We flew for three-and-a-half hours from Vanuatu to one of my favorite cities, where man and nature have collaborated to sensational effect. I still feel a thrill every time I see Sydney Harbour, its innumerable bays and inlets punctuated by the graceful arc of the Harbour Bridge and the white curves of the Opera House. Nor does the city, founded in 1788, have a shortage of elegant historic architecture. Grand Victorian edifices such as the Strand Arcade and the Queen Victoria Building house upscale shops, while many of the 19th-century townhouses in The Rocks neighborhood now contain galleries and restaurants.
Brass chandeliers and gold-framed room dividers add dashes of 1970s glamour.
Understandably, most subscribers who contact the Travel Office request accommodations with views of the Opera House, and for them, I recommend the Park Hyatt and the Four Seasons. If the iconic outlook is inessential, however, The Langham, Sydney makes an exceedingly comfortable and well-located base overlooking Darling Harbour, a 15-minute walk from Circular Quay. Formerly The Observatory Hotel, this 98-room property underwent comprehensive renovations before reopening in December 2014. The lobby-lounge now feels bright and chic, with white marble floors and cream walls accented by turquoise furniture and occasional splashes of gold and bronze. The space flows into the bar, flanked by the Palm Court and the Kent Street Kitchen, a fine-dining restaurant. Brass chandeliers and gold-framed room dividers add dashes of 1970s glamour to the otherwise contemporary spaces.
Our large Langham Suite exhibited the same fresh design sensibility, with blue-gray carpeting, white paneled walls, pearl-gray drapes, and windows that opened to views of distant ferries and pleasure boats plying Darling Harbour. The living room furnishings, including a linen-upholstered sofa, a marble-topped deco-style coffee table and an aqua velvet armchair, were comfortable and attractive, as were those in the separate bedroom. The limestone-tile bath, too, was lovely, with a separate shower and soaking tub, and fluffy robes and towels.
As much as we appreciated our spacious suite and the hotel’s facilities (which include a large swimming pool in the basement), the service made The Langham truly stand out. For example, on our first evening, I asked the concierge to make a reservation for high tea the following afternoon. At breakfast the next morning, the maître d’ assured us, unprompted, that our booking had been confirmed. Too few hotels foster this kind of cross-communication, which makes guests feel both cared for and important. For the rest of our stay at The Langham, I had the rare feeling that nothing could go wrong — and nothing did.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The fresh and stylish décor; the warm and cheerful staff; the quiet but central location; the immaculate pool and spa.
DISLIKE: Our scruffy unrenovated closet; imprecise climate controls.
GOOD TO KNOW: Between Darling Harbour and The Langham is the Barangaroo development, currently a huge construction site. Fortunately, it does not, and will not, block the water views.
The Langham, Sydney 94 Grand Langham Harbour Room, $430; Langham Harbour Suite, $530. 89-113 Kent Street, Sydney. Tel. (61) 2-9256-2222.
A 50-minute drive north of downtown Sydney, the coast terminates on a hilly, beach-lined peninsula clustered with multimillion-dollar homes. The Palm Beach area was all but uninhabited when Jonah's opened in 1928 as a roadhouse perched atop a crescent ridge. It eventually added 11 guest rooms and a small outdoor pool, developing into a gourmet retreat. Twenty years ago, I visited for lunch, arriving from Sydney’s Rose Bay via a 20-minute seaplane flight. On this occasion, curious to see how the new executive chef, Logan Campbell, was handling the restaurant, I booked a room.
Jonah’s looks unassuming from the road, but it has sensational views of the bay and Whale Beach from both of its buildings.
Jonah’s looks unassuming from the road, but it has sensational views of the bay and Whale Beach from both of its buildings. Like all the guest rooms, ours had an ample terrace furnished with two Adirondack-style loungers overlooking the water. The simple but attractive interior came with a king-size bed, hardwood floors, a love seat and a dinette set. A switch controlled blackout shades and Venetian blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows. The bath came with a heated limestone floor, a separate shower and a hot tub next to shutters that closed it off (or not) from the rest of the room. In some respects, however, the space could have used freshening: The floor was scratched and the couch had some light stains.
In warm weather, a wide terrace off the restaurant is an irresistible spot for an aperitif; in winter, guests congregate around a fireplace in the cozy bar. The dining room, with its white chairs, white banquettes and chrome-clad pillars, has an appealing art deco aesthetic, and floor-to-ceiling windows afford glorious sea views. Chef Campbell is doing a fine job, and I relished dishes such as a carpaccio of Tasmanian salmon with capers, grapefruit and olive oil; and savory Mirrool Creek lamb with foie gras-stuffed cabbage and baby root vegetables. Wines such as a lush Pressing Matters “R69” Tasmanian Riesling and a powerful Stella Bella Tempranillo from the Margaret River Valley paired exceptionally well.
Our breakfasts were also memorable, as much for the view as the food. We had little competition for window tables during a midweek stay, and as we dined on duck-egg soufflé and açai-topped granola with almond milk, we marveled at the panorama before us. To our left, surfers slid gracefully along the breaking waves, and to our right, we spotted the spouts of humpback whales that were resting in the bay.
Our most memorable excursion was a hike in nearby Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which encompasses a wide peninsula surrounded by tall bluffs sheltering marinas and small housing enclaves accessible only by boat. After a short and scenic ferry ride, we disembarked at The Basin, a campground dotted with quietly grazing wallabies. A steep uphill trail led into the park, passing through mature eucalyptus and gray buloke forest before leveling off on a picturesque heathland plateau speckled with wildflowers. After about 45 minutes, we reached our goal, a collection of ancient Aboriginal petroglyphs carved into an expanse of tessellated sandstone pavement. We had the remarkable and enigmatic site, decorated with numerous large human and animal figures, entirely to ourselves. The outing, though at times strenuous, was an enormous pleasure, made simple by the helpful staff of Jonah’s, who drove us to and from the ferry for no charge.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The sensational views; the unfailingly helpful and friendly service; the excellent food and well-chosen wine list.
DISLIKE: The signs of wear in our room.
GOOD TO KNOW: Weekends fill far in advance. The area has several pleasant walks, including to the Bible Garden, which overlooks the end of the peninsula; and steep Hordern Park, leading down to Palm Beach. Ferries to nearby Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park run regularly each day.
Jonah's 91 Ocean Retreat Room, $470. 69 Bynya Road, Whale Beach, Sydney. Tel. (61) 2-9974-5599.