For something a little out of the ordinary, yet quite extraordinary, this almost 100-year-old grand dame of Auckland’s society should be your first pick of places to stay when visiting New Zealand’s city of sails. Transformed in 2017 into an award-winning five-star extravaganza of all things luxe and opulent, Hotel Grand Windsor MGallery by Sofitel has quickly become one of the city’s most celebrated and awarded boutique hotels.
Built in 1928, the 10-storey heritage Art Deco building was then heralded as Auckland’s first ‘sky-scraper’. Originally known as Windsor House, the building was a celebration of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and originally housed Cooke’s Tearooms and Soda Fountain, followed by various incarnations before its most recent makeover.
As a member of Accor Group’s prestigious MGallery by Sofitel, a global collection of boutique hotels, Grand Windsor Auckland won the coveted Best New Hotel and the title of Australasia’s most inspired design in the Boutique Hotels Award in London in 2018.
The elegance and sophistication of the 1920s is alive and kicking with the décor a heady mix of heritage charm and contemporary comfort.
With a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance, Grand Windsor Auckland is tucked neatly (and perhaps very appropriately) between the queues lining up at Gucci and Louis Vuitton. It’s located in the heart of Auckland, but happily, once inside, you’ll never know that the buzz and bustle of Queen Street, New Zealand’s busiest street, is literally at the door. Yet the hotel is in the midst of the action with the lure of high street shopping, the convenience of ferries and trains and the temptation of Wynyard Quarter and the Viaduct Basin with its enticing selection of bars and eateries.
Stepping into the cool marble-lined lobby feels like stepping back in time, and after a day of shopping, it’s a welcome respite – as is the delicious iced lemon and ginger tea and teeny honey nut tartlet, an offering I gladly accept as I soak in the luxe surrounds.
Today, the elegance and sophistication of the 1920s is alive and kicking with the décor a heady mix of heritage charm and contemporary comfort. Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson’s infamously expensive Windsor Collection of jewels plays an elegant muse for the design aesthetic. Each of the 79 rooms has been inspired by one of the four gemstones in her collection: emerald, aquamarine, amethyst and tourmaline.
Tourmaline is Wallis’s jewel inspiration of choice for my room, and though it’s a standard-sized hotel room, the high ceilings, light-filled surrounds and rich furnishings create a sense of space, peace and comfort. The beautiful bathroom stuns with marble features, chrome fittings and pearlescent tiles, complete with a selection of bathroom accessories from Floris London, the Queen’s appointed perfumer. Tempted as I am to flop onto the oversized bed with a wall of plush pillows, I have a prior engagement I don’t want to miss.
A stay in Grand Windsor Auckland simply isn’t complete without experiencing Cooke’s Restaurant & Bar’s iconic high tea, which begins with an indulgent glass of Mumm Champagne. I’d forewarned the restaurant that my companion is strictly gluten-free, so I’m interested to see how they respond to the challenge. And they not only rise to it but smash it, judging from my friend’s muffled outbursts of “I can’t believe this” and “the chef knows what to do” in between mouthfuls of scallop panna cotta with tobiko and champagne ham with mustard finger sandwiches. For me, who can and will eat everything, the high tea is a beautiful array of delicate delights. Think cranberry beignets and lemon curd, gingerbread and mascarpone choux and, of course, buttermilk scones with jam and cream, all washed down with bottomless cups of tea from the carefully curated T2 selection.
With dinner and breakfast also served in Cooke’s under the careful guidance of Executive Chef Jinu Abraham, there is ample opportunity to enjoy the luxe surrounds of the space with its marble floors, velvet furnishings and golden chandeliers.
But it’s the unexpected that can often delight – don’t miss the spiral staircase, with contrasting geometric balustrades, that snakes through the centre of the hotel.
A choice of accommodation ranging from classic rooms to luxury suites with a compact gym and private spa complete the features offered.
Wallis Simpson once famously said, “I hate this place, I shall hate it to my grave”. She certainly wasn’t talking about the Hotel Grand Windsor. In fact, I suspect that today’s iteration would have been right up her alley.