ROOM AT THE INN
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.
Atura Albury, 648 Dean Street, Albury, NSW 2640; (02) 6021 5366; aturaalbury.com.au.
Opening rates from $159 a room.
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.
Travellers overnighting between Sydney and Melbourne (free parking); skiers off to Mount Hotham and Falls Creek.
Adapted guestrooms (twin or king-sized beds).
All The Rivers Run
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.
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.
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