles on the wardrobe doors.
The clientele the hotel will attract will be government, business and high-end leisure travellers.
"It certainly fills a gap that Wellington has at that top level," says Lucy Acott, AccorHotel's director of marketing for New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia.
Sofitel Wellington is within walking distance of Parliament, the CBD and many attractions, including Westpac Stadium, Te Papa, Carter Observatory, and the cable car, and will open on July 1. For details, go to sofitel.com.
It's been a busy few months for AccorHotels New Zealand, with refurbishments at Sofitel Auckland and Mercure Auckland and Queenstown, and new hotels opening in Taranaki (Novotel New Plymouth Hobson) and Southland (Ibis Styles Invercargill).
The hotel group, which has been operating here for 22 years, now has 32 properties across 11 brands in 12 locations.
After Sofitel Wellington launches in July, the group's attention will turn to Sofitel So Auckland, which is being built in the former Reserve Bank building at 67 Customs St East, opposite Britomart. The "lifestyle luxury" hotel is scheduled to open next year and will take its design inspiration from Auckland's volcanic landscape, featuring a rooftop bar planned as a social hub for both locals and tourists. Also in the works are Novotel Christchurch Airport and The Sebel Lower Hutt.
Another five-star Bolton St resident, the independent Bolton Hotel, which has been operating at No 12 for the past 11 years, is known for the fabulous Rita Angus prints that line its walls. Managing director Warwick Angus is Rita's nephew and has access to the private family collection, meaning that many of the pieces on display in its corridors are rarely seen. The hotel is working on an in-house art walk map for guests.
Normally a large Angus print takes pride of place in the recently refurbished lobby, alongside a new replica ship of the hotel's namesake, the Bolton, one of the first immigrant boats to arrive in New Zealand in 1840. Currently, however, the space has been taken up with several works by New Zealand artists - the hotel is a sponsor for the sixth year running of the New Zealand Art Show, which will be held at the TSB Bank Arena over Queen's Birthday Weekend from June 3-6. The show, which features thousands of works by hundreds of New Zealand artists, is visited by more than 10,000 people each year. The Bolton is offering one night's accommodation, a tasting plate from Artisan Dining House, valet parking and two tickets to the art show, from $299. For more info go to boltonhotel.co.nz.
Across Cook Strait, more luxury accommodation is in the works, with the transformation of a Victorian convent in Blenheim into The Marlborough Lodge.
The 10-room lodge, which has been operating as the Old St Mary's Convent B&B, is set on 6.5ha of parkland and vines 10 minutes from Blenheim township. "There is a gap in the market for a luxury lodge accommodation among Marlborough's vineyards, and we're very pleased to be filling it," says Chris Godsiff, owner-operator of Marlborough Tour Company, which has bought the property. The lodge is scheduled to open in November. For more details, go to themarlboroughlodge.co.nz.