The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
How Australia fell in love with the motel
Sleek, stylish and full of character, the retro favourite is making a comeback down under. Teresa Machan checks in at five of the best
Does anything conjure the nostalgia of old-school holidays like a mid-century motel? For budget-conscious families on the road, the iconic drive-in motel was king.
If that was then, the motel makeover is now. Up and down Australia’s coast, in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, classic brown-brick roadside motels are being stylishly resurrected, while still paying homage to their mid-century modern roots. What these hotels have in spades is atmosphere. And with character baked in, décor and styling don’t disappoint.
In addition to doubles, most of the motels below offer triple and family rooms and often a “suite” equivalent, along with smart TV, luxurious beds and rain showers. Bikes, boards and pools are often part of the deal.
So throw your swimmers and flipflops (and maybe the kids) into the rental car, and get ready to hit the road. The Australian road trip is back.
Best for seaside joie de vivre Motel Molly, Mollymook,
New South Wales
Motel Molly’s founders both had memories of family holidays on “The Mook” and dreamt of creating a cool bolthole that captured the spirit of the South Coast. The one-time Mollymook Surfbeach Motel is now a bright and breezy hotel with a Mediterranean twist. The four wings are painted in Love Heart pastels.
My two-bedroom mint-green suite had a kitchenette with matching Smeg fridge and kettle, and Motel Molly-etched coupes for the chilled champagne. An enormous balcony captures slivers of Pacific Ocean and rainbow lorikeets use the railings as a sunset landing strip.
Moroccan-inspired ceramics, throws and bathroom tiling lean into the 1970s aesthetic. “We wanted to strike a balance between the approachability of the old motels and the subtle luxury of boutique hotels,” said co-founder Josh Crealy.
There is a poolside BBQ grill, complimentary surfboards – including two Mick Fanning Beasties – and bicycles, and a bougie vending machine filled with organic kombucha, pre-mixed cocktails, macadamia nuts and biscuits.
Don’t miss Motel Molly has direct access to a wide sweep of beach. Join the surfers, cycle to swimming bays that punctuate the coast and have a dip at the Bogey Hole, a protected tidal pool 15 minutes down the road.
Not many sleepy seaside towns in Australia have a Rick Stein restaurant. Stein is “local” for some of the year and Rick Stein’s at Bannisters sits on a headland with views to the ocean from a seafront garden (there is no months-long waiting list, either).
Motel Molly is off the Princes Highway. Rooms from AU$249/£134 (motelmolly. com.au)
Best for a country getaway Berry View, Berry,
New South Wales
Formerly the Bangalee Motel, the lowrise Berry View Hotel opened its tangerine doors in December 2022. Framed by a vast blue Australian sky, its white, angular walls gleam in the sunshine. “Sometimes people pull in just to take pictures of the doors,” says receptionist Susan. Those doors are painted a signature “spicy orange”, while breezeblock planters add a splash of green while an exterior wall mural brings a dash of Palm Springs to the country town of Berry.
Inside, the bone-white walls, tan sling chairs, cream throws and rendered-concrete niches and headboards wouldn’t look out of place in an Ibizan finca. Room 14 (a deluxe suite) has a balcony and an egg bath facing a wraparound window with a farmland view. There are wine glasses and a cheese board for guests who want to order in from local farms and vineyards.
An 18-room extension, adjacent to the original building but in keeping with the original retro style, will soon bring an infinity pool, and four luxury rooms with fireplaces and bathrooms.
Don’t miss A much-loved favourite on the pre-national highways country-towns route, Berry is still a go-to for Sydneysiders seeking a country getaway. Berry View’s owner remembers stopping here for doughnuts on family trips in the 1970s; now, attractive heritage buildings house independent shops, bakeries and cafés. Get your cortado at IV Coffee and your homemade gelato at Berry Ice Creamery.
Berry View is off the Berry to Bomaderry M1 Princes Highway. Doubles from AU$180/£97 midweek; AU$250/£134 weekends (theberryview.com.au)
Best for a city sanctuary HotelMotel, Adelaide, South Australia
Flanked by Adelaide’s South Terrace parkland, and the only hotel in Adelaide’s CBD with free drive-in parking, HotelMotel is minutes from a tram stop. The 66-room motel is sandwiched between two hotels owned by the same company, so offers the best of both worlds – drive-up convenience with the benefit of 24-hour reception and access to a restaurant (at The Terrace Hotel) and a soon-to-open pool (Hotel Alba).
Inside the motel shell, guests will find smart bathrooms and on-trend liquorice-blue walls offset by crisp white linen. The sunset tones of the local artwork place you in South Australia. Order room service, a bento-style snack box or book a table at a restaurant, or plunder the mini-bar of local wine, gin and chocolate.
Don’t miss Take the tram to Glenelg for great sunsets and a relaxed beach vibe. Adelaide also has a dynamic food and wine scene and has three world-class wine regions – McLaren Vale, Barossa and Clare Valley – within a 90-minute drive. Adelaide Central Market is the real deal: a traditional market packed with produce.
Take Glen Osmond Road off the National Highway M1. From AU$159/£85 (hotelmoteladelaide.com.au).
Best for rooms with a view Hillcrest Merimbula, Merimbula, New South Wales
The ad men of Stirling Cooper might have had an away day at Hilltop Merimbula. Mad Men’s Don Draper would sip a negroni from the balcony of the lounge and breakfast room (no warm sourdough or health-giving juices for him, though) taking in the view through Ray-Bans and a curl of cigarette smoke. He would eye the tennis court, perhaps, and then saunter to the pool.
Each of the 30 rooms at Hilltop Merimbula has views to mirror-calm Merimbula Lake and the shimmering sea beyond. There is day-long sunshine until the sun sets over the sea. Kookaburras cackle in palm trees and the chime of bellbirds echoes around the valley. “It’s a natural amphitheatre for birds,” says owner Caspar Tresidder, after surprising breakfast guests with a plate of fresh oysters.
All rooms have a view. Exhale rooms are cream and contemporary; Sunrise rooms mix 1970s exposed brick and walnut furnishings with luxurious bedding, contemporary fittings and old-style bathrooms (the upgrade is ongoing). There is also a fancy new apartment with its own deck and kitchen, yoga mats for hire and a self-service laundry.
Don’t miss Sublime swimming and paddleboarding on lakeside beaches. In spring (August to November), the so-called Sapphire Coast lures migrating whales, with vantage points around the coastal headland. The Merimbula Lake Boardwalk is built from reclaimed wharf timbers and winds through mangroves, bush and in parts, over the lake, where it doubles as an elevated viewing platform.
Join the A1 from the Princes Highway and turn on to Merimbula Drive. The motel is at the crest of the hill above the town. From AU$149/£79 including breakfast (hillcrestmerimbula.com).
Best for coastal adventures The Isla, Bateman’s Bay,
New South Wales
A palm tree, a giant lollipop sign and a white-and-butterscotch wall announce The Isla. The original 1970s-built Abel Tasman Motel was redesigned by a group of friends, among them Yanna Dascarolis, who explained: “The ambition was to create a ‘destination’ worthy of its beachside address.” Architects introduced curves to break up the monotony of rectangular communal corridors along with a decorative perforated breezeblock wall, for shade and privacy. Guests can sink a cold one on a smart pool terrace, and for cooler evenings there is a cosy Pool House with books, games and a fire.
Inside are native lemon-myrtle toiletries, oak feature walls, terrazzo trims and a warm palette of ochre, ivory and kelp green create a chilled vibe. The Grande suite has a kitchenette and two en-suite rooms – one with an outdoor plunge pool. There is no reception, but a bespoke vending machine dispenses everything from free fizzy water to wine and craft beer.
Don’t miss Bateman’s Bay is surrounded by forests, river estuaries and pristine beaches, accessible on bike and walking trails. The Clyde river is home to prized oyster beds. Drive to Mossy Point and hire a boat from the Region X Boat Shed Café, or take one of its oyster-tasting kayaking tours on the Clyde River.
From the Princes Highway, take the A1 to Beach Road. From AU$220/£118 per night (theisla.com.au).