No thanks, says Craig Tansley, sir would not like his coat for dinner. These days, luxury has a whole new meaning – and nowhere does it better than Tasmania’s Saffire Freycinet – (winner ‘best boutique hotel’ at the World Boutique Hotel Awards 2014)
Perhaps it says something about modern Australia that we’re willing to pay the most money when we travel, to feel like we’ve never really left home.
What might Freud have made of us? Our grandparents – even our parents – considered luxury travel an escape into a world as far removed from our home lives as possible. They paid a small fortune to be addressed as sir and madam; for the privilege of wearing suits and evening dresses to dinner. We, meanwhile, pay for the luxury of wearing our jeans and T-shirts to meals, served by staff who’ll call us by our first names and tell us about their lives.
A global research project launched by the International Luxury Travel Market from 2010 to 2013 even found that perhaps the biggest demand of modern luxury travellers is the need for personalisation, which “leads to the creation of personal relationships based on trust between luxury travel providers and travellers”. We’re not just looking for service – we’re looking for love.
That’s not to say we’ve become fools, or any less demanding. On the contrary, we’re the savviest travellers we’ve ever been – we have to be; travel in itself isn’t nearly as prestigious as it once was because it’s far more accessible. We’re also no longer impressed by the kind of ostentatious, luxurious veneer that we used to be. Anyone can hang a chandelier from a ceiling or build a bathroom with gold trimming, but these days we’re looking for a far more clever and discreet style of luxury… all somewhere far off-the-beaten tourist path. In fact, the International Luxury Travel Market’s research project revealed finding remote destinations undiscovered by the mass market is set to become one of the main destination trends of the future luxury traveller.
Most of all, we’re demanding something with a significant environmental point of difference. We want to sleep in a rainforest, or under a mountain, or by a beach amongst local wildlife; the more remote the better – and we want to do all this while barely leaving an environmental footprint, and certainly without wearing a freshly pressed suit. The victory now comes from finding that all-too-elusive Australian retreat that encapsulates all these desires.
Enter Saffire Freycinet.
The environmental point of difference here is instantly obvious through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the main building, but there’s also something inherently homely about the place. Not only do you get to sleep beside the ocean and a deserted beach, you’re also in the shadow of a mountain chain that changes colour with the day, as often as perhaps only Uluru.
Set in the coastal bushland of the Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s glorious east coast, Saffire Freycinet looks out across the pink-granite rocks of the Hazards mountains and the sheltered blue waters of Coles Bay. The only traffic you’ll see here is the occasional passing fishermen. The tiny fishing village of Coles Bay is a 10-minute mountain bike ride away, or a 30-minute walk along a white sandy beach.
“It’s a good place to unwind because you’ve come to the last frontier,” executive chef and assistant general manager Hugh Whitehouse says. “It’s untouched, the air’s fresher and there’s only 20 suites on site so it’s never very busy. You’ll never have many people around you. It’s getting harder to find that kind of exclusivity.”
The exclusivity begins at Hobart where you’re escorted to a private suite within the airport to meet your driver who takes you on a two-and-a-half-hour journey to Saffire. (Though you can take a seaplane charter from Hobart’s harbour direct to Coles Bay, if you like.)
Arriving feels like you’ve landed at a relative’s house, where you’re greeted on arrival and taken right to your room (without checking in, might we add – that’s so 2010). After each meal, you’ll also leave without seeing a bill. Instead, the room charge covers all meals and alcoholic drinks, along with a $100 credit towards spa treatments and complimentary activities ranging from cooking classes to a choice of hikes and wine tours.
Meals are designed by Hugh Whitehouse, formerly of Darleys restaurant at Lilianfels in the Blue Mountains. Five-course degustation dinners are available each night, or there’s a changing à la carte option showcasing local produce. Your room tariff also includes the choice of over 60 local and international wines, but the real attraction every night at dinner is the tawny frog mouth that looks down on diners from a floodlit banksia.
For all its indulgences, Saffire’s most popular guest experience is also one of its simplest: oysters. Sure, like many places you can take a complimentary tour of a local oyster farm and eat Pacific oysters shucked right then and there, but where Saffire’s experience differs from any other is the way you’ll eat them. Namely, at a table set with white linen, while you’re thigh-deep in an internationally significant wetland, wearing rubber waders and sipping local sparkling wine as herons and pied oyster catchers circle above.
Even a three-hour hike at Saffire is touched by luxury. Le Pique Nique is named so for the fancy gourmet picnic that awaits you at the end of the scenic hike across the Hazards and along lauded Wineglass Bay. You’ll end at a headland clearing where your chef prepares locally-caught crayfish on a barbecue, as well as charcuterie and petit desserts. You are shuttled back by the resort’s private boat, so no chance to walk off the feast… although you won’t be worried as you cruise past the striking fiery red coastline.
“We wanted to create a cocoon for guests in the wilderness of Tasmania,” Whitehouse says. “Everything is done for guests from the minute they arrive here; nothing is too much trouble.”
It’s this concept that epitomises the best modern luxury travel experiences in Australia. While we desire familiarity and friendliness in staff, we don’t want it to come at the expense of efficiency. Everything should run like clockwork; after all, you’re paying for it.
“We don’t say no to anything you ask for; if we can’t do it we’ll find a way of getting round it. Think of this as home,” you’re told on arrival.
Ah yes, home: a place where we won’t be judged for what we wear (Saffire has no dress codes) but should we choose, is also appropriate for our finest attire. It’s a place we won’t be tested for our knowledge of wine, though should we want, we can discuss the topic with any staff member for hours on end. It’s a place we can feel comfortable in, at any time of the day.
It’s somewhere we’d like to live, but never could; somewhere we may well fantasise about escaping to (generally around sunset each day with cocktail in hand) but know we never will.