Opened in August 2016 to the tune of $NZ51 million ($46.5 million), the Sofitel Wellington was the first five-star international luxury hotel built in the New Zealand capital for more than 15 years. The repurposed building, formerly the Apple and Pear Board, had seven floors added to it so it now holds 129 rooms over 14 floors. This is the third hotel in New Zealand for the Paris-based brand, joining the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour and Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa.
Across the road from the 25-hectare Wellington Botanic Gardens, guests can easily stretch their legs wandering through the garden's protected native forest, conifers and floral displays. The Beehive parliament building and CBD are down the road, and it's a short stroll to Lambton harbour and the plethora of dining options New Zealand's culinary capital has to offer.
Stepping into the gold and bronze-hued lobby, the opulence of this hotel is immediately apparent, and enhanced by staff in auburn, gold-buttoned uniforms greeting guests in French. On the ground floor is the elegant Green Room lounge and bar (great for a postprandial tipple), the Jardin Grill restaurant, a small fitness centre, and gold elevators that take guests up to the three meeting rooms on the first floor and to the guest rooms above. Kiwi design firm SPACE Studios and AccorHotels interior design director Stephane Lombard have given the interiors a sumptuous vintage feel, and given nods to both the brand's French heritage and to the botanic gardens with a floral theme throughout – think floral artworks, wallpapers and soft furnishings, and the occasional pear or apple sculpture reminding guests of the building's former life.
The French and botanical themes continue in-room, with subtle floral wallpaper and botanical artworks that tie in particularly nicely should you have a garden view room. Furnishings are plush and tactile, including gilded lamps and mirrors, velvet bedheads, wood panelling, silver-hued wallpaper and velvet drapes. The mod-cons are all there, including free Wi-Fi, 122-centimetre (48-inch) Samsung televisions, Bose speakers, DeLonghi espresso machines, and the brand's ridiculously comfy signature Sofitel My Beds. The French quotation on the door of the black-tiled bathroom is a nice touch (if not a little cheesy; it translates to "your kisses are the words of love that I cannot say"), as are the rain showers and Lanvin bath products.
Jardin Grill looks as good as it tastes, with its riotous floral wallpaper and ceiling frescoes, copper kitchen and courtyard with a fire pit. Under the direction of executive chef Grant Dicker, from celebrated Mint Dining Room in Nelson, deliciousness is offered in the form of mussel velouté infused with saffron, poached NZ shellfish and crème fraiche tortellini, or grilled Ora King salmon gravlax with kumara, fennel and apple cannelloni.
If you're short on time, a Zest food tour will help you quickly sample bits and pieces of the small-batch, organic, handmade goodies the clever folk around town are creating, like the "nitro" coffee at Mojo Coffee, or the hand-baked pastries at Nikau Cafe. Sterling, the newest venture from the team behind Egmont Street Eatery, is an excellent dinner option where the woodfired oven is the menu's focal point. Charley Noble, housed in the former Huddart Parker shipping line building with a raw seafood bar, house-made pasta and natural wine list, is unmissable for lunch. Nature-lovers can get up close and personal with New Zealand fur seals on a Seal Coast Safari, which takes guests along Wellington's windswept coast passing black sand beaches, soaring cliffs and cute "bach" holiday houses. Zealandia is another great outdoorsy option, a fenced 225-hectare urban ecosanctuary that's trying to restore Wellington's forest and freshwater ecosystems to as close as possible to their pre-human state, filled with reintroduced native wildlife including takahē and wētā birds.
Sofitel Wellington is a chic, central option for both business and leisure travellers. A welcome luxury addition to Wellington's accommodation scene that has been a long time coming.
17/11 Bolton St, Wellington, New Zealand. Four room types, starting at $NZ225 a night. Phone +64 4-472 2001; sofitel.com
HIGHLIGHT The luxurious interiors; there's nothing quite like a good dose of velvet to pull one out of a food coma.
LOWLIGHT The breakfast buffet. The food is good, but when staff are under the pump the service can get sloppy and it quickly slides into chaos. Get there early, or order in-room.
Nina Karnikowski stayed courtesy of Sofitel Wellington and Positively Wellington Tourism.