ROOM AT THE INN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

THE in­creas­ingly bandied-about term “life­style ho­tel” is in dan­ger of be­com­ing mean­ing­less. There are too many prop­er­ties wav­ing that ban­ner, talk­ing up their de­sign­er­driven decor, cu­rated wine lists and high-en­ergy hubs.

But one brand cool enough to carry off the term with panache — and of­fer real af­ford­abil­ity to boot — is Atura Ho­tels, part of the AHL con­glom­er­ate that in­cludes Ry­dges, Art Se­ries prop­er­ties and the funky-fab QT Ho­tels & Re­sorts port­fo­lio. The Atura mantra is all about dy­namic open-plan spa­ces and hip styling, a fo­cus on sup­port­ing lo­cal mu­sic and art, and lo­ca­tions that are re­gional or on the fringes of big cities.

The 140-room Atura Al­bury, of­fi­cially opened two week­ends ago, is the third af­ter Black­town, in Syd­ney’s west, which is per­haps not the first place you’d ex­pect to en­counter “re­cep­tion hubs” in­stead of front desks, and Dan­de­nong, out­side Mel­bourne.

Al­bury, on the north­ern side of the Mur­ray River, and twinned with bor­der-mate Wodonga, is hav­ing a sec­ond wind. There is plenty of devel­op­ment afoot, from an art mu­seum open­ing in the third quar­ter of the year, with space to host the big­gest block­buster shows, to the re­cently launched, and im­pres­sive, Yindya­marra Sculp­ture Trail, fea­tur­ing 11 in­stal­la­tions and sculp­tures by tal­ented in­dige­nous artists set be­side bush­land and wet­lands.

Atura Al­bury fits well into this at­trac­tive re­gional cen­tre’s new get-up-and-go scene, sit­ting within the shell of an orig­i­nal Trav­elodge (opened by Gough Whit­lam in the 1970s) and with var­i­ous in­car­na­tions since, but none with what you could call a wow-now fac­tor. Step into the foyer of this newly minted build­ing and there are groovy ter­razzo floors, geo­met­ric-pat­terned rugs, clever light­ing on long and loopy flexes, perky pineap­ple or­na­ments, and lots of seat­ing nooks and communal ta­bles.

The free-flow feel slots per­fectly into the trend to rein­vent lob­bies from mere “meet and greet” spa­ces to living rooms cum cafes with WiFi con­nec­tiv­ity, places to so­cialise or work and to eas­ily or­der drinks and snacks or “grab and go” pro­vi­sions as you pass through.

At Atura Al­bury there is even a pool ta­ble at one end of the lobby with mul­ti­coloured baize. Be­yond the Road­house Bar & Grill — with its hol­i­day-coloured cock­tails, tequila shots, pop­corn prawns, big and bold burg­ers, lo­cal Gun­dowring Dairy ice cream and buzzy open kitchen — is a small­ish swim­ming pool (on which float blow-up flamin­goes) and a deck set with fringed um­brel­las that look trans­planted from Gid­get Goes Hawai­ian. Lounge on a black or white poly­thene Nemo chair by Ital­ian designer Fabio Novem­bre in the shape of a mask, its “head” hol­lowed out as seat­ing space. It’s all very Waikiki meets Mi­lano chic. Make mine a Cam­pari, per fa­vore.

Else­where on the cav­ernous ground floor, ex­posed pipework and punch-holed ply­wood cre­ate a semi-industrial ur­ban ware­house look. Seats, high stools and ta­bles with a beau­ti­fully formed Scandi sim­plic­ity by de­sign­ers such as Sean Dix and James Richard­son sug­gest you are in an ex­pen­sive in­ter­na­tional ho­tel. The walls of cor­ri­dors on the ac­com­mo­da­tion floors are painted with blocky black-and-white let­ter­ing, while en­suite bath­room wall­pa­per clev­erly sug­gests the form of shelves hold­ing plants, bot­tles and even hairdry­ers in a one-di­men­sional pat­tern of graded greys.

Gue­strooms have king beds with good linen, oo­dles of space, work ta­bles and colour ac­cents of sunny yel­low and ma­genta. There’s a lot to love here for the price — and for those with an eco-con­science, if you’re stay­ing more than one night, there’s $10 credit off the room rate and $10 food and bev­er­age credit a day if you choose not to have your room ser­viced overnight by house­keep­ing. So it turns out to be hip-pocket savvy, too.

Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Atura Al­bury and Vir­gin Australia.

Check­list

Atura Al­bury, 648 Dean Street, Al­bury, NSW 2640; (02) 6021 5366; at­u­raal­bury.com.au.

TAR­IFF

Open­ing rates from $159 a room.

GET­TING THERE

It’s just more than an hour by air from Syd­ney to Al­bury or about 5½ hours by road. From Mel­bourne by road it’s about 3½ hours. More: vir­gin­aus­tralia.com.

CHECK­ING IN

Trav­ellers overnight­ing be­tween Syd­ney and Mel­bourne (free park­ing); skiers off to Mount Hotham and Falls Creek.

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS

Adapted gue­strooms (twin or king-sized beds).

BED­TIME READ­ING

All The Rivers Run

STEP­PING OUT

Stroll the nearby Al­bury Botanic Gar­dens with its cen­tury-old trees and spread­ing lawns; the ho­tel has Movie Night packages that in­clude tick­ets to the Re­gent Cinema com­plex on Dean Street.

BRICKBATS

The mu­sic is rather too loud in the ground-floor spa­ces; not ev­ery sec­ond of the day needs to be party time, but my visit did co­in­cide with the of­fi­cial open­ing so things were on a high. Couldn’t ad­just air­con­di­tion­ing in my room and I emerged snap-frozen.

BOU­QUETS

by Nancy Cato, set on the Mur­ray.

Gen­er­ous in-room ex­tras in­clude espresso ma­chines, cof­fee pods and fab T2 teas; dou­ble sofa bed for ex­tra per­sons; bot­tled wa­ter; good mini­bar stash, with gummy bears, jelly snakes and a nod to lo­cal wine; Malin + Goetz toi­letries add a luxe lift, in­clud­ing pep­per­mint sham­poo and cilantro con­di­tioner; and free WiFi through the ho­tel.

Fab foyer at Atura Al­bury, above; ho­tel en­trance, be­low

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