I'm having a little trouble finding the right driveway for the valet parking at the Crown Towers Melbourne and then a black Lamborghini SUV comes gliding by. I'm on the right track here. I fall in behind this sleek Italian creation and even though it's moving at a crawl, I can hear its exhaust growling like a lion bent on jungle domination. There's an escape from the jungle here though, when the valets, in their top hats and red coats, greet me and my VW Golf, all dusty from country roads, with the same regard as the Lamborghini driver. Before I know it, I'm in the Crown Towers lobby, with a ceiling that soars three storeys above, surrounded by marble and mirrors.
Melbourne's Crown complex stretches a couple of city blocks along the Yarra River's southern banks and effectively extended Melbourne's CBD across the river when it opened in 1997. Landmarks nearby include the Melbourne Aquarium and Flinders Street Station. From the hotel, the Arts Centre Melbourne is a five minute stroll upriver and the Melbourne Exhibition Centre 10-minutes downriver. The hotel tower has an almost elliptical shape, an architectural motif repeated throughout the complex.
There's nothing subtle in here, although the Art Deco influences help unite elements like chandeliers, columns and oversized arch-shaped door handles, making the whole thing plush, rather than over-the-top Vegas. And this is, after all, a complex with a casino at its heart (as a current royal commission into its operations will attest). The hotel lobby has a guest lounge in the centre and a separate one in a corner for Crown's Crystal Club members. Across the way from reception is the Rockpool Bar, the place to be for a coffee in the morning or drinks in the evening.
Up to the 19th floor, straight down the hall and in we go. I'm in a Tower Suite, which is bigger than many a city apartment. There's a small bench to the side of the entrance to park that stuff you always want when you leave a hotel room - keycard, sunnies, wallet. There's a pair of lounge chairs either side of a vast TV. Off to the right is the main bedroom and ensuite. Off to the left is a separate dining area with a table to seat six, along with bar (two fridges and one is empty - there's a welcome touch), coffee making and a desk. Past that is another bedroom and bathroom. They're the kind of bathrooms you'd be happy to have at home - full-size bath, walk-in shower and a vanity big enough to make up a movie star. The shape of the tower means river views from all the main rooms, and bay views from some. The suites have been recently refurbished and while this one's size is bordering on ostentatious, the design and furnishings give it the right balance.
The rest of the city is nearby but Crown is a world unto itself - casino, restaurants, cinema and designer stores. Within Crown Towers is a pool and gym for guests. It is on the third floor, adjacent to the Crown Spa, which supplies massages, facials and treatments. Your hard-working correspondent had a one-hour "relaxation massage" and it was completely true to its description. If you book for a treatment at Crown Spa, you can also use its Aqua Retreat which has a steam room, therapeutic Swiss shower to "stimulate the senses" and spa pool.
You're spoilt for choice in the Crown complex. A five-minute walk takes you to a food court with more quality than many and to get there you'll pass a strip of restaurants like Nobu, Rockpool and Spice Temple. We tried Bistro Guillaume for dinner, which has a menu of French classics and in that mode, couldn't go past steak frites and it's hard to go past their version of it. Within the hotel is the Conservatory, a bright space with a row of tables facing the river for a fine breakfast (the buffet has returned here, but with protocols on the direction of travel and the distance you keep). Guests who qualify or pay an additional amount can also use Crown's Crystal Club, a luxurious lounge that serves breakfast, afternoon tea and evening drinks and canapes.
Crown Towers deserves its place in the luxury lineup of Melbourne hotels and while its size might subtract from the intimacy of some, friendly but capable staff make up much of the distance.
Deluxe rooms from $359, Premier Suites from $685, Tower Suites from $1439. Crown Towers Melbourne, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank. Phone (03) 9292 6868, see crownhotels.com.au
The relaxation massage, which left me floating on air.
I didn't leave enough time for the Aqua Retreat - in a hotel like this, you should always make the most of what's there.
Jim Darby was a guest of Crown.