The Hotel St Moritz sits snugly on a rise opposite Lake Wakatipu and the snow-tipped Remarkables. The hotel, part of the MGallery boutique stable of the Sofitel brand, gives a nod to its European namesake with a lodge-like aesthetic, a hot tub garden and a sauna, yet offers a uniquely New Zealand experience.
Suddenly the hotel name makes sense. The stunning craggy face of The Remarkables and the mirrored lake in front of it dominate the landscape. In early morning, at dusk and even in the midday sun, it has an air of unreality. This is not a special effects alpine backdrop from a European musical – but it could be. It's no fluke that parts of Mission Impossible 6 were filmed here. Queenstown is action central: there's skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, jet boating, white-water rafting and off-road touring. Helicopters are big here, and not just for medical emergencies. You can try scenic flights, heli-skiing, heli-fishing for trout and even heli-hunting (for feral deer or pigs). Queenstown also showcases magnificent produce, great restaurants and wineries and quality boutique shopping – all just a short walk from the Hotel St Moritz.
First impressions? Think 007 on a weekend away. A massive stone fireplace dominates the lobby. The wood panelling, animal skins and muted tones suggest a high-end lodge. Yet this quite male aesthetic is offset by signature creature comforts and great attention to detail (Molton Brown bath products, snug pillows, quality linen and furnishings). The hotel restaurant Lombardi is a destination eatery and includes spectacular views.
My suite manages to be snug and spacious. When I can tear myself away from the mountain/lake vista that changes every few minutes as The Remarkables peek through sun-tipped clouds, I take it in. There's a full galley kitchen and an adjoining lounge with that view as well as a dining table, a couch and an armchair scattered with plush cushions, and a large-screen TV. The bedroom has another TV and king bed. The bathroom has a large bath, a glass-enclosed rain shower and double vanity. There's a coffee maker, teas, Molton Brown bath products. A welcome plate of chocolate delights is a nice touch. Some 80 per cent of guests at MGallery by Sofitel hotels are women. To celebrate this, it has launched "Inspired by Her" – a commitment to provide for and celebrate female guests. So bathrooms are equipped with good lighting, make-up mirrors and hairdryers. Bedrooms have plenty of hanging space and the layout of exits and car parks have been re-examined with women in mind. This is a long-awaited recognition that the needs of women travellers are often overlooked. An emergency box packed with items such as Clinique moisturiser, tampons, nail polish remover and hair ties is also offered. Some are free, others come at a small cost.
The hotel restaurant, Lombardi, wins us over on our first night with a Honeynut Martini – an "Inspired by Her" cocktail, celebrating the feats of local woman Susan Nugent Wood, a pioneer of the Otago gold rush. This mix of New Zealand 42-Below Honey Vodka, frangelico and butterscotch schnapps is delicious and soothing. Other standouts at Lombardi are Wild Fiordland Venison Loin with parsnip puree, savoy cabbage, mushroom medley, black Doris plum and game jus $42; and Sous Vide Central Otago Lamb Rump herb crusted, with caramelised shallots, kumara and pinot jus $39. Queenstown, now bustling all year round, has many good food options including Malaysian fare at Madam Woo see madamwoo.co.nz and Tanoshi Teppan and Sake bar tanoshi.co.nz First-time visitors may be intrigued by a queue of snap-happy dinners snaking down the main street. They are in the never-ending line to dine at Fergburger, the burger joint that prompted no less than CNN to ask the question: could these be the best burgers in the world? Australians note: beetroot does not appear to be on the menu. See fergburger.com And a warning: do not leave Queenstown without sampling the local pinot noir.
Queenstown offers myriad adrenalin-inducing experiences. We opt for an MGallery Memorable Moment – a Heli Tours flight to the Remarkables. Soon we are flying towards a mountain where we land on snow, picnic on a possum-skin rug and drink champagne. Memorable? Er, yes. We emerge from our heli-tours craft not so much shaken as stirred. stmoritz.co.nz/offers/memorable-moment Other great options include travelling in the hoof-steps of Lord of the Rings horses in a Nomad Safaris land cruiser; a visit to the Chinese Miners' Village in historic Arrowtown; taking a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on the TSS Earnslaw – a century-old steamship – or enjoying an outdoor spa under the stars in the hotel's hot tub garden.
The hotel St Moritz offers a perfect mix of wow factor and comfort – not unlike New Zealand as a whole. The hotel is an excellent base for a romantic, adventurous or a family stay, aided in no small part by the warmth and professionalism of its staff.
The Hotel St Mortiz, Queenstown New Zealand. 10/18 Brunswick Street. Phone +64 3-442 4990. From $NZ225 (low season) $325 (winter). See See stmoritz.co.nz
The views. Be mesmerised by that glassy lake and those mysterious mountains shrouded by cloud.
Water tended to pool on the bathroom floor.