All the single ladies, all the married ladies - it is time to treat yourself to a VIP weekend in Sydney.
In tune to wise words once spoken by Coco Chanel, “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous”, I'd decided that there are times in life a lady should just drop everything, and spoil herself. This weekend was to be one of those times.
I called up mum to extend the invite to be my partner at two of Sydney's swankiest hotels, and she accepted without a flinch.
With both of our busy schedules we could sadly only afford 48hours to play in the big city, but that was more than enough time to indulge in an opulent trip east...
Friday 6pm: The VIP pick-up
After a two hour delay from Ballina Airport and an hour spent circling the skies above Sydney, the end of the week has hit me like a ton of bricks... and my poor mum has been waiting for me at the airport for three hours after jetting in from Adelaide. We hug, whinge, grab our bags and make a bee-line for the exit. Now the fun begins!
The cab line is thick and long but we by-pass it with school-girl smirks: our sparkling white stretch limousine is waiting for us in the VIP pick-up area, complete with driver pouring freshly popped champagne. The evening traffic banks up just enough to allow us able time to knock back the bottle, arriving in town just after dark.
Friday 6:45pm: Shangri-La
We step out of the limo at Sydney’s prestigious Shangri-La Hotel, and breeze through the front doors. The modest lobby is bustling with ladies and gents dressed in their finest, ready for various escapades as are expected on a Friday night.
Our check-in takes a good fifteen minutes, giving me ample time to scope out the lobby: it is a modern approach merging with classic chic, with highlights of bold purples, bright whites, and polished tiled flooring. I'm going with Asia-meets-West in refined prim glamour, but there's a lack of the 'wow' factor I'd expected from one of Sydney's finest hotels.
Friday 7pm: Introducing…Sydney – right outside the window!
It's said Richard Branson prefers to stay at the Shangri-La, and when we open the door to our Deluxe Grand Harbour View Room, I know why he's a repeat visitor. Twinkling below our giant soundproof windows is Sydney's dazzling skyline, featuring resident icons Sydney Harbour, the Bridge, Luna Park and the Opera House.
When we finish gawking at the view, we explore the 45-50sqm room. Whilst slightly tired, the contemporary-styled space is large enough for our boxes of shoes, and the earthy tones of chocolate and gold compliment the stunning scene outside. Our beds have already been turned down for the night, and being a self-confessed pillow monster (I LOVE to snuggle fluffy bed clouds when I travel without hubby) I dive into the plush signature linen and have zero complaints – I could fall asleep right here, right now.
With a little time before our dinner reservation, mum and I hang up our frocks and brew a pot of Jasmine tea, parking our behinds on the cushioned window sill to indulge in the timeless view.
Friday 7:30pm: Swanky bathroom inspection
I'm disappointed when I realize our room's diagnostics don't allow for one of the hotel's famed harbour-view bathrooms. Instead we are left to settle with a ‘junior posh’ bathroom with no windows: an ensemble of sand coloured marble stone against impressive mahogany, and elegant gold fixtures poking out for added grandeur. Fluffy signature towels and bathrobes are as good as it gets, and Shangri-La toiletries complete the luxe setting – I’m still pining over not having the bath-over-water view but a quick rinse under the oversized showerhead lifts my spirits.
Tip – The Executive Corner Suite has the VIP tub, views as far as the eyes can see.
Friday 8:30pm: Altitude
Refreshed and dressed all classy in black, mum and I slip into modest heels and clip-clop to the 36th floor – Altitude Restaurant. Wondrous things are said amongst foodie and hotel circles about this dining experience, and for good reason. For one, the location doesn’t get any more iconic – this is the view the bathroom forgot.
It’s a full house so the staff have thrown in extra tables to fit demand. We are seated against the floor-to-ceiling windows but unfortunately I've copped the spot backed-up against the dividing wall - I can perve on the bridge unhindered but have to twist and bend to catch a glimpse of the Opera House.
Our dining journey traces Altitude's stunning four course menu with paired wines, and I can tell you first hand - the experience is phenomenal. Even mum, with 66 countries under her travel belt, quite confidently approves the roast loin of Murraylands lamb as THE pinnacle of all meat dishes.
As we gobble our way through the menu, I can not find fault in any of the dishes. The freshly shucked Sydney Rock Oysters doused in shallot and red wine dressing are not to miss, as iconic as the location itself. The Molong suckling pig served with crushed peas, marjoram, and semi-dried truss tomatoes, is even more divine than it sounds, and seafood fanatics will fall head over heels for the Crispy skin john dory with steamed mussels. This is what fine dining is all about, and when we are done we roll our bellies down the corridor and into bed before sinking into an indulgent culinary-induced sleep.
Saturday, 8am: Breakfast at Lowenbrau
Sydney emerges to Saturday with blue skies, our room view dancing to the summery beat. Glistening harbour waters invite us down for a stroll around the famous Rocks district, but we are quickly distracted by the smell of cooked breakfasts. We grab an outdoor table at the bustling German pub Lowenbrau, and watch as locals set up their weekend market stalls.
I dive into a full plate of German sausages, bacon, fried eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast, before declaring it officially "time to exercise" - shopping!
Saturday 9am: To shop, or not?
Sydneysiders rush by us in their Saturday morning workout threads – I swear everyone around here jogs and with the quality of delectable restaurants in the city it’s really no wonder. Mum and I fade swiftly from power walking mode to slow weekend happy-snappers as we approach the water's edge, instagramming and facebooking the harbour’s grand sights in real-time as we slither our way to Circular Quay.
Cute boutiques tease us with their closed doors, and even the market stalls are no closer to opening. We resign back to the hotel in a huff.
Tip: The Rocks shop keepers are late starters - before 10am you won’t find much open so plan a late breakfast before a day of shop hopping. The world renowned Rocks Markets are on every weekend from 10am-5pm, and the Foodies Market are on 10am-4pm Fridays.
Saturday, 10:30am: Dissolve at CHI, The Spa
Where else should all classy women go when they can't shop? To the Day Spa, of course!
Glamorous and Asian inspired, CHI, The Spa, is an enchanting haven for tourists and city slickers alike and I’m bursting with excitement to finally experience this well known hot spot. Mum and I are seated promptly in the cosy, rich woody reception that could easily double as a relaxation chamber. After sipping warm herbal tea and filling out the necessary paperwork, we are led to our fabulous couple’s treatment room for two hours of harmonizing bliss.
I graciously accept a traditional hot stone massage – a first for me – and I’m amazed at how wonderful this style of healing is. On first contact the smooth stones are indeed roasting hot, but as they are massaged over my weary skin the temperature softens and the warmth of the stones travels deep beyond the surface into my aching muscles.
Tip: Get the hot stone massage!
Saturday, 2pm: InterContinental
We transfer on foot to the InterContinental, just a moments walk from the Opera House and Botanic Gardens. Built around the restored Treasury Building of 1851, the InterContinental combines the best of contemporary accommodations without losing its historical core. As we walk in the low-key Bridge Street entrance, I’m struck by architectural ‘WOW’. The Cortile Lounge is simply stunning – guests sip on coffees in the sun-light courtyard dug out of the old building, with the rustic elevator still in operation to the side.
Our room is plush modernista, much cosier than the Shangri-La twin in size but I’m delighted at the simplistic interior - white and purple hues are a comfortable blend. Our windows offer a more compressed view, but in a refreshing sea-change we are looking out onto the Botanic Gardens and the eastern side of the harbour - a great compliment after our dramatic night of sight-gazing.
Tip: A Club room or suite will gain you access to Club Intercontinental with wraparound outdoor terrace and views of Sydney Harbour. If you’re happy to get your iconic views from here, the Botanic Garden view room is well worth it. If you’re looking for more, opt for a room with Harbour views.
Saturday, 5-7pm: Twilight Drinks
Well rested and ready for the evening, we call our Sydney-living girlfriends and meet for twilight drinks at Club InterContinental. The next two hours is a feminine breeze of Moet & Chandon, quaint pastries, and a string of gourmet cheeses - four ladies in absolute luxury, watching the sunset over one of the world’s most majestic city harbours.
Saturday, 7:30pm: China Lane
With so much happening on the Sydney city culinary scene, I've reached out to my local contacts to recommend somewhere new, and am pointed in the direction of China Lane, a 'hip' Asian-inspired restaurant tucked in one of the CBD's side alleys. So it’s with visions of delectable (and greasy) dumplings and crab-meat soups that trickles into my tipsy brain as we brave the surprisingly chilly night wind and pace 10 minutes up the road and around the corner.
I think we’re lost when we stumble upon an alleyway decorated with eerie empty bird cages hanging from the roof, then recall hearing that Michael Thomas Hill’s Forgotten Songs art installation floats above China Lane’s outdoor seating area, and alas! We are here. The very trendy manager, Baci Moore, seats us inside to escape the icy wind, and we join the masses crammed in like Tokyoites on the Yamanote line train in rush hour (only with the mute button off) – this place is pumping, and bloody loud!
Cocktails are the way here, and we kick off proceedings with some bartender specialities. The drinks menu is ever-changing, but ask for the passionfruit blend cocktail or a bartender modified version, served in a tumbler - superb!
My typical Chinese anticipations are smashed when Baci hands me the food menu – I’m now faced with journeys from Japan to China with a stopover in Vietnam and I can’t make a decision so we leave it with the chef to bring out his best.
When nuggets of pig’s ear arrive doused in salted cucumber and sichuan pepper I doubt my previous decision, but one mouthful of crunchety crunch later leaves me begging for more. Our night continues in this fashion: tropical cocktails, Japanese sashimi with a spicy kick, tempura prawns, sichuan chilli chicken wings, braised Wagyu beef bo kho, and pulled pork on fluffy steamed bun bosoms.
It's all fabulous, but my five star award ceremony for the sago and ice cream desert – I can’t share.
Tip: If you’re looking for a romantic night out or to revel in intimate conversation, China Lane on a weekend is not for you. On the other hand, if you thrive on screaming at your dining partners, or just want to eat really good food, you’ll love it here.
Sunday, 11am: High Tea
The final set of our glorious weekend starts with bubbles at the Cortile Lounge for the InterContinental’s famed High Tea. The lounge is posh, our waiter attentive, and my pot of Chai tea served with impeccable timing as the last of the champagne warms my grumbling stomach.
The delightful multi-tiered tray of food represents a traditional High Tea journey: warm scones, mini quiches, finger sandwiches, tiny cheesecakes, cream puffs, colourful macaroons...the deserts certainly steal the show, but it's all too much to devour so we accept a take home box - souvenirs for the hubbies!
Sunday, 2pm: Virgin Lounge
The sun is still engaging Sydney’s Sunday crowds when we wave goodbye to the city and fade into our limo, skipping the champagne this time. Elegantly exhausted, we make our way straight to the Virgin lounge for one last bout of VIP flair. I grab a Fat Yak cold beer from the self service bar, plate up some bites from the Luke Mangan designed buffet menu, and slump into the lounge chair with a travel magazine and begin to decompress our weekend of opulence.
IF YOU GO
M C Limousines More Information/Booking Inquiry
InterContinental More Information/Booking Inquiry
Virgin Australia http://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/
Altitude - More Information/Book Online
China Lane - http://chinalane.com.au
High Tea at the Cortile Lounge, InterContinental More Information/Prices
CHI, The Spa More Information
The Rocks Markets More Information/Market dates and times