Quay West Resort and Spa, Falls Creek review: New cool in alps

Top of the world ... Quay West Resort and Spa.
Top of the world ... Quay West Resort and Spa. Photo: Nicky Ryan

Read our writer's views on this property below

With the snow season starting this weekend, Kay O'Sullivan reports on one of the biggest developments of the year.

There's always a sense of anticipation about the opening weekend of the ski season. Depth of snow falls aside, this year the buzz is all about the Quay West Resort and Spa Falls Creek, which, if the chattering classes are halfway correct, will redefine alpine tourism in this country.

QWRS has been developed by Zacamoco, a joint venture between Callum Fraser whose architectural practice Elenberg Fraser has totted up more than $1billion worth of projects in the past decade and developer/publisher Morry Schwartz, a name as likely to be found on the literary pages of this newspaper as it is in the financial section.

The company was responsible for the much-feted Huski at Falls Creek. The magazine of the uber-cool, Wallpaper, declared the apartment block, with its restaurant, food produce store and spa, the best ski resort in the world when it opened in 2005.

Now that is a hard act to follow but Fraser is confident that he has done just that.

Sitting in an interior room in his bustling Fitzroy office, which is as far from the endless horizons of the Victorian Alps as you can get, he presents a convincing case of how QWRS will redefine alpine tourism.

"There is nothing like it anywhere in Australia," he says. "This is the first of the kind, an alpine hotel with full-service facilities. The only ski-in, ski-out, drive-in, drive-out, five-star apartment hotel in the country."

Architects are by necessity nuts-and-bolts people but the best of them possess a poetic vision. Get Fraser talking about his love of mountains and the man of vision rises to the surface. Like most Australians, the coast was Fraser's first choice for holidays. But a holiday in Lorne disabused him of the notion that the seaside was the place to be for families.

"Too many people, too many cars. It was worse than being in the city. There was nothing at all relaxing about it," he says.

He and his wife, Zahava Elenberg, founder and non-executive director of Elenberg Fraser, turned their gaze inwards and headed for the hills, in particular the Victorian Alps. He says it's hard to explain the mystique of mountains but does a great job of it anyway, as recent converts to a new passion tend to do: "It's a powerful experience but it's almost something that you have to experience yourself to understand. There is an intimacy with the landscape that you don't get anywhere else. The rewards are immense for the journey you have to make to get there.

"There are no limits to what you can see, but at the same time you are completely grounded."

He stops, laughs and adds: "Except when you are in mid-space falling at speed."

While mountains deliver an other-worldly experience, Fraser felt that the accommodation fell on the naff side of prosaic.

"I have a theory that the accommodation that was developed when skiing was booming through the 1970s was fine then but it hasn't kept up with our widening expectations of what a holiday should deliver now. People weren't that concerned with personal space then but you get to a point where you don't want to sleep in a dorm, shower down the corridor or fight for space in the communal kitchen."

So Fraser and Elenberg set out on a journey to look at the best the alpine world had to offer. They fell in love with European mountain villages with their intimacy and sense of community. The North American model of fully self-contained strata-titled apartments fitted their ideal that a skiing holiday should be affordable for families, as well as allowing couples, families and friends to stay in accommodation they could share but still have private space.

The strata-title arrangement, so prevalent in the US, was a positive for that all-important bottom line on the financial sheets, especially with a project costing more than $64million.

The complex, at the bottom of Wombat Run, sits atop the confluence of two creeks, which according to dreamtime legend gave rise to the Bogong moth. The romance of this caught Fraser's imagination and inspired the design of the complex.

The building fans out with two four-storey "wings" housing 63 apartments. So far, 40 of the 63 apartments are finished. The rest will open next season. Prices for the one- to four-bedroom apartments range from $510,000 to $1.3million, and half have been sold.

All come fully furnished by Elenberg's company Move-in, which supplies complete furniture packages, and have the requisite European appliances, edgy furniture and fine finishes. The apartments feature open-plan living as well as quiet spaces. Each has a hot tub on its balcony. Custom-designed illustrations of the Bogong moth hang on the walls. All main bedrooms have an ensuite.

QWRS has two levels of public facilities, including ALTA an Argentinian-style grill restaurant the delightfully named tomdickandharry's bar and cafe and a coffee and takeaway food shop. There is a spa with a sauna, steam room, indoor plunge pool and outdoor spa. The gym and creche in the complex will move to new-build premises next year. There are conference facilities, a supermarket, the largest ski and board hire in the village, a fashion retailer and one selling skis and boards. It also has an information hub and ticket office.

"All the facilities of life are there so you don't have to schlep them over the snow. Holidays should be easy but skiing holidays usually aren't," Fraser says. "We provided a fully integrated and seamless process. You pull up at the front door, park the car or have someone park it for you and go up in the elevator to your apartment. You can be drinking a glass of wine, provided in an order pack from the supermarket, within minutes of arrival."

While Mirvac will manage the complex, it is important to Fraser that the restaurant and cafes showcase the produce and food of the artisan producers of the fertile north-east region.

The development on Bogong High Plain Road, the thoroughfare into the village, solves a structural problem for Falls by providing it with a natural entrance. "This [the lack of an obvious entry point] made it very difficult for first-time skiers, who didn't know where to go. We wanted to create a real village centre, with the amenities in the hub between the two wings of apartment blocks providing a natural gathering point.

"In winter, it will be the way to the slopes, in summer (thanks to a $5million government grant for landscaping), it will be a collection bowl for all kinds of activity."

Fraser believes the complex will bolster the mountain village's credentials as a year-round destination something that is taken for granted in the northern hemisphere where so many ski resorts grew out of summer vacation towns.

Having discovered it as an alternative to a beach holiday, Fraser is enthusiastic about the attractions of mountains during the so-called "off" season. "For one," he says, "it's eight degrees cooler and last summer that was a big plus.

"We have a shallow understanding of mountains. People in other cultures have a much more developed sense of mountains than we have. Whistler has a higher summer visitation rate than in winter and the Colorado resorts are also extremely popular during the summer.

"You have to say, though, that Falls and Thredbo are doing a good job of developing year-round activities and we hope to add to it."

QWRS was originally to be known as StFalls, part of Fraser's pan-alpine plan to establish similar apartment hotels at Hotham and Buller. The global financial crisis has caused a rethink but not, he stresses, an end to that plan. The Buller development is going ahead with an expected opening date of 2011 and talks are continuing about Hotham.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Falls Creek is 356kilometres, or 4? hours' drive, along the Hume Highway from Melbourne. In winter, access is limited to entry via Mount Beauty, which is 31kilometres from the resort. Chains must be carried during winter.

Staying there

Quay West Resort and Spa Falls Creek, see mirvachotels.com/quay-west-resort-spa-falls-creek, phone 1800453525. One-bedroom apartment until June26 is $361 for one night and $310 a night for a five-night minimum stay. One-bedroom apartment from June 27 until October 4 is $723 a night for a two-night minimum stay and $621 a night for a five-night minimum stay.

Packages

Three nights' accommodation in a two-bedroom apartment (four share), breakfast in ALTA restaurant, three-day lift pass, group ski lesson daily, $674 an adult, $610 a child (3-14). Booking referenceQWWS3. Five nights' accommodation in a two-bedroom apartment (four share), five-day lift pass, five group lessons an adult, five full days of snow sports school a child, five days' ski or board rental, five-day parka and pant hire, $875 an adult, $803 a child (3-14). Booking reference QW50WS. Opening packages valid until June25.