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LUXURY HOTELS: The Olsen, Melbourne, Australia
Style: Arty, poetic and urban.
Scene: Chapel Street, Melbourne's style and shopping mecca
Seen in the lobby: Glam bohemians and TV faces - Australia's Channel 10 is a few doors down and stars stay and play here

Two things strike me as I step into The Olsen's glass-fronted lobby: the spectacular lines of a blue and yellow mural, and the spectacular jawline of Dr Chris Brown, heartthrob Australian TV vet.

THE JOHN Olsen artwork, a joyous six metre rendering of sunshine over Melbourne's Yarra River, is part of the design, while Dr Chris is just checking in. But his pleasing proportions nicely complement this hotel's theme: big, beautiful depictions of open spaces and native creatures by John Olsen, one of Australia's best-loved artists.

lobby olsen
lobby olsen
deluxe spa studio olsen
artworks by dr john olsen
penthouse deck
pool olsen
signature bed olsen

More than 600 of his prints and eight originals inhabit the 15 floors, with at least one in each of the 229 suites. His signature dots, splashes and squiggly lines are always within sight and Olsen homages infuse the hotel's vibe. The more you look, the more you find; the little chocolate frogs on your bed at turndown time echo the bronze frog sculpture in the lobby. The calamari shaped bar in the hotel's Bluebottle restaurant reflects Olsen's love of Mediterranean food, as does the menu. Bluebottle is named after Olsen's painting, Popping Bluebottles, which celebrates the ocean at Bondi Beach, which is celebrated again in the natural, earthy textures and palette of the restaurant's interior.

Olsen even welcomes you to your suite. Your television is tuned into the hotel's own art channel and you're greeted by footage of the venerable 82-year-old chatting about his art (I'm delighted to see that he always wears a beret, as a proper artist should).

Scattered around the room are coffee table art books featuring Olsen and others - my collection includes Ken Done and Arthur Boyd - and the glass wall dividing the bathroom from the rest bears a muted Olsen splashy pattern. Two of his prints adorn the walls.

"Sounds a bit much," says a friend when I call to say I'm immersed in Olsen. "Tell me you're not wearing a frog print bathrobe."
While in heavier hands, an art hotel could turn more theme park than theme, the execution here is clever, classy and cool.

I'm not (there isn't one), and actually, it's not. While in heavier hands, an art hotel could turn more theme park than theme, the execution here is clever, classy and cool. Even if Olsen's not your bag, you can still revel in the lavish facilities, and architect Rothe Lowman's base palette of silver and champagne with soft, sensuous materials is a soothing backdrop for the art. Plus, Olsen's easy to enjoy. You can let his work gently wash over you or sit and contemplate its meaning as intensely as you like. I can't imagine feeling this chilled out in a hotel themed around Damian Hurst or Tracy Emin (besides, she'd probably keep coming in and un-making the beds).

The Olsen, opened in April 2010, is the second in Melbourne's trilogy of Art Series hotels, owned by the art-loving and philanthropic Deague family. The first, The Cullen, opened in late 2009 and the latest, The Blackman, in August 2010. Each hotel immerses you in the work and world of its chosen artist in a sumptuous setting. So much more fun than a gallery.

Each of the 229 suites has its own name (mine's called Lily Pond) and they're really apartments of various sizes, each with meticulously equipped, state-of-the art kitchens or kitchenettes. They're designed to encourage a longer stay, and for a weekly rate you can make The Olsen your home - perfect for when you're in between houses or husbands and a value option for art lovers, too, as it's way cheaper to move in with the art here than to kit out your own place (Olsen originals can set you back more than a million dollars).

The art isn't the only eye candy. The Olsen's 'levitating' lap pool is a talking point in itself. Chapel Street, 15 floors below, shimmers through the glass bottom as you swim, and you can make out little figures standing beneath, gazing up in fascination. It takes a lot to draw the attention of the urbanites browsing the boutiques and cafes, but they love to look at this pool - especially at night, when it really does seem to float.

Becoming part of an aerial aquatic exhibit troubles me at first - and frankly, the giant Murray Cod at Melbourne Aquarium can do without the competition - but the distance is flattering and swimmers appear as ethereal silhouettes.

Another cute extra: you can take Olsen out on the town with you by hiring one of the hotel's dinky little environmentally-friendly Smart Cars painted with his designs. It's quite a way to arrive at an art gallery, and the hotel helpfully includes a list of local ones in the in-room literature. The Olsen also has bright-coloured classic Kronan bicycles for hire so you can see for yourself how bike-friendly Melbourne is (almost Scandinavian in its dedication, with a network of cycle paths and public, coin-op bike hire stations around the CBD) while exploring its eclectic shops and seemingly endless cafes and restaurants.

Or you only need to venture as far as the in-house restaurant. Bluebottle's fresh-produce dominated, mod-med menu is backed up by a decadent patisserie with an irresistible selection of home-made, comfort cakes and puddings. The apple crumble on a crisp Melbourne winter day makes this Brit all nostalgic, and I love Bluebottle's giant lobster pot lamps and solid oak tables - rustic and nautical at the same time. Would that be rustical?
In September another restaurant, Steer Bar and Grill, opens on The Olsen's ground floor, promising to fuse mod-Australian cooking with 'distinct authentic Brazilian cooking techniques, styles and flavours.' It's the sort of kooky culinary mix that food-obsessed Melbourne always pulls off with aplomb.

I've lounged on my cream couch with its spangly silver cushions and reclined in the huggy bed with a chunky art book propped up against my knees and one of Bluebottle's NZ pinot noirs in hand. That's a fair dose of relaxation. But if I wanted to unwind even more, I'd book myself into The Olsen's airy and serene Norbu day spa, where a massive massage menu beckons along with acupuncture, an infra-red sauna and cellulite-busting Endermologie treatments.

Or simply laze among the artworks, eat some more, drink and contemplate, happy in the knowledge that John Olsen just wants everyone to have fun. "If we take the positive side of life, we have so much to enjoy," he says in one of the many quotes scattered throughout The Olsen. "Viva!"

Check in: The Olsen, 637-641 Chapel Street, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria 3141 (entrance via Daly Street). +61 3 9040 1222
Ultimate Luxury:  The two-bedroom Olsen Penthouse, with sweeping balcony, eight seater outdoor spa and a high-tech, chef-worthy kitchen (in case you brought your staff with you).
Insider Secrets: The hotel's Olsen originals are from the Deague Family Art Trust - a collection owned - and in some cases commissioned - by the hotel's owners. Olsen painted the lobby mural especially for the hotel.
The Little Things: Love the door tags: 'artist in residence,' for do not disturb and 'out at the gallery,' for when you want the room made up
Junior Luxies: The rooms are suited to families, with kitchenette facilities and some with multiple bedrooms. You're walking distance to parks and the Yarra River. For the older kids, bikes are available for hire.
Dress code: Self expression's encouraged. Keep it boho, not hobo, though
Perfect luggage: Colourful, whimsical; carry a leather-bound sketch book
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Link: www.artseries.com.au
Amy Cooper 15/8/10
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