Georgia Rickard checks in at one of Melbourne’s lesser-known hotels… But is it an undiscovered gem, or a nightmare stay?
“So where are you staying?” asks a Melbourne-based friend, when I announce my impending arrival in her town.
“The Lyall,” I reply triumphantly, “in South Yarra.” It’s one of Melbourne’s best, its website reckons, and I’ve been looking forward to gloating about it for a while. But she remains silent.
“In South Yarra?” she finally asks, confused. “That’s where I live. I’ve never heard of it.”
When two more Melburnian mates give me the same response, I start feeling nervous. What kind of five-star hotel – in one of Melbourne’s poshest suburbs, no less – is unheard of by the locals? And more importantly, have I made a really bad choice?
The front of the building does nothing to ease my mind. Its exterior – an elegant, understated cream framed by black wrought iron and lushly green trees – gives away almost nothing. Aside from two small signs announcing The Lyall Hotel and Spa’s existence, you’d never even know it was there. I step inside feeling slightly apprehensive. This could be bad.
Thankfully, though, it isn’t. Actually, it’s a different world in here. Sleek, softly lit surfaces. Original artworks on every wall. The corridors are wide, carpeted highways; the lighting is gentle and flattering… The Lyall has the look and feel of a much bigger hotel, despite its boutique offering of just 40 suites. Everything feels, well, plush. Walking around, I take it all in with a triumphant thought: I’ve scored! But one half-formed suspicion still lingers: how come I’ve never heard of this place before? Why doesn’t the whole world know about it?
Nathan the concierge knows why. “We don’t really advertise,” he says with a half-smile and a shrug. “We just don’t need to.” The Lyall has a dedicated cult following, he tells me – most of its business comes from word of mouth.
I soon see why. When I’m shown around my room – a standard one-bedroom suite with small balcony – the staff member goes out of his way to point out useful features (light switches, the wi-fi password and so on) before quietly showing himself out.
Admittedly, the room has a slightly dated feel thanks to some older-style fittings (the lights in the bathroom, the style of some furnishings, and the balcony door latch – it’s just that, an old metal latch), and I’m disappointed by the small bathtub. Where’s the oversized spa? But flat-screen TVs (two of ’em), black marble benchtops, dual shower heads, heated bathroom floors, a timeless, muted colour scheme: these things help make up for it. As do in-room white orchids. And the fabulous service.
Ah, the service. This, I soon realise, is The Lyall’s signature difference, and the reason why so many have committed to a long-term love affair with this place. Nathan memorises my name within seconds of my arrival, and greets me personally each time I wander by the lobby. At one point, dazed and confused after a massage, I stumble through the hotel doors and confess that I’m so relaxed, I can’t be bothered to go and collect my car, which I’ve abandoned a couple of blocks away. My in-room phone is ringing by the time I’ve returned to my suite. “Would you like us to collect your car for you, ma’am?” comes the question. Not bad.
When I rise from a nap later on, I discover a handwritten note slipped under my door. It explains that my car has been collected, my keys are with the front desk and, as requested, my laptop has been retrieved from the front seat and is awaiting collection. They would have delivered it to me already, the note adds, but they knew I was planning a nap and didn’t wish to disturb my sleep.
Later that evening, I’m getting ready for dinner and drinks on nearby Chapel Street when my doorbell chimes. “Would you like your bed turned down this evening?” asks yet another polite staff member. I decline his offer, but close the door feeling slightly thrilled. This is a hotel for real grown- ups, I decide. It takes an enormous amount of control to resist jumping gleefully up and down on the bed.
Then, wonder of wonders, I take a wander round the hotel. And that’s when it happens: I fall in love. You can practically hear my heart break as I uncover the wide couches, the heavy coffee table; the roaring, crackling fireplace. This cosy little nook, quietly tucked away on my floor, is my ultimate Saturday night in. It’s practically calling out for me to skip dinner and come curl up with a book.
I’m actually wondering how I can cut dinner short and return to my new-found nirvana when I discover something even better: there’s a fireplace-and-couches nook like this one on every single floor. I can’t cope. I literally cannot. I do the only thing I can right now: call my mum.
Aside from leaving, the only real downside comes when I attempt to book into the spa. It’s a space of airy, floor-to-ceiling whiteness – which, as everyone knows, is the international guarantee of an excellent spa experience – and after agonising over the menu and finally deciding on a Payot Perfect Experience facial, I discover it’s completely booked out for the weekend. Devastating.
Grumpily, I flop on the spa’s couch and watch the steady stream of well-dressed women flowing in and out the spa doors. Who are these people? I think to myself, outraged. And more importantly, what are they doing in my hotel?
That’s when I make a decision; then and there. I’m not telling anyone else about The Lyall – no way. Not unless they’re taking me back with them.
Where // 14 Murphy St, South Yarra. This pretty, tree-lined side street is a five-minute walk from Melbourne’s smart South Yarra shopping and dining district.
Notes // Take the kids elsewhere – they won’t mix well with the sophisticated atmosphere and expensive artworks. And pre-book your spa treatments!
Contact // (03) 9868 8222; thelyall.com
“For almost a decade The Lyall Hotel has been a byword for Melbourne luxury, and this remains the case.” – thetelegraph.co.uk
THE AT VERDICT
Georgia Rickard, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says:
“I’ve stayed in more ‘stylish’ rooms, but The Lyall is all substance. Timeless, elegant – perfect for a low-key luxe weekend.”