There can be few hotels more deserving of the description "a gem of a place" than the Hotel Grand Windsor Auckland. It deserves the epithet not only because it is an exceptional accommodation experience but also because of the novel inspiration behind its interior design. The narrow 10-storey building in which it operates was built in 1928 as Windsor House, Auckland's first "skyscraper". Ninety or so years later, it has been turned into a 79-room boutique hotel, the design of which is informed by the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, in the late 1930s and beyond. The duke was once King Edward VII who, in 1937, scandalously abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee and socialite who went on to become his duchess. The only possible reservation, as it were, about the hotel concept is that the duke and duchess were Nazi sympathisers, at best, during World War II ... but let's not spoil a good design concept, or for that matter, a great stay.
Hotel Grand Windsor's location could hardly be more ideal, positioned as it is at the lower end of Queen Street, Auckland's main thoroughfare, and a short stroll from the harbourside Ferry Building and its eateries. Ferries depart regularly for destinations such as Devonport, a quaint harbourside suburb, as well as popular Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, a former race course for America's Cup yachts.
Hotel Grand Windsor is a member of the Accor group's MGallery by Sofitel, a global collection of character-rich small hotels and its superior interior design won it an international boutique hotel award soon after it opened in 2017. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it entrance on Queen Street leads into a small, tiled vestibule area with twin gold chandeliers. The friendly concierge and porters are stationed here, handy to the elevators. Further on is the reception and restaurant, but don't forget to check out the stairwell as it's one of the hotel's most beautiful features, save for the exposed fire hydrant fittings for each floor.
Stunning. Each sumptuous room channels art deco glamour and is adorned with a photograph of a particular gemstone or jewel – such as an emerald, amethyst, tourmaline and aquamarine – that was part of Simpson's near-priceless collection. My plush 31-square-metre luxury-level room is decorated in muted tones offset by a pair of turquoise-coloured armchairs. The only downside to the otherwise attractive and luxurious bathroom is its excessive amount of natural light, something the vain Wallis would surely not have tolerated, particularly first thing in the morning.
The convivial and handsomely-decorated in-house restaurant and bar, Cooke's, is named in honour of the building's original owners and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a high tea daily between 2pm and 3pm. Between mealtimes there's plenty of communal table and lounge space for a coffee, work and meetings. Odds are, however, you'll be enticed out of the hotel by the variety of eating and drinking venues in the area. For a casual and affordable meal, head up the main street to the new Queen's Rise, a trendy upscale food court in a remodelled heritage-style building. If you're heading to Waiheke Island, lunch at the Oyster Inn, sampling the local seafood and wines, is recommended.
On the doorstep of Hotel Grand Windsor you'll find Auckland's impressively redeveloped harbourside, centred around the Britomart transport hub, as well as the city's nascent laneway culture. The restaurant-, café- and bar-filled Vulcan Lane, which runs off Queen Street, serves as the main retail precinct and probably predates its more famous Melbourne counterparts.
This elegant boutique hotel – if not fit for an abdicated king and his would-be queen – is an elegantly and imaginatively-designed right royal treat. It's surely one of the best boutique hotels in all of the antipodes.
Hotel Grand Windsor, 58/60 Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand. Doubles start from $NZ233 for a classic room. Phone +64 9 309 9979. See hotelgrandwindsor.com
The hotel's interior designers deserve full credit for the creation of boutique digs that wouldn't be out of place in London or Paris.
Pack some earplugs for the moderate amount of noise from a nearby nightclub or ask for a quiet room.