Bill Gates just gave $50 million to fight Ebola. I don’t have that kind of money, not yet anyway, so I support causes I believe in with my travel dollars.
I choose to stay and, as a travel writer, promote hotels that stand for things I believe in, things like creativity, kindness and making a legacy.
Sydney’s Harbour Rocks Hotel, a 59-room boutique hotel in the heart of “The Rocks,” the landing site of the first English settlers, is the perfect choice for supporting my passions.
Plus, you can’t exactly quibble with the location. Brilliantly situated for gallery viewing and pub-hopping, this iconic hotel is also a mere 10-minute walk from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and Circular Quay.
Let’s start with making a legacy. Once a stone warehouse, this historic hotel was erected in 1887 by 12 of the 164,000 convicts that were shipped from England to Australia. These convicts, with little but their sweat and tears, cut the stones for this three-story masterpiece from the harbor’s rocky cliffs. First used as a wool warehouse, this mighty building has played as many roles as Kristin Scott Thomas, the British actress who helped choose the 60 hotels in the Accor hotel chain’s M Gallery collection to which it belongs.
Before it joined the M Gallery, (to give you an idea of this extraordinary collection, it also includes the former residence of the Caracciolos of Naples, Italy, the five-century-old Santo Domingo residence of the first governor of the Americas and the Songtsam Retreat that overlooks a remote valley of China and one of the world’s largest Tibetan temples), Harbour Rocks served as everything from offices for importers, indenturers and ink manufacturers to, in the 70’s, an art gallery.
Suffice it to say, The English Patient actress, educated in Paris and recently chosen by UK’s Guardian as one of the fifty best-dressed women, knows class when she sees it.
Let’s go next to creativity. This luxury hotel is a perfect mashup of historical architecture and unique contemporary styling. With exposed beams, original sandstone and brick walls, it’s arranged around a central atrium and a library in which, if I wasn’t in such a cool city, I would have loved to have spent more time.
I didn’t get to meet the architects or the interior designers, but I would have gladly given them a standing ovation for so creatively incorporating the old Nurses’ Walk and the rough-hewn sandstone. The tool marks of the original stone masons accent leather-lined walls, hand-cut furniture and other modern appointments.
Even Eric, the resident ghost, a former sea merchant who wanders the halls late at night looking for his lover, Scarlett, is celebrated in his namesake bar, in specialty drinks (a Scarlett Fever, anyone?) and in a ghost tour.
As for the kindness, the Harbour Rocks staff welcome guests as friends. They seem to really care. Either that or Kristin Scott Thomas also gave acting lessons to the 32 staff members who often call guests by their first names, go out of their way to provide every comfort, every whim and, like all the hotels in the M Gallery collection, offer what’s called a “Memorable Moment.”
For example, at the collection’s Phu Quoc in Vietnam, the “Memorable Moment” is a romantic lunch on a deserted island. At the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg, France, guests get the original recipe for madeleines de Commercy at a cooking lesson with the hotel’s head pastry chef.
At Harbour Rocks, the “Memorable Moment” is a three-course dinner on a private balcony overlooking the stunning Sydney Opera House while a Classical String Quartet plays on.
So, yea, I like a Four Seasons as well as the next guy. But rather than being one of 531 guests (which I would have been at the Sydney Four Seasons), I got the luxury experience (with a lot of added features) and I got to join Bill Gates in supporting a cause I believe in.
Harbour Rocks Hotel, 34 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney.