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October 02, 2010

Melbourne: Classic Hotels Define the City



David Ellis with John Rozentals

THERE may only be a few CBD blocks separating Melbourne's Adelphi and Windsor hotels, but in terms of style they might as well be in different galaxies — and both very desirable galaxies at that.

The Adelphi, in Flinders Lane, just a hop from Federation Square, City Square, Flinders Street Station and the Yarra, exudes cool. It's arty and hip, its decor still edgy nearly 20 years after its construction.

Stainless steel, varnished ply and bright leather combine artfully in the guest rooms, though occasionally, as with the angular sofas, a tad of comfort has been sacrificed to design. Those minor shortcomings are about to be corrected during a major refit.

The avant garde flows through the public areas as well, especially on to the rooftop, with its modern decking, bright chairs and an amazing 25-metre lap pool, which at one end has a glass bottom and juts out over Flinders Lane, nine storeys below. If you're going skinny dipping, can we suggest backstroke?

Even the reception area offers plenty of interest. At the moment it's home to a couple of pieces from the private collection of Damien Hodgkinson, one of the hotel's directors: a metre-tall ceramic stature of Chairman Mao (one of many churned out in China during the 1970s) and a car from an old carousel at St Kilda's Luna Park.

The Adelphi was designed by award-winning local architects Denton Corker Marshall and its construction within the confines of an old inner-city warehouse hailed as a prime example of urban renewal.

How appropriate, because the Adelphi preceded and sits just a stroll away from Federation Square, which in the late 1990s arose phoenix-like next to the Yarra on the site of the old Jolimont Rail Yard.

It's one of Australia's most exciting cultural and recreational precincts, home to the futuristically designed National Gallery of Victoria's Ian Potter Centre, the equally striking Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and on a slightly less cerebral note, Abbaworld.

There's ample shopping and eating, plus a state-of-art children's playground and bike-hire facilities that make nearby Kings Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens just so accessible.

Within easy walking distance across the historic Princes Bridge are the Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria International and the Melbourne Theatre Company's cutting-edge MTC Theatre.

If ready access to this golden mile of culture is high on your list of priorities, so, too, should be the Adelphi.

Less than a kilometre to the north-east, the Hotel Windsor is a very different animal that represents a bygone era among Australian hotels.

It was built in the early 1880s, amid the great land boom that followed Victoria's gold rushes. The developer was shipping magnate George Nipper and, as with the Adelphi, an eminent architect was involved ... this time Charles Webb, who had designed the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and the South Melbourne Town Hall.

Nipper went bust and work was completed by the Honourable James Munro and the Honourable James Balfour, who added the Grand Ballroom, the Grand Staircase and the cupola-topped towers. For a while it was a "dry" hotel, known as the Grand Coffee Palace.

'The Duchess of Spring Street' became a mixing pot for politicians and businessmen, and in 1898 the Australian Constitution was drafted there.

And if you stay there, it could well be in a room once occupied by Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Gregory Peck or Rudolf Nureyev.

To stay in one of the suites — complete with stained-glass door, entry hallway, substantial sitting room, and a dining room that can be set for 10 from its antique sideboard packed with classy crockery, cutlery and glassware — is an exhilarating experience.

So, too, is to wander through hallways restored to their original grandeur, complete with gold-leaf decoration, panelling and chandeliers, and to relax in the elegant restaurant for traditional high tea and champagne, with, of course, cucumber-and-cress sandwiches. Well in advance bookings are essential.

And the Windsor's location is completely appropriate ... right opposite what must surely be Australia's grandest Parliament House, and handily close to Treasury Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens, Captain Cook's Cottage, and Carlton Gardens with its World-Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building.

It's a different side of Melbourne to Federation Square, but it's equally satisfying.s

Book either hotel through travel agents.

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] HOTEL Windsor – a child of the great land boom that followed the Victorian gold rushes.

[] PRIVATE grand-style dining in-suite at the Windsor.

[] THE Adelphi Hotel's glass-bottom pool overhangs the street…

[] CITYSCAPE: looking back towards Melbourne's Arts Centre and city from the Royal Botanic Gardens, exhilarating stroll from the Adelphi Hotel.


- All photographs Sandra Burn White

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