Some hotels come with a restaurant attached; this restaurant decided to attach itself to a hotel. In a centuries-old building that once had a life as a Launceston flour mill, Stillwater on the lower floors, has long been one of Tasmania's better restaurants. When its owners decided to add seven generous guest rooms to the upper floors and create the boutique Stillwater Seven hotel, they made sure to retain something of the mill's heritage, like original timbers as massive exposed beams. That's enhanced by unique items of room furniture by an artisan Launceston furniture maker.
Stillwater sits above the starting point of the Tamar River, created as it is when the North and South Esk rivers converge below the Launceston city centre. That puts it at the bottom of the Cataract Gorge and an easy stroll to the heart of the city. The Stillwater buzz starts with breakfast and walkers getting their morning coffee fix inside and out on the terrace and continues on through lunch and dinner.
With that deep and dark aged timber and smart interior design, the result on the hotel floors is an understated, club-like feel. Watch the life and movement of the river out the front through the Georgian windows. Despite their proximity, the hotel rooms are something of an oasis apart from the buzz of the restaurant.
The seven rooms come in "premium", "deluxe" and "courtyard" levels. Ours is deluxe and it merits the claim with terrific river views out the windows, very comfortable king-size bed and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower. Those river views and the windows that frame it are only trumped by the mini-bar/pantry, a piece of bespoke furniture by Simon Ancher with a form that matches its function. In a considerate touch, we're contacted before our stay to ask what kind of wine and cocktails we'd like to see stocked in the mini-bar. In the evening, without requesting it, some complimentary popcorn, fresh bread, crackers and an ice bucket are left by the door.
No need to look beyond the restaurant below, consistently rated in Tasmania's top tier. There's a seasonal menu with the focus on fresh, local produce and there's no shortage of inspiring ingredients from land and sea in Tasmania. My highlight? Local pork belly and scallops with an XO sauce alongside a glass of Sinapius chardonnay. The Stillwater menu is aided by one of the state's best wine lists, curated by sommelier and co-owner James Welsh who is an enthusiast for the wines of his home state and many beyond. Stillwater even offers a tour by helicopter of some of the state's northern wineries. Hotel guests can take breakfast in the restaurant or their room. We chose the latter and had it laid out on a table by the windows; brilliant food in a brilliant setting.
Right across the road is the start of a network of walks that have to be among the best of any of the world's cities. The Cataract Gorge has the South Esk River tumbling through it, with the velocity depending on recent rains and how much water is released from the dams upstream. There's an even, sealed path to First Basin and its (free) public pool and gardens. To stretch the walk and the walker, the trail network goes further and a bit steeper if you take the loop past Duck Reach Power Station. For more urban pursuits, Launceston's CBD is a 10-minute wander in the other direction.
Every bit the boutique hotel, the quality of the accommodation, the location and the restaurant attached make this one of Launceston's best options.
From $495 a night for a Deluxe King room, including breakfast. 2 Bridge Road, Launceston, Tas. Phone 03 6331 4153. See stillwater.com.au
Breakfast in the room, on a table with windows to the water. Food and setting sublime.
Hectic checkout with the morning coffee crowd on scene, but the staff made it easy.
Jim Darby was a guest of Stillwater Seven.