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Anthony Dennis finds the perfect pied-a-terre for the design-loving traveller.
It used to be that a hotel consisted of rooms and an apartment block was composed of flats (and, once, flats were just flats, or units, not apartments). Now hotels are often full of apartments, while apartment hotels, with levels of service at times more dubious than your average mobile phone provider, are flatly pretending they're accommodating.
Any hotel-apartment property under 300 rooms these days seems to consider itself "boutique", while all you need to qualify as a design hotel is a few abstract paintings in the hallway. This brings me to Ovolo Hotel, the latest apartment-cum-boutique-cum-design hotel in Melbourne.
This intimate, 43-room property is the Ovolo Group's first foray Down Under. Ovolo is Hong Kong's largest independent hotel and serviced-apartment operator, and its portfolio is aimed to appeal to the design-conscious "young executive" who perhaps hasn't scaled the corporate ladder high enough to qualify for a Park Hyatt.
I've checked into Ovolo Hotel Melbourne, which opened last year, for two nights and I'm not sure: is it hotel or apartment building?
Whichever way, this - let's just continue to call it a property, for now - is desirably located, at the end of Little Bourke Street, not far from the Princess Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre, Chinatown and Fitzroy Gardens. It's close to plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and bookshops. If there's one section of Melbourne's central business district that is perfect to stay in, it's this.
Ovolo Melbourne's lift interiors appear to be from the building's previous incarnation and could do with a bit more design love. But once out, the corridors leading to rooms are fun and fresh, featuring quirky items and touches such as lounges made of faux grass and doors painted in bright lacquered colours.
Inside, my sunny and, at 43 square metres, spacious "suite" (which feels more like a small apartment) there are Melbourne skyline glimpses and a few Australian designer furniture touches. It also has a kitchenette. Above the desk is a panel of blackboard on which the hotel has left a cute though forgettable message (curiously, there's no chalk for the guests).
In the dark, elongated lobby there is a communal espresso machine (and "grab'n'go" breakfast goodies platter) though it seemed just as easy to pop around the corner to the historic Pellegrini's espresso bar for either a latte at the bar or for a takeaway to bring back to my room, er, apartment.
An espresso machine in the room would have been appreciated but the mini bar contains well-chosen soft drinks and beer, all included in the tariff, along with a bag of edible items designed to compensate for the lack of an in-house restaurant, cafe or room service. Commendably, in-room wi-fi is free and the checkout time is "flexible".
Although the Ovolo brand hails from Asia, the group commissioned the Australian architectural firm Hassell to design the hotel. The firm has collaborated with a local emerging Melbourne artist, Ashley Ng, on the site's artwork. Ng had a brief to evoke the notion of hidden treasures as reflected by Melbourne's laneways.
There are signs in my relatively-spacious one-bedroom apartment that Hassell was given a tight budget, though the result is restrained and pleasing with the gimmicks kept to a minimum. A colleague who booked a tiny Tokyo-sized 18-square-metre studio was surprised to discover that the only window was a skylight - though the room choices at Ovolo extend all the way to the penthouse, which comes in at a much larger 81 square metres.
And so, to the verdict: hotel or apartment hotel? It really doesn't matter in this case. Ovolo is a savvy and welcome newcomer from overseas and is happy to place an each-way bet on whether it's a hotel or serviced apartments. Whatever the case, for this neither young nor executive guest, you'd be flat out finding better, or better-located new boutique design accommodation in which to stay in the Victorian capital.
Ovolo Hotel Melbourne
Address 19 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne.
The verdict Ovolo is an excellent choice for those who don't want or need the frills and price tag of a five-star but are appreciative of good design and a convenient, lively city-centre location.
Price Rates for a standard studio from about $188 midweek; $212 at weekends.
Bookings Phone (03) 8692 0777.
Getting there Ovolo Hotel is at the top end of Little Bourke Street in Melbourne, a few hundred metres south of Spring Street where Parliament House is located. Parking is available at a "partnered" car park for $20 a day. There are stops on Spring Street for the free City Circle tram.
Perfect for Design lovers; theatre devotees; bar and cafe crawlers; business travellers seeking an alternative to conventional four- and five-star properties.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Virtually on the doorstep are top restaurants Gingerboy, Becco, Longrain, The European and Grossi Florentino Grill. Stroll to the Princess Theatre and Her Majesty's.
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Tourism Victoria and Ovolo.