LUXURY HOTELS: Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, Queenstown, South Island, NZ
Style: Sophisticated but friendly
Scene: The luxury heart of a pretty lakeside town
Seen in the lobby: Great Outdoors lovers who like a great indoors too
From the Juliet balcony off my room at Sofitel Resort & Spa I can see icy green Lake Wakatipu and across the rooftops of Queenstown to mountains capped with snow like dollops of ice cream. This has to be one of the best views in town, from one of the best rooms.
Queenstown on New Zealand's South Island has long been known as action-central offering everything from jet boats to horseback riding in countryside that has inspired filmmakers like Peter Jackson to film his
Lord of the Rings Trilogy on location here. It also has more bars and gourmet restaurants than one small town has a right to.
The surrounding mountains have names like old 'pipe and slipper' uncles but Bob, Walter and Cecil Peaks provide far from tame entertainment. There are world-class walking trails through them and awe-inspiring helicopter flights over them. Back in town are those adrenalin fuelled jet boats on the lake, not to mention the obligatory bungie jumping off the bridge.
In winter it is the skiing that tempts not only New Zealanders but many Australians from over the Tasman to ski higher peaks than Oz can offer. And for luxury lovers who like a dose of comfort with their exercise Sofitel Queenstown Resort & Spa is in the heart of the action.
I drag myself away from the view and close the curtains. Inside in the warm is the luxury of downy doonas and white pillows piled snow-drift high on the signature Sofitel Mybed. And if I don't happen to like my particular pile of pillows, there is a pillow menu so I can choose another more to my taste. Rooms are decorated in coffee and cream décor. Possum-fur throws add another touch luxury.
In the bathroom is a rainforest shower and to help me enjoy the extra-deep designer tub that bit more the hotel's resident 'bathologist' can draw my bath and mix special oils into the water. A package that also includes a bath pillow to rest my adventure-weary head on and an after-bath robe and fluffy slippers laid carefully where I can climb into them after my soak. Sofitel bathrooms also come complete with heated floors so there will be no nasty cold shocks when I step onto the tiles- this is indulgence all the way.
After the bath I sprawl on the fur throw to relax and watch a DVD on the wide LCD TV back in the main room, which also has Wi-Fi for those who are determined to catch up on business or surgically attached to Facebook. Thoughtful touches such as in-room hot chocolate and complimentary glove warmers cater to frosty fingers.
Thoughtful touches such as in-room HOT chocolate and complimentary glove warmers cater to FROSTY fingers.
There is also the sublime LeSpa (exclusive to the French-owned Sofitel Luxury Hotels around the world). The spa in at Sofitel Queenstown offers a mixture of French and New Zealand treatments that somehow seem to offer the perfect combination of indulgences. It has five treatment suites, including two for couples. There is also hammam steam room (a perfect après ski destination), a Jacuzzi, infrared sauna and overflow bath and a manicure/pedicure area. Sofitel say the spa is designed for 'top-to-toe bliss' and I have to agree. The French influence comes in the form of Decléor products. But
The Luxury Travel Bible suggests you also indulge in one of the Maori rituals. The Signature treatment, 'Ataahua', for example, offers an exfoliation and full body wrap with local Manuka honey and volcanic mud followed by a hot and cool stone body massage using native greenstones called 'Pounamu'.
The indulgent bath and sublime spa both help to make the Sofitel a perfect luxury hotel for outdoor types who want some indoor indulgence too.. But best of all is the Ski Concierge, just what you need to make your stay near the slopes as hassle free as possible. With the Soski program the Ski Concierge will assist with all things snow-related. Lift passes and equipment hire are organised for you, and you get your skis, board and boots fitted while sipping on a glass of local pinot (and New Zealand's wines are as good as its scenery). Soski also gives you door-to-slope transfers. Ski conditions and weather reports are available to guests via cell phone text messaging, and the in-room 'snowfone' button and on your TV.
The Soski après hour in the Nue lounge gives guests a chance to swap slope stories over mulled wine and canapés (more NZ wine-bliss). Those who want to make their skiing or boarding even more luxurious can opt for a Premium Ski Day with fully escorted VIP transport and a personal full- or half-day with one of New Zealand's top instructors. Tailor-made Ski Days can also be organised for everyone from complete beginners to hardcore heli-skier and powder hounds.
The nearest ski slopes are at
Coronet Peak a 25-minute, 11 miles (18 kilometres) drive along a fully sealed road from Queenstown, this much-loved local mountain had a serious facelift with more to come. New in 2010 is an upgrade of the 'Big Easy' novice area which includes a new, state-of-the-art quad chairlift.
The latest improvements are part of a five-year redevelopment programme that has included the installation of the six-seater Greengates lift, a massive snowmaking system and, in 2008, a brand new multimillion-dollar building at the base area housing slick gourmet cafes, and a huge sundeck for those who are more interested in their ski tans than their turns. Luxury lovers can become day members of The Peak Club, or pay for a season's membership which allows access to the exclusive club room with gourmet dining, snow white leather chairs and expansive mountain views.
If the number of Parisian accents you'll hear amongst staff and their habit of greeting you with 'bonjour' rather than hello makes you yearn for the European Alps head for The Remarkables with 220 skiable hectares (554 acres) with narrow chutes, rock drops and off-piste powder for the brave, and wide sunny bowls accessed for the rest of us.
I have just come off the slopes after a hard days skiing and the big spa bath in my room is full to the brim; time to sink back into the hot water and watch the in-wall bathroom TV as steam curls towards the ceiling. The hot water and the bath oil warm and ease aching muscles. There is a glass of Central Otago red wine balanced on the side of the tub (this NZ wine thing is becoming a habit...).
An indulgent bath, perfect peaks, a luxury hotel - this really is the high life in more ways than one.
Check in: Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, 8 Duke Street, Queenstown, New Zealand. Details, +64 3 450 0045.
Ultimate Luxury: The Penthouse space and views - what more could you ask for?
Most Indulgent Moment: Booking a bathologist to draw your oil-scented bath, a signature treatment at LeSpa.
Insider Secrets: All the staff greet you in French, homage to the Sofitel chain's European origins.
The Little Things: Glove warmers in the room, decent in-room espresso coffee machines, ski storing and drying, dedicated ski concierge.
Junior Luxies: Welcome but not specifically catered for
Dress code: Only the best outdoor clothing brands will do.
Dent in the platinum:
Pacific Blue has direct flights from Sydney to Queenstown. If you're a luxury flyer used to business class entertainment hire the digEplayer, your own personal in-flight for an additional $AUD20. If you fancy extra leg room, book the Blue Zone seating option for an additional $AUD45 on top of your fare.
Flying from further afield? Fly into Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington in NZ then connect on.
NZSki, owners and operators of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables give skiers and boarders the chance to book lift tickets on-line and save at www.nzski.com Savings are made with pricing in NZ dollars.
Hilary Doling 19/7/10
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