Heirs and graces of a sumptuous Auck­land re­treat

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

IT is a few weeks be­fore Christ­mas and Glo­ria Poupard-Wal­bridge has been deck­ing the halls of Cot­ter House with much more than plain old holly. Gilded angels are trum­pet­ing, tin­selled rein­deers are peek­ing from be­hind the so­fas. There are merry can­dles, baubles and bells; dec­o­ra­tive stock­ings hang in plump bunches, wait­ing to be stuffed with Santa’s finest treats.

In lesser hands, and in more mod­est sur­rounds, it could all be ir­re­deemably kitsch. But the Colom­bian­born and French-raised Poupard-Wal­bridge is chate­laine of what is ar­guably Auck­land’s grand­est bou­tique ho­tel and what should be crass about her Christ­mas uni­verse is some­how chic.

The two-storey Cot­ter House, she tells me, is a smaller triple-brick ver­sion of Syd­ney’s Kir­ri­billi House, the prime min­is­te­rial man­sion that com­mands a suitably grand site over­look­ing the har­bour. Cot­ter House, in Auck­land’s south­east sub­urb of Re­muera, was built in 1847 for Joseph New­man, an English land­baron. He was a tee­to­taller and pres­i­dent of the lo­cal tem­per­ance so­ci­ety, but the de­mon drink got him in the end. Poupard-Wal­bridge shows me a copy of New­man’s obituary in TheNewZealandHer­ald, Jan­uary 5, 1892, which states ‘‘ he re­ceived se­ri­ous in­jury in 1890 when a hoard­ing ad­ver­tis­ing whisky hit him on the head . . . he never com­pletely ral­lied from the shock’’.

Poupard-Wal­bridge re­gales such tales with great rel­ish and she is pas­sion­ate about the ar­chi­tec­tural in­tegrity and prove­nance of her­itage-listed Cot­ter House, which she de­scribes as ‘‘ pure Re­gency’’ and ‘‘ Auck­land’s fifth-old­est house’’. Its name comes from the Cot­ter fam­ily, in res­i­dence from 1882 to 1926; they sub­di­vided what had been a pas­toral es­tate into small blocks in to­day’s Ru­muera.

The for­mer wife of a French diplo­mat, PoupardWal­bridge has res­cued the house from a rather derelict state. She has lay­ered the main sa­lons and the two gue­strooms and two suites with ob­jets-d’art, ex­quis­ite bi­belots, masses of dec­o­ra­tive mir­rors and myr­iad orig­i­nal paint­ings col­lected dur­ing em­bassy post­ings in South Amer­ica.

The high-ceilinged suites are par­tic­u­larly sumptuous af­fairs fea­tur­ing big beds piled with pil­lows, bol­sters and cush­ions, loom­ing ar­moires and ex­otic an­tique fur­ni­ture (be­hold an 18th-cen­tury Bo­li­vian carved writ­ing desk or an Aus­trian brass bed­head). En­suites gleam with mar­ble and are stocked with qual­ity toi­letries and ver­i­ta­ble alps of tow­els.

The hand-em­broi­dered bed linen is so soft you’d imag­ine Poupard-Wal­bridge has scoured French pro­vin­cial mar­kets for her­itage sheets and pil­low­cases (and she has). Tall win­dows let in abun­dant nat­u­ral light, fresh flow­ers and cho­co­lates are gen­er­ously re­plen­ished, and there are mod­ern con­trivances such as WiFi cov­er­age through­out the house and ca­ble tele­vi­sion in all gue­strooms; lap­tops and iPod dock­ing sta­tions are yours upon re­quest.

Break­fast is a sil­ver-ser­vice spread (even the boiled eggs ar­rive in pol­ished sil­ver cod­dlers and cups); the juice is freshly squeezed, the or­ganic muesli is home­made and hot dishes range from scram­bled eggs with smoked sal­mon to eggs bene­dict on a bed of spinach.

The en­er­getic chate­laine has been up since spar­row’s-yawn bak­ing crois­sants and pas­tries. There is a re­laxed timetable: any time af­ter 8.30am is fine for the morn­ing meal and Poupard-Wal­bridge seems re­laxed about let­ting it lapse to a late brunch. Af­ter­noon tea — with more de­lec­ta­ble home-baked pas­tries, lemon tarts, shiny pots of tea and cof­fee — ap­pears in the draw­ing room be­tween 3pm and 5pm. And, un­less you wish to join other guests, ta­bles are in­di­vid­u­ally set, in­clud­ing on the cov­ered ve­randa over­look­ing the gar­den in sum­mer.

‘‘ Please feel free to use the crys­tal bell lo­cated on the front desk when you need me,’’ writes the mis­tress of the manor in her wel­come notes. And she means it: she’s most likely to emerge from her kitchen, bak­ing tray in hand. This is hos­pi­tal­ity of a high or­der with an agree­able soup­con of ec­cen­tric­ity. Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Tourism New Zealand.

Check­list

Cot­ter House, 4 St Vin­cent Ave, Re­muera, Auck­land, New Zealand. +64 9 529 5156; www.cot­ter­house.com. Tar­iff: From: $NZ437 ($340) a dou­ble. Get­ting there: About 20 min­utes by taxi from Auck­land air­port. Check­ing in: Mostly cou­ples and the odd celebrity (such as Keith Richards, in 2006) or pri­vacy seeker who will take over the whole house. Wheel­chair ac­cess: No; gue­strooms are up­stairs. Bed­time read­ing: Nov­els by New Zealand au­thors; per­haps TheBonePeo­ple by Keri Hulme or TheWhale Rider by Witi Ihi­maera. Step­ping out: The gar­den is full of sculp­tures and in­stal­la­tions by Kiwi artists, some of which are for sale: take time to stroll around. Or, if stay­ing in, there are com­pli­men­tary pi­lates, yoga and kick-box­ing classes in Cot­ter House’s ball­room through­out the week; there’s also a gar­den pool (heated in win­ter). Brick­bats: Not for those who like min­i­mal­ist decor. Bou­quets: Glo­ria Poupard-Wal­bridge runs a tight en­vi­ron­men­tal op­er­a­tion and en­cour­ages guests to plant a car­bon-off­set kauri tree (or other species, in­clud­ing puriri or rimu) via the Kiwi Green ini­tia­tive with which she is as­so­ci­ated; a tree is $NZ30 and the amount can be added to your Cot­ter House bill. www.nzki­wi­green.com. Mis­tress of the manor: Glo­ria Poupard-Wal­bridge out­side Cot­ter House in Re­muera, Auck­land

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