De­signed to please

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - KATRINA LOB­LEY

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; best­west­


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: hel­leni­cre­pub­; ab­bots­ford­con­; stud­ley­park­

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

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