Designed to please
My Melbourne mate drives past several times before parking. “I was looking for the blue logo,” she says, arriving in a fluster at Hotel 115, one of two Australian properties under Best Western’s upscale Premier brand.
Who can blame her for being confused? She’s not the only one catching up with news that the chain that began in the US in 1946 as Best Western Motels isn’t what it used to be. The “motels” part of the name never made it down under — it was dropped in 1974, a year before expansion took the brand to Australasia — yet that vibe has stuck around in the collective psyche. The garish blue and yellow logo, which many of us still envisage, appeared in 1993 and was softened in a 2015 rebrand. Still, this place — with its in-house microbrewery and grill, barista coffees and chic decor — is a turn-up for the books.
From across the road the corner property, in Kew in Melbourne’s ritzy inner east, looks about as exciting as a corporate boardroom; it’s all hard lines and shiny surfaces, without a hint of character. Peer through those double-height windows, though, and the sight of shiny beer tanks announces this isn’t your usual corporatecum-leisure suburban hotel. The split personality extends to the accommodation, comprising 88 guestrooms and 24 apartments. To reach these chambers, guests swing through reception, nip across the central driveway and into another building where the upper levels offer views to distant mountains.
It’s possible to stay in-house and enjoy an excellent dinner — the 115 Grill & Brewhouse does such a good slab of beef that my mate, an aficionado of the rare steak, vows she’ll be back — and there are six house-made beers on tap. Those keen to venture further will find celebrity chef George Calombaris’s Hellenic Republic within walking distance.
In the neighbouring suburb is Abbotsford Convent, once an almost self-sufficient monastic community complete with farm, church and school. At its peak, 150 nuns and 1000 women and children lived behind those walls. The nuns sold the site in 1975 and visitors can still detect where crosses once hung before the convent was deconsecrated. In the 1990s, developers took an interest in the prime 6.5ha site with 11 heritage buildings but the community waged a successful campaign for preservation.
The convent is now billed as Australia’s largest multiarts precinct, housing studios, galleries and eateries such as the Convent Bakery, which turns out rustic breads in the same space where convent meals were once prepared. The convent’s farm and kitchen gardens are now the Collingwood Children’s Farm where kids can cuddle a guinea pig and milk a cow. To learn more about the convent’s history, I join one of the Sunday afternoon social history tours. Dr Madonna Grehan is one of 14 volunteers who lead these walks. “Some people think I’m a nun — my mother would be rolling in her grave,” says the lively Grehan, a historian. Before starting, she asks if we’re related to anyone who lived at the convent run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic order founded in France. Those with personal connections can find it painful to hear about life at the convent, which accommodated girls and women, educating some and pressing others into unpaid service at what was once the southern hemisphere’s largest industrial laundry. We hear about various escape attempts. And while some buildings have been restored — we peer through warped sheet-glass windows and admire walls painted period eau de nil — the eeriest place is easily the derelict 19th-century laundries. As we take in their pressed metal ceilings and crackled paintwork, I think of the clouds of steam that reddened faces while surely mingling with tears.
Our faces are wet too by the time we farewell Grehan and drizzle is smudging the landscape. Plans to row a boat at nearby Studley Park Boathouse go on hold, but we visit anyway to admire eucalypts framing the Yarra, finding it hard to believe this leafy spot is in the middle of a metropolis. My friend says on a beautiful day the place is heaving but for now I can but imagine. It is, however, lovely weather for ducks.
Katrina Lobley was a guest of Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
Best Western Premier Hotel 115, 115 Cotham Road, Kew, Victoria, Australia; 03 8862 0200; bestwesternkew.com.au.
From $170 a night; apartments from $250.
CHECKING IN: Corporate guests during the week and leisure travellers at weekends; it’s also popular with parents visiting nearby boarding schools.
GETTING THERE: The 109 tram runs past the front door into the city; the closest train station, Glenferrie, is a 15minute walk (or take the No 16 tram between the station and Cotham Road). Kew is 7km east of Melbourne’s CBD.
BEDTIME READING: Maureen McCarthy’s novel The Convent is based on nearby Abbotsford Convent; Unnatural Habits, part of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher historical mystery series that inspired the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries TV series, incorporates the convent.
STEPPING OUT: Greek-themed fine diner Hellenic Republic is a five-minute walk along Cotham Road. Abbotsford Convent and Studley Park Boathouse are nearby. More: hellenicrepublic.com.au/kew; abbotsfordconvent.com.au; studleyparkboathouse.com.au.
BRICKBATS: Overzealous housekeeping removes the extra teabags I add to the collection in the kitchenette.
BOUQUETS: My one-bedroom king spa apartment’s freestanding oval tub demands that I set aside serious bath time during my stay.
ALSO TRY: The Terrace Hotel Perth (sister Premier property); Pullman at Sydney Olympic Park; The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites, Brisbane.
The 115 Grill & Brewhouse, top; Best Western Premier Hotel 115, above left; spa apartment, above