Victoria Clark stays at Sofitel Wellington, the capital city's first brand new hotel in 15 years, where the surrounds are luxuriously, romantically French.


Head towards The Beehive; the Parliamentary "business" end of The Terrace, then nip round the corner into Bolton St. There, Sofitel Wellington opened on July 1, offering 129 rooms over 14 floors. It faces the beautiful Bolton Street Memorial Park, a not-too-intrusive freeway, and the bush-clad Thorndon Hills.

Check-in experience: A smiling porter was right there to take our luggage from the taxi, and we were greeted with a warm "Bonjour!" and efficient service at the front desk.

Room: Quiet, luxurious and tres stylish - the interior design is proudly French. A colour palette of soft, antique-gold, pewter, black and white makes for superb elegance. The Sofitel emblem adorns everything from the robes and slippers to the towels and, cutely, even the ironing board cover.


Bathroom: Romance is evident with a hand-written (in French) message of love on the frosted-glass bathroom door. It's all glossy, black tiles and you can choose from a massaging shower head or a rain-fall option from above.

The toiletries? French, of course, and orange-scented by Lanvin.

The bed: Ooh yes, that bed! Every bed in every Sofitel, worldwide, is a custom-made Sofitel MyBed, as are the linen and pillows (there's a pillow menu). Not too hard, not too soft ... You can order your own brand new MyBed to be delivered to your home.

What's so good about this place?: It's kind of sweet to see the designers of this very French hotel acknowledged its very New Zealand surroundings. The former New Zealand Apple and Pear Board once stood on this site, so little apple and pear sculptures adorn shelving in the hotel lounge bar. They've tipped their hat to the nearby Botanic Gardens, too, with stunning, voluptuous florals in the interior design, including two-metre-tall, framed botanical photographs by New Zealander Vicky Fulton. The hotel's General Manager is an Otago boy with loads of international hotel management experience, who's come home to take the helm.

Food and drinks: A softly lit, sumptuous lounge bar is at one end of the ground floor; the restaurant, Jardin Grill at the other (with alfresco dining on offer, too). As serendipity would have it, the lease came to an end on Nelson's award-winning restaurant, Mint Dining Room, just as Sofitel Wellington was due to launch, so they snapped up Mint's chef and founding owner, Grant Dicker, to be Executive Chef. Watch him and his staff creating your meals across the bench in the open kitchen. Oh, and the croissant dough is imported fresh from France. Yes, truly! It's about "ensuring consistency of quality". And little glass jars of Bonne Maman preserves are sent over from France, too.

And, the bad?: Je ne sais quoi! Not a single irksome thing.

What's in the neighbourhood? The seven-plus hectare Bolton Street Memorial Park is actually Wellington's oldest cemetery (opened in 1840) and final resting place of some notable New Zealanders. Oriental Parade is perfect for walking, jogging, or cafes where you can people-watch. Te Papa Museum will envelop your mind; the historic Cable Car will haul you from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Gardens, where you can wander back down sealed garden paths; and the 225-hectare native bird sanctuary Zealandia is a 10-minute drive over the hill. It also offers guided, kiwi-spotting night walks.

Sofitel Wellington is at 11/17 Bolton Street, Wellington. Phone: (04) 472 2001.