Se­duced by daze of wine and roses

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Susan Kuro­sawa

RO­MANCE is hardly a new con­cept when it comes to mar­ket­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion pack­ages. Ev­ery ho­tel worth its cham­pagne flutes has a hearts-and­flow­ers deal of some kind. The names vary — from se­duc­tion to siz­zle, ro­man­tic in­ter­lude to starry nights — and the in­clu­sions may slightly dif­fer, but you can count on choco­lates, red roses and bub­bles (whether cham­pers, baths or both).

Some clever ho­tels in the US have got into the baby­moon mar­ket: ro­man­tic and re­lax­ing pack­ages for par­ents ex­pect­ing their first child. Af­ter all, this could be the last good sleep they get, and it might as well be on Egyp­tian-cot­ton sheets and fluffy-wuffy pil­lows. It smacks a bit of gim­mickry but the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is keenly com­pet­i­tive, par­tic­u­larly at the five-star level, and most pack­ages do of­fer suf­fi­cient ex­tras to make the deal worth­while.

The Sin­ga­pore-owned Stam­ford Ho­tels and Re­sorts group — with nine prop­er­ties in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing one in Syd­ney’s North Ryde and a duo in Ade­laide — sells a range of pack­ages but none seems as pop­u­lar as its Ro­mance & Se­duc­tion deal. This must be a huge hit around Valen­tine’s Day: can­dles, chocdipped straw­ber­ries, rose-petal bath, French fizz and a bot­tle of wine with per­son­alised mes­sage on the la­bel, room-ser­vice break­fast, park­ing and late check-out. With pack­ages start­ing from $300 at the group’s pop­u­lar Syd­ney sub­ur­ban prop­erty, the all-suite, re­sort-style Sir Stam­ford Grand North Ryde, it’s easy to see the good value.

My hus­band and I (blimey, I sound like the Queen) book into the Sir Stam­ford at Cir­cu­lar Quay, which was The RitzCarl­ton in an ear­lier in­car­na­tion, and oc­cu­pies one of those im­pos­ing flat-fronted brick build­ings that Mac­quarie Street does with such aplomb. The feel is of a Lon­don town­house; in Syd­ney, only The Ob­ser­va­tory, down at The Rocks, has this same gen­teel, old-fash­ioned feel.

The pub­lic ar­eas are wood-pan­elled and crys­talchan­de­liered, with over-stuffed so­fas, Louis XV chairs and a se­ri­ous col­lec­tion of Ge­or­gian an­tiques and por­traits. There are work­ing fire­places in th­ese grand sa­lons and the ho­tel even em­ploys a chim­ney sweep. Door­men and porters are for­mally dressed; it’s all very duf­fers’ club, there should be earls asleep in wing­back chairs and but­lers iron­ing TheTimes.

There are 105 gue­strooms, in­clud­ing 14 suites; ours is a spa­cious king room over­look­ing Mac­quarie Street and east across the Botanic Gar­dens and a pa­rade of ca­nary is­land palms to a pretty patch of Syd­ney Har­bour. There’s a slight swoosh of traf­fic from the Cahill Ex­press­way, even with the glass doors to the cute juliet bal­cony closed. The pro­por­tions and the easy com­fort of the room make up for the lack of con­tem­po­rary style. No stain­less steel, coloured glass in­stal­la­tions or lamps that look like fly­ing saucers loom­ing over the bed: this is max­i­mal­ist ter­ri­tory, with vo­lu­mi­nous cur­tains, clas­sic bed­side lamps and coun­try-house fur­nish­ings.

We are not on a Ro­mance & Se­duc­tion deal be­cause we have al­ready met, and done all that, pos­si­bly a cen­tury ago. But our overnight rate does in­clude din­ner. Ap­par­ently the pack­age is called Lazy Daze, which suits us fine. We don’t even have to get out of our cot­ton robes (pro­vided as part of the deal and em­broi­dered with our names; at our re­spec­tive ages, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to for­get) as the chef is com­ing to us. A but­ler sets the ta­ble, fluffs the pink roses and lights the can­dles; the white-hat­ted chef wheels his cooker into the room — a sort of five-star bar­be­cue — and flambes the prawns. The but­ler takes a com­mem­o­ra­tive photo (of the chef, not us: we don’t look that good in the robes) and then the two chaps depart. Our main-course and dessert or­ders from the room-ser­vice menu duly ar­rive, served with a flour­ish by the re­turn­ing but­ler.

It’s all very pam­pered and re­lax­ing, in­clud­ing a half-hour mas­sage each from a ther­a­pist who vis­its our room, sets up her ta­ble, un­pops her po­tions and is too po­lite, I fear, to men­tion that we seem to be asleep.

Check­list

Sir Stam­ford at Cir­cu­lar Quay, 93 Mac­quarie St, Syd­ney 2000. Phone (02) 9252 4600 or 1300 301 391; www.stam­ford.com.au. Tar­iff: The ho­tel has a Best Rate guar­an­tee so book on­line for the cheap­est deals, in­clud­ing a com­pli­men­tary $10 din­ing voucher (valid to Septem­ber 30); re­cent best week­end overnight tar­iff was $260. Ro­mance & Se­duc­tion Pack­age from $485 for two; Lazy Daze from $580 and Win­ter Snug­gler (with bean­ies and win­try in­clu­sions), $283. Get­ting there: About five min­utes walk from Cir­cu­lar Quay fer­ries and trains; 20 min­utes by taxi from Syd­ney air­port. Check­ing in: Cor­po­rate clien­tele mid-week; pack­age guests on week­ends. Bed­time read­ing: RuthPark’s Syd­ney by Ruth Park. How mar­vel­lous that she once de­scribed Syd­ney as ‘‘ that tawny city . . . croak­ing and huff­ing and squeal­ing like some fab­u­lous toad’’. Step­ping out: Botanic Gar­dens and Syd­ney Opera House on the doorstep; con­sider a guided back­stage tour of the lat­ter (www.syd­ney­op­er­a­house.com). Guided tours of nearby Gov­ern­ment House are avail­able from Fri­days to Sun­days from 10.30am to 3pm (www.hht.net.au). Brick­bats: The ho­tel doesn’t have a spa or the slick ameni­ties of a mod­ern ho­tel. Soft fur­nish­ings could do with an over­haul. Bou­quets: Lovely high teas and post­opera sup­pers served in The Bar. So­phis­ti­cated am­bi­ence; the feel­ing you’re a mem­ber of a club, not an anony­mous guest.

Join the club: Sir Stam­ford at Cir­cu­lar Quay

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