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Saturday April 3, 2010

The height of luxury

It has been 10 years since the world’s first Palazzo Versace Hotel in Australia’s Gold Coast captured international attention with its unabashed indulgence for glamour and luxury. Our writer made a return visit.

Palazzo Versace flung open its gilded doors on Sept 15, 2000, and the fact that it still looks exactly the same 10 years later is proof-positive that the management has not been sweeping the dust under the carpet.

Like a trophy wife, Palazzo Versace is high-maintenance, and it still looks very good!

When it first opened, all the front office staff, from bellboy to porter to doorman and receptionist, looked like they had just stepped off the catwalk in Milan. It was rumoured they were real models, aspiring actors, singers and dancers toiling there temporarily to keep body and soul together while waiting for that big break.

I felt obliged to pose with them. Who knows, I thought, one of them might just turn out to be a Marcus Schenkenberg or Madonna. They were certainly a good-looking lot. Now 10 years later, the current crop is still presentable, although I’m inclined to think that one or two could do with regular visits to the gym or wear platforms.

This little niggle aside, I feel a sharp sense of deja vu to return and find everything virtually unchanged. The Versace-clad and stiletto-heeled receptionist invites me to sit on a comfy Versace chair, as she checks me in using a laptop.

The Palazzo Versace is modelled after opulent European palaces and villas.

It makes me wonder anew why only Palazzo Versace has the sense to allow guests to sit while waiting for their cardkeys, while others, including the world’s best hotels like Oriental Bangkok, Peninsula Hong Kong and Ritz Paris, make their guests stand as if they were in a dole queue.

Palazzo Versace flaunts the best of old and new. It is inspired by opulent European palaces and classical Roman villas of the Caesars while at the same time boasting all the luxury and convenience of modern living. Each of the 204 rooms and suites is furnished with Versace products, from bedspread and pillows, to sofa and table, all the way to the photos on the wall and the toiletries.

The bathrobe is Versace, too. A word of advice: Abandon all thoughts of “accidentally” packing the Medusa-emblazoned ashtray or towel into your handcarry. They will be duly charged to your account.

Most rooms have that celebrated “Juliet balcony”. What’s the connection, you ask? Versace and Romeo and Juliet are all Italian, remember? Anyway, a Juliet balcony is a small balcony just big enough for a couple to make love in — if they are standing!

“Everything you see in your room is available for sale. Even what you see in the public areas can be purchased and shipped home. This is one of the perks not found in most hotels,” beams Katrina Price, the e-marketing manager. “The only things you are welcome to take home from your room are the bedroom slippers and toiletries, including the perfume miniatures.”

Everything in my room is Versace-d, including the air, which is specially filtered and fragranced so that the entire place smells fresh and exhilarating. Plain water, I swear, tastes better when sipped from a Versace cup that costs RM400 or a Versace crystal that’s RM600 a piece. My tea- and coffee-making set comes with Versace china, too.

However, the Playstation is Sony, not Versace. Tsk, tsk.

The hotel has a pillow menu that offers five different pillows. Choice is not always good, and I get stressed out instead. I become worried sick, wondering which pillow is the best and whether I have been depriving my neck of proper rest all these years. So I demand and get all five pillows and end up sleeping like a baby.

They have a butler who can pack and unpack your luggage upon request, but surely this is a task you can perform yourself, especially if you only have two bags? If, on the other hand, you always travel with seven trunks, a dog and a parrot, then you would have brought your own maid or valet, no?

Of course, one cannot stay in Palazzo Versace and traipse around the lobby in Gucci, Prada or Chanel. There is a full-fledged Versace boutique in the lobby just in case you feel you must, ahem, fall in line with the theme. More shopping can be done next door at Gold Coast’s most prestigious mall, Marina Mirage.

Wining and dining remain unsurpassed here. Il Barocco is for all-day dining, and their breakfast is one of the best. I demolished an entire bowl of pricey, big strawberries in one sitting and over-eat till dinner. Get a table next to the swimming pool lagoon, and you can feast both eye and palate. Vanitas is their high-end signature restaurant. It also overlooks the lagoon with original wall paintings taken from Gianni Versace’s book, plus some 400 wines to choose from, so you have something to do if your date turns out boring. Their degustation menu is a treat.

Le Jardin Café and Vie Bar + Restaurant are where the younger set hangs out. With champagne high tea, live band and modern cuisine competing for your attention along with sexy, scantily-clad girls and equally sexy, scantily-clad hunky young men, you will be delightfully distracted. Vie overlooks the private marina and Broadwater leading to the shoreline, so if you are sexy and scantily-clad, you might get invited to one of the yachts. I am not.

Palazzo Versace’s Salus Per Aquum Spa is world class and offers water therapies, personal training, yoga, hair salon, tai chi, steam and sauna rooms and enough beauty treatments to make you look (or at least feel) like a goddess.

Strange as it may seem, you can actually work here.

“We cater to meetings for 12 to 500 people, so it is not just non-stop play here,” says Price. “Our personal, exclusive touches include complimentary chair covers, fresh orange juice and lavender-scented refreshment towels for conferences. Our Business Centre operates 24 hours so you can work 24/7.”

Service and amenities are so divine, you may not wish to leave.

“Many feel that way, and why not since Gold Coast is the ultimate getaway?” smirks Price. “We have 42 two-bedroom condominiums and 30 three-bedroom condominiums ranging from 143 sqm to 350 sqm which you can rent by the month or buy. Palazzo Versace is a dream realised.”

Life on Australia’s Gold Coast is one permanent holiday, and should you tire of Palazzo Versace Down Under, brighten up, my dear, because a new one will open by year’s end in … you guessed it, Dubai.

At RM2.4 billion, Palazzo Versace Dubai costs three times as much as its Australian counterpart, which was a bargain at only RM850 million. When completed, the 130,000 sqm Dubai palace will have 215 rooms and suites, three restaurants, a spa and 168 condominiums, half of which have been sold.

Room rates start from A$410 with breakfast for two. Browse reservations@palazzoversace.com

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