The island state is embracing bold inner-city luxury lodgings, writes Lauren Quaintance.
It's sometimes hard to think of Hobart as a true city; after all, Tasmania's historic capital has had a reputation as more of an overgrown town than a bustling urban metropolis, and therein lies its appeal.
Even with the opening of the beacon-like Museum of Old and New Art two years ago, a thriving food and wine scene and a clutch of upscale hotel developments, a stroll along Salamanca Place is hardly like fighting your way through downtown Bangkok.
Yet when Brett Torossi, a local property developer and the owner of two acclaimed retreats on Tasmania's east coast, decided her latest project would be set in the heart of Hobart she was inspired by the Musee de l'Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris as a place where urbanites can seek relief from the chaos of city life. "Even though it's not Sydney, Hobart is still a city," she says. "There [are] still people, there is still noise." And what better way to escape the city than to literally rise above it by retreating to a glass box on top of an office block in the CBD?
The 117-square-metre prefabricated "omnipod", designed by local architect Craig Rosevear, was craned onto the top of a 1960s building that straddles a city block flanked by two of Hobart's main arterial routes. The pod is accessed by lift that takes you to the ninth floor and half-a-dozen steps that lead to an outdoor terrace with a deep Huon pine bath tub (a snug fit for two) and "moon lounge" chair for stargazing.
Inside, the decor is pared back without being stark - there's a commodious couch, a 10-seat Huon pine table, artwork by Australian and Italian artists as well as, incongruously, a centuries-old monastery door from Arezzo, Italy. Floor-to-ceiling windows maximise the view of Hobart's waterfront and at each end of the rectangular pod there is a bedroom with a king-size bed dressed with jersey-knit linen (and a choice of Logan & Mason pillows) and its own bathroom.
When Torossi says that she wanted the retreat to have "everything you could possibly need", she is not exaggerating. Not only is there a well-chosen selection of mostly local wines (Josef Chromy, Devil's Corner and Springvale), local beer (Moo Brew) and local spirits (Sullivans Cove), but the freezer is packed full of frozen meals including duck, tomato and lime curry, aged eye fillet and bread and butter pudding from Hobart's renowned Wursthaus Kitchen.
If you cook, you'll find the kitchen better equipped than your own, and the pantry contains essentials such as herbs, rice, flour and fresh ginger and garlic. But if you ditch the kitchen, Hobart's best restaurants are only a short walk or cab ride away. Should you require them, there are also tampons, painkillers, nail polish remover - even stamps - at your disposal.
With that kind of attention to detail it's easy to stay put playing Monopoly or browsing the selection of books about design, architecture and Tasmanian history (oddly there are no magazines). There's a deliberately small television ("because we are not bogans [and] don't have enough money to buy the B&O extravanganza", according to the notes left for guests) and, for the artistically minded, an artist's kit including a small palette and watercolours.
Torossi and Rosevear share a passion for the modernist architecture of Mies van der Rohe and have been working together since the Sydney-born developer commissioned the local architect to design the ground-breaking Avalon Coastal Retreat on a dramatic headland near Swansea in 2004. At the time, there was little by way of luxury accommodation in the island state and people told Torossi she was crazy to think she could charge $500 a night. Avalon was quickly booked out and, a few years later, she again collaborated with Rosevear to build the more intimate Rocky Hills Retreat in the foothills behind Great Oyster Bay. In different ways both offer a rare kind of serenity that is an escape from what Torossi describes as the "circus" of modern life.
This time, Torossi says, they set out to design something that shared "the same DNA" but was an efficiently constructed modular building that could be replicated. Torossi has trademarked the omnipod and is offering it for sale for $400,000 (plus transport and installation), but she also has her eye on new sites for accommodation including an "ugly, flat-roofed '60s flat" in Sydney with views of both the harbour and the sea. If the project succeeds, it will fill a need for unique accommodation in the city. "We need more people to be brave!" she says.
Lauren Quaintance travelled courtesy of Tourism Tasmania and the Avalon City Retreat.
Getting there Jetstar flies to Hobart from Sydney and Melbourne up to five times a day; one-way fares from $69 (checked baggage not included). See jetstar.com.
Staying there Rates for Avalon City Retreat start from $880 a night for up to four people. 1300 361 136; avalonretreats.com.au.
Eating there Ethos Eat Drink Located in atmospheric converted 1820s stables, executive chef Iain Todd creates shared plates from whatever ingredients he can source that day. 100 Elizabeth Street, Hobart. (03) 6231 1165; ethoseatdrink.com.
Castray Esplanade Food & Wine Located on the ground floor of the chic Salamanca Wharf Hotel, local foodie Karen Goodwin-Roberts serves no-fuss dishes such as corned beef, potato cake and poached egg and piccalilli. Breakfast and lunch only. 17a Castray Esplanade, Battery Point, Hobart. (03) 6224 6250; salamancawharfhotel.com.
Garagistes Tetsuya-trained chef Luke Burgess delivers an assured performance behind the stoves at what is widely regarded as the best restaurant in Tasmania. 103 Murray Street, Hobart. (03) 6231 0558; garagistes.com.au.