When the Commonwealth Games comes to Australia next month (April 4-15), the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Gold Coast will be the official hotel, hosting dignitaries from 70 Commonwealth nations. There are newer, shinier hotels on the "GC", but none with the old-school glamour of the Sheraton Grand Mirage, built in 1987 by the infamous Christopher Skase and still the Gold Coast's only five-star beachfront resort. It's fully booked during the Games of course, but its restaurant and bars will be open to the public.
Don't let its Gold Coast address fool you. This 295-room resort is at the northern end of the coast, a world away from the high-rise excesses of Surfers Paradise. Across the road and accessible via footbridge are the Marina Mirage designer shopping mall and Palazzo Versace hotel; Southport Yacht Club is just down the road and Sea World is 700 metres north.
Step out of your taxi, or hand you car keys to the valet, and prepare to be wowed by a gleaming marble lobby with ocean views. There's even a cantilevered "observation deck" where you can stand above a man-made waterfall, gazing through a three-storey glass wall at the Pacific Ocean. The six-hectare complex consists of an all-white modernist central building, two accommodation wings curving around a saltwater swimming pool, extensive Curacao-blue lagoons (40 per cent of the resort's footprint is water) and lush tropical gardens. There are also 54 privately owned two and three-bedroom "villas" (actually apartments; 17 are available to guests). It's all refreshingly low-rise – by law, no part of the resort can be higher than the coconut palms. There's an in-house gym, but guests can also use the Golden Door Spa & Health Club next door. Best of all, there's direct, no-fuss access to the beach.
After the thrill of those lobby views, the walk to my room is a bit of a let-down, the corridor on the way showing its age (regular renovations have kept the rest of the resort looking fabulous). Opening the door to my spacious Ocean Premium King room, however, we're back on track. The Sheraton Signature bed, a California King with a satiny white duvet, is the star, and magnificently comfortable. I draw open the sheer white curtains (there are blackout curtains too against those too-early Queensland sunrises) and slide open the wide window and there's the sea, and a lifeguard tower, close enough to touch – even at night, thanks to beachside floodlights. One of the resort's most innovative features is the absence of balconies; instead rooms have "lanai", indoor-outdoor Hawaiian-style verandahs – to bring the outside in and maximise floor space. Perhaps to keep those views centre stage, the decor is rather plain with neutral furnishings and only one artwork. There's a flatscreen TV, aircon and a generous minibar (with kettle, espresso machine and coffee plunger), and checkout is at a civilised 12 noon.
The resort's restaurants and bars, all refurbished in 2011, include: Terraces, a Scandi-chic white-and-timber restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the main lagoon and an impressive seafood buffet (popular with GC locals so make sure to book for dinner); the intimate Oyster "Bar", said to be one of the best seafood restaurants on the GC; and the Oriental-themed Pearls Bar, a sophisticated spot ideal for coffee, a quiet cocktail, a light meal or high tea (for a very reasonable $32.50). There's also the Oasis swim-up pool bar, complete with underwater stools, and 24-hour room service. Off-site, the Gold Coast strip has everything from food trucks and surf club decks to rooftop bars and hatted restaurants.
Stay in or go out? That's the dilemma of a resort so close to so much. Walk along the beach: north for nature, south to Surfers (four kilometres away). Rent a bike from reception and cruise along the 36-kilometre Oceanway coastal path that stretches from Southport Spit to the NSW border. The concierge can arrange passes for nearby theme parks such as Sea World, Dreamworld, Wet 'n' Wild and Movie World, and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The Gold Coast hinterland and Byron Bay are just a day trip away. For more ideas, see destinationgoldcoast.com
The resort is at 71 Sea World Drive, Main Beach, Gold Coast, 35 minutes from Gold Coast airport and an hour from Brisbane. Rooms from $389 a night including breakfast for two, Wi-Fi and parking. Call (07) 5577 0000 or see sheratongrandmiragegoldcoast.com
A timeless grand dame of a resort, the Sheraton Grand Mirage offers first-class service, Hawaii-meets-Miami chic and a cocktails-by-the-pool vibe on a surprisingly natural bit of the Gold Coast with easy access to popular landmarks.
In-your-face ocean views from the room, falling asleep to a soundtrack of surf and waking to magpie warbles and darting lorikeets.
Having to pay $15.95 to watch a movie on my TV, and polar fleece bathrobes that were super-soft but too warm for a Gold Coast summer.
Louise Southerden stayed as a guest of Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Gold Coast.