Thursday, 15 August 2013

Style and substance: Melbourne's venerable Hotel Windsor


Although I've had several friends recommend it to me in the past, it was purely through happenstance that I found myself staying at Melbourne's grande dame of hotels: the classic Hotel Windsor, which is this year celebrating its 130th birthday.

Left with a night free prior to flying to South Australia, I was browsing through wotif.com when I came a across a special deal for one-night at The Windsor for just $170. 
                                                                                    Photograph © David Simmonds / www.simmonds.com.au
Offers that seem too good to be true usually are too good to be true but I took the plunge anyway - and instead of the poky old room I was half expecting, I scored a magnificent large bedroom, classic in style, with a walk-in dressing room and well-equipped bathroom.

Win! I'd scored a great room in a fabulous hotel at a knockdown price. 

The Windsor offers something that's been lost at most other accommodation in Australia - stylish and gracious service. There's someone to greet you at the door; someone to take your luggage, smiling faces at check-in.


[And good service is not something you can take for granted in Melbourne: Hello incredibly grumpy dude at Coda!]  

My room wasn't ready (it was 10am) but when I asked the whereabouts of the nearest internet cafe I was offered free use of a small business centre just off the lobby - with fast computers and a printer. There is no free wifi - my only serious complaint. Even if you are 130 years old you can adapt to modern technology, surely? 

When I emerged after a productive a couple of hours I found my former colleague and now best-selling author Peter FitzSimons writing one of his Fairfax columns in the lobby. Now Peter Fitz is a man of style and he told me the Windsor is his home away from home whenever he's visiting Melbourne.
Given the Houses of Parliament are diagonally across the road in one direction, and The European and Melbourne Wine Road in the other, the hotel has position on its side. 

Melbourne's last remaining grand hotel in the style of Raffles in Singapore or The Ritz in Paris, The Windsor will soon welcome its 5 millionth guest (that's more than the entire population of New Zealand) - and the guest who marks this milestone will be rewarded with five nights for two in the hotel's royal suite with the use of a dedicated butler for the stay and a private dinner party for six.

Established in 1883, The Windsor has a rich and colourful history and was the chosen establishment for the drafting of the Australian Constitution. It has been the haunt of a distinguished list of dignitaries and celebrities and notable past and present guests include Katharine Hepburn, Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Meryl Streep, Barry Humphries, Sir Robert Menzies, Paul Keating, Sir Richard Branson, Muhammad Ali and even Kylie Minogue.

While classic in style, the Windsor is also very Australian; offering a variety of experiences from afternoon high tea to a classic rough-hewn Aussie pub, The Cricketers Bar. 

There is a range of room styles, but even the entry level accommodation offers an iPad docking station, LCD TV with satellite channels, working desk, iron and ironing board, tea and coffee-making facilities and that modern essential - a pillow menu. 

Right now, artists from the Victorian College of the Arts have turned the hotel into an arts space with a community exhibition titled Luminescence running until September 8. It features 38 conceptual interpretations of the hotel spaces including lifts, staircases and the lobby. 

And, glory be, all bookings made via the online special rate on the hotel website DO get free wifi during their stay. 

The Hotel Windsor, 111 Spring Street, Melbourne, 3000. (03) 9633 6002. www.thehotelwindsor.com.au.      

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