Affectionately known as the “Duchess of Spring Street,” The Windsor is Australia’s last remaining 19th century grand hotel. The hotel opened in 1883 as The Grand, at a time when Melbourne was the second largest city in the British Empire; it remains a bastion of old-world elegance.
Then, as now, the property has the best of Melbourne at its doorstep from the Parliament end of the CBD, and focuses solely on offering guests a comfortable place to stay in the city centre. Tradition is key here, and visitors will sense that in everything from the decor and facilities to the staff and service.
Practically a rite of Melbournian citizenship, The Windsor Afternoon Tea has earned its place in the hearts of locals. On any given day, you’ll see families celebrating, mothers and daughters bonding, and friends socialising over a classic feast of ribbon sandwiches, savoury pastries, and scones. All accompanied by tea, Champagne, and the strains of classical music, naturally. Weekend sittings – complete with extravagant dessert buffet and a chocolate fountain – are the most popular, and require advance booking.
And if you’re worried about taking tea the wrong way, The Windsor celebrates its classic offering with the Hotel Windsor Guide to Etiquette and History of Afternoon Tea. You’ll get a crash course in how to hold your tea cup (don’t extend that pinkie!), what to do with your napkin, and the correct way to eat a scone.
If we’re honest, this 135-year old hotel is showing its age. But that doesn’t make its Victorian style any less charming. Rooms are comfortably functional with thick carpets, heavy drapery, timber furnishings and marble bathrooms. But they also come with complimentary WiFi, LCD TVs, and lush bathroom amenities.
These aesthetics carry through to the public areas, which feature solid brass light fixtures, original Milton tiles, and extra-wide corridors that are a fashionable relic from a time when hooped skirts were all the rage among stylish women. The most striking feature though, is the stately staircase that runs through all four floors of the hotel.
A full renovation is in the works, and will be carried out in stages so as not to interfere with the guest experience. If rumours are true, the makeover should see the addition of bigger rooms, a pool, and a spa, all overseen by David Collins Studio. Who will doubtlessly maintain the heritage feel, since they were also responsible for Claridge’s, Fortnum & Mason, and Harrods.
There are 180 rooms in seven categories here, though all are done up in classic Victorian style. There are three types of guest rooms – Traditional, Superior, Deluxe – and three suite styles. The plush Victorian Suites are the favorites, and are named for royalty and distinguished figures that have stayed here.
WHAT WE LOVE
Rooms come with a pillow menu featuring 10 different options, so a good night’s sleep is guaranteed.
The opulent Royal Suite, which comes with separate bedroom, dining room and salon, fireplaces, marble bathroom with standalone claw-foot bath, and floor-to-ceiling windows with unparalleled views over Spring Street and Treasury Gardens.
A veritable who’s who of VIPs have stayed here, so you may well be bedding down in the same space as Meryl Streep, Muhammad Ali, Metallica, or Richard Branson.
In August, the hotel becomes an art destination when it hosts Spring 1883 and invites artists to create installations in select guest rooms.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
With Melbourne’s best restaurants on its doorstep, the hotel doesn’t compete with lunch and dinner services of its own. Grab bar bites at the onsite Cricketer’s Bar, or ask the concierge to book you a table at the hottest new spot in town.
You’re in the midst of the best of Melbourne here. The designer shops of Collin Street, the theatre district, the hidden CBD laneway coffee shops and restaurants, the riverside bars, and the National Gallery of Victoria are all within a 10-minute walk.
The hotel has a number of grand function rooms for meetings or special events.
The Towers – which was once the penthouse dwelling of a local bon vivant and site of lavish parties – is now home to a humble gym, which while basic, is enough for a decent workout with views of stately Spring Street. With Melbourne’s best spas just a stone’s throw away, the hotel doesn’t bother with a lacklustre wellness offering. Instead, plush in-room spa treatments are available on request.
WHEN YOU SHOULD GO
With a fantastic F&B scene, cultural exhibitions and great coffee, Melbourne is a great all-year destination. Just remember to pack for any weather. In summer, though, you can also experience cricket and the Australian Open, beach vibes, and open-air concerts and theatres.
TRAVEL IN STYLE
Melbourne style is best defined as relaxed urban chic, with a healthy dose of black. Think simple dresses in summer and fitted sweaters and coats in winter. Be sure to dress up for afternoon tea and evenings out.
Traditional Rooms start from US$210, while the top-tier spacious Victorian Suites start at US$550 per night. For a special getaway a deux, the Grand Romance Package includes French Champagne, valet parking, room service breakfast and a late checkout, and starts at US$335 for a couple in a Traditional Room.