It may be one of the most remote and untouched regions of the world, but the latest addition of the multi-million dollar wilderness resort Saffire at Freycinet seals Tasmania as an edgy luxe destination.
Separated by a vast body of water from the south-east coast of mainland Australia, Hobart has been the long-time butt of jokes in its splashier Big Sister cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Yet when The Henry Jones Art Hotel burst onto the scene in Tasmania's capital city in 2004 the global luxe set had to take notice. Set on the waterfront, this 56 rooms hotel merged cool, contemporary design into the original wooden beam and stone walls of this 1820s jam factory and showed just how high-end historic could go here with Australia's first dedicated art hotel.
Now, six years later the same Tasmanian-based architects - Morris Nunn and Associates - have focused their designer eyes on the Freycinet Peninsula. This time, the lead has come from wild, untamed nature with 20 individually-built suites curving organically around a ridge like waves at the sea-edge below. Hovering above the suites of the new
(opening May) the roofline of the main pavilion mirrors the pink granite peaks of the Hazards Mountains that poke the sky with thick, craggy fingers above Great Oyster Bay.
Inside the suites (that range from 861 square feet/80 square metres to1507 square feet/140 square metres), locally made furniture jostles, happily minimalist, alongside mid-century classics, including Eames and Herman Miller. Bathrooms feature double showers as well as a bath. Premium Suites enrol a private kitchen and plunge pool into the luxe. All suites feature a courtyard and deck that take you out into nature, glazed walls bring it all back into your room as, cleverly, the architecture keeps guests focused on the greatest luxury of all - the granite, sand and ocean view.
This same view is announced as soon as you enter the main building, defiantly beautiful, with a water feature and more glazed walls back-dropped with nature's pink and blue. Saffire's restaurant Palate doesn't miss out either, but here you can discover more local luxuries - start with oysters from some of the world's cleanest waters and throw in some exceptional local wines along the way.
With a gym and spa to keep you inside, Wineglass Bay, listed as one of the world's ten best beaches, urges you out for a hike through the bush - not without the opportunity of partaking in the Wineglass to Wine Glass tour which combines three of The Luxury Travel Bible's favourite things: food, wine and a view. Saffire guests can also exclusively explore the Schouten Island Experience where penguins and seals waddle alongside while, during migration, whales and dolphins float on by. Saffire doesn't ask you to question what real luxury is, because it lays some of the best of man-made luxe and nature at your feet.
Saffire comes from the same stable as The Henry Jones Hotel -
Pure Tasmania run by the Federal Group. In between the creation of The Henry Jones and Saffire, others interested in Tasmanian luxe have been busily building. Back down close to Hobart, MONA Pavilions recently unleashed its latest additions, designed by Melbourne-based architect Nonda Katsiledis, onto the luxury accommodation scene. Somersaulting above the Derwent River three glass and steel cubes are suspended, mid-motion, on their apex, while a fourth pavilion folds its steel panels into a three-storey hexagon with a Frank Gehry feel. Named after four Australian architects - Roy (Grounds), Robin (Boyd), Esmond (Dormey), Walter (Burley-Griffin). The first four pavilions, of more temperate design, pay reverence to four of Australia's great artists - Charles (Blackman), Brett (Whiteley), Arthur (Boyd), Sydney (Nolan). You can choose your artist pavilion and sleep with one of their original works, but it is inside the three-storey Roy that some of the private passions of MONA's owner, self-made magnate David Walsh, take flight like some epic homage to architecture, sex and design.
Moodily coloured in charcoal, red and white and with no side windows, this pavilion is definitely made for two (yes, we know there are two bedrooms, but...). Behind the bed on the ground floor a black and white print of naked bodies, slick with liquid, snake ecstatically. On the top floor an image of a singular female torso rises, back-arched, from the bedhead. Both photos are outtakes from a shoot of Australia's Balletlab dancers that appears as labels on the Muse series of wines for Moorilla Estate (another Walsh passion) where the pavilions are located.
On the floor in between, bespoke Tasmanian furniture and modern classics like a Marenco sofa and Fatboy Bean Bags conspire to create a stealth lair for lounging. A kitchen adds to the just-never-leave appeal, but dine out-room at The Source restaurant on site. Named after a John Olsen painting which is embedded into the ceiling giving an abstract explosion of sun over the central staircase, here the French-born chef Philippe Leban presents the best from Tasmania's sea and paddock. While art is already on display in the 'Ether' building that is home to The Source, Katsiledes has been working away on a new slice of architecture where the voraciousness of Walsh's collection, including Ofili's controversial Holy Virgin Mary that reportedly got New York's Rudi Giuliani in a lather, will be able to be appreciated. Slated to open in 2011, the acronym MONA - Museum of Old and New Art - will also be better understood.
... a John OLSEN painting which is embedded into the ceiling giving an abstract EXPLOSION of sun over the central staircase...
Just five minutes drive south of Hobart, Islington Hotel hides soaring glass and sandstone additions (also by Morris Nunn and Associates) behind its 1847 façade that along with its mix of old and contemporary art interiors saw it first hop onto international hot lists back in 2006. Featuring 11 suites, it is the glass, sky-high conservatory that The Luxury Travel Bible still goes oooh about. Even in winter, thanks to the fireplace.
Another ten minutes drive further south of Hobart in Howden, is a radically luxe hotel that The Luxury Travel Bible feels it has to mention - not because of its architecture but because of the improbable, but impeccable, reproduction of a Provencale chateau complete with creamy toile-laden interiors. D'Entrecasteaux is named in homage to French Explorer Antoine Bruni of Entrecasteaux who charted D'Entrecasteaux Channel, that most of the nine hotel rooms overlook, in the 18th Century. For Australians it's the perfect south of France fix, without having to think about long haul.
To tap into a cluster of ultra-chic, uber-private stays, head up the east coast towards Freycinet again (around 90 minutes from Hobart).
Avalon Coastal Retreat shimmied, hot on the heels of The Henry Jones Art Hotel, onto an exquisite slither of headland near Swansea back in 2005 and remains one of The Luxury Travel Bible's favourites. Here, its steel frame and glass skin maximise the 180 degrees plus views overlooking Great Oyster Bay, Freycinet Peninsula and Maria Island. Accommodating three large bedrooms and ensuites within its clean-lined modernism, TLTB loves to slip into the soak-size box bath clad in Huon pine and the way the kindly Avalon retreat hosts understand greedy little gourmet tastes offering a maxi-bar full of Wursthaus Kitchen supplies.
Another butterfly-winged roof has recently slipped onto similar scenery with The Lair, 9.3 miles (15 kilometres) south of Swansea. Here, it spreads its low-pitched, glass and timber lines lengthways along the ridge edge above the ocean. All of the rooms, including two bedroom suites, take in the uninterrupted views. Grab a glass of 2007 Freycinet Louis Pinot Noir and soak in the spa bath or sink into B+B Italia and Cassina furniture. There are also plenty of pleasant companions to be found in the mini-bar and dry pantry that include the best of local produce and wines - oh, and a bottle of French. When we recently caught up with Manager Rick Bzowy by phone we, in fact, found him mid-cheffing for an Italian documentary film crew, enraptured with Freycinet and staying at The Lair during their shoot. The terribly effervescent Mr Bzowy, who knows his provedores, was currently in a thrall of something that started with oysters, of course, and wound its way around something complicated involving squid ink and not a small tipple, believing it would take at least five courses to show off some of Tasmania's best. Why so? "Because I love my food," was Rick's simple reply.
Set closer to Swansea and low by the sea on 240 hectares, Piermont Retreat borders two private beaches overlooking Freycinet. With 15 cottages and six suites scattered across the property, rather than opting for high drama it chooses to be inspired by the simple stone and slate architecture of the original 1835 cottage. Operating for a few years now, The Luxury Travel Bible is impressed by the quietly respectful and remarkably responsible way it marries bio-sustainability with a few luxe extras like a pool and tennis court and achieves a quietly effective glamour. Kudos to Piermont for offering accommodation set on neutral magnetic earth fields from our inner-hippy soul. Big cheers too for the award-winning modern European restaurant that is housed, chocolate walled and low-lit, in the original cottage.
While the east coast may be an easy target for finding Tasmanian luxe, Hatherley House, The Luxury Travel Bible notes, upped the luxe stakes in the island's mid north-east cultural centre of Launceston around the same time as The Henry Jones was launching. Its blend of ultra-modern and colonial elegance set a benchmark for Quamby Estate. Set on 64 hectares, Quamby,run by
Anthology, fast-forwards the 1830s Anglo-Indian architecture with modernist furnishings, a 9-hole golf course and contemporary food.
The Luxury Travel Bible loves the ancient and aching wonder of Tasmania's west coast wilderness and laments the short-passing, a few years back, of MV Discovery a 12-cabin super-luxury cruiser that curled its way from Strahan slowly and softly through the hard fought for beauty of the Franklin River (Denmark's Prince Frederick and Tasmanian-born Princess Mary were two of its early guests). Frankly, we find it quite hard to find anything on land to match in this region.
Fortunately, Seven Skies, a travel company combining luxury and adventure, is fearlessly tackling the logistical exercise of dropping a small group (six to ten people-only) into the remote, roadless, UNESCO World Heritage-listed wilderness of Tasmania's deep south-west. Seven Skies' knowledgeable founder, Nathan Wedding, leads you into an encounter with the priceles magnificence of a landscape that stretches back around one billion years when it was part of the supercontinent Gondwana with surprising comfort.
The rawness of weather-cut rock and no electricity are smoothed over with tented pavilions and dinners that parlay fabulous Tasmanian flavours from Atlantic salmon and crayfish to local cheeses washed down with a Tamar pinot noir. A 50 minutes flight in a small light plane takes you from Hobart to Melaleuca either across mountain ranges or around wild coastline, depending on the weather. "People already have smiles on their faces by the time you land," says Nathan. Surrounded by terrain he describes as a "moonscape", you can do as much sea kayaking or sitting as you like.
In the far north-west at Table Cape, the extraordinarily-roofed Winged House is also providing a welcome luxe respite. Designed by artist architect Richard Goodwin, the steel wings splay out above a spectacular sea line like an early Vega aircraft about to take flight. Inside, the occupants can enjoy two bedrooms, a Japanese bath, gourmet kitchen, and most importantly, the exceptional 180 degrees view of changing light and water. Equipped with its own helipad, you can also use it to explore a birds-eye view of wilderness beauty, but The Luxury Travel Bible finds The Winged House's own horizon quite something to luxuriate in.
Remaining a perennial favourite, and a reason to break out the bushwalking shoes, is Bay of Fires Lodge back on the north-east coast. Lying along a hilltop inside Mount William National Park, 130 feet (forty metres) above a rocky coastline, Bay of Fires transports you into remote wilderness within iconic modern Australian glass louvre and timber pavilion architecture. We've said it before and we'll say it here, never has hand-pumping hot water and composting toilets seemed so glamorous.
Baillie Lodges, who have given Australia the unique wilderness luxe encompassed by Capella on Lord Howe Island and
Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, have announced they will be opening the six-star 'Remarkable Lodge' on the dramatic south-east coast near Port Arthur in late 2011. While The Luxury Travel Bible promises to wrangle more details out of the inspirational Baillies, in the meantime a few artist's sketches indicate that stone and glass-fronted pavilions will be adding to Tasmania's ever-ramping state of luxe.