After throwing its doors open in 2017, Jackalope scored a slew of accolades, culminating in it being the only Australian hotel to appear on the Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot List the following year. But does it live up to the hype?
166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North, Victoria
What to expect:
When you picture a country hotel you may envisage shabby-chic interiors with chintzy curtains and Persian rugs. Jackalope, just over an hour from Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, has taken this cliché, completely gutted it and turned it on its head.
Owner Louis Li purchased the 143-year-old Willow Creek homestead and vineyard in 2013 and set about creating his first hotel on the property (Li also bought the Maria George Building in the Melbourne CBD, which is the site for a second Jackalope hotel that’s slated to open in 2022).
With a background in television, Li wanted to create something theatrical. He called on the Carr design group to help him in this quest. The result is a jaw-dropping black aluminium structure that overlooks some of the countryside’s most pristine grapevines. It’s a credit to the design team that they have managed to create something that is visually spectacular without it being an eyesore on the gentle landscape.
Everything here has a sense of occasion. Contemporary art is at the heart and soul of this boutique hotel, and a seven-metre tall jackalope sculpture by artist Emily Floyd greets you as you approach the front door (for the uninitiated, a jackalope is a mythical creature that is half jackrabbit, half antelope).
The hotel is in the middle of Victoria’s thriving Mornington Peninsula region and is a great base for a long weekend exploring the area’s wineries, restaurants, markets and beaches. A soak and a glass of champagne at the Peninsula Hot Springs is also a great way to pass the time.
The destination hotel comprises 46 rooms that includes two suites and one studio-style apartment.
We booked a night during off-peak season. The midweek special for the lowest tier ‘terrace’ room was $540 a night. On the website they refer to the terrace rooms as ‘connecting with the rural surrounds’, which it turns out is marketing speak for ‘this room looks back onto the carpark’.
At check-in we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a room with a view of the vineyard. The orientation of these rooms means you can sit in a robe and enjoy the sunset from your private balcony, drinking in the view of the vines beyond the hotel’s very Instagrammable 30-metre infinity pool. It’s a bloody great way to wind up your day.
In keeping with the building’s darkly-hued aesthetic, the room are decorated in charcoal tones, giving a moody ambience. There’s an excellent king-sized bed (one of those ones that has you wondering why you don’t have one of these at home), a bathroom with bespoke Hunter Lab amenities and a double-headed rain shower. It was mildly disappointing that this particular room didn’t have a bath, which is a big part of a luxury hotel experience for many people.
The room tariff includes a complimentary mini bar, complete with chips, cans of cider, beer, vodka and soda, and an array of Kirk’s soft drinks. There’s also an in-room iPad that connects to a broad range of on-demand movies.
If you really want to push the boat out, the top of the line suites (called Lairs) include a daily champagne/caviar service, a daily 30-minute massage per person, and have a double-sided indoor/outdoor fireplace.
As you’d expect with a five-star hotel, the service is on point. Little inclusions such as a Lexus and driver to whisk us off to our lunch booking at the nearby Laura restaurant (highly recommended), a refreshing Mecca face mist popped on our pillow at turndown and a leather Jackalope luggage tag gifted at check-out gave the whole experience a sense of luxury.
While we didn’t actually sample them ourselves, the onsite spa treatments get rave reviews. You can choose to be pampered in the glittering poolside pavilion (which can also be booked for private dining experiences) or in the comfort of your own room.
Food and drink:
There’s no shortage of dining options if you can’t be bothered leaving the confines of the hotel.
Doot Doot Doot is executive chef Guy Stanaway’s one-hatted fine-dining restaurant. On offer is a five-course tasting menu that makes the most of the plentiful produce from local providores on the peninsula. The space has a beautifully warm ambience thanks to Jan Flook’s ceiling light installation of 10,000 amber globes that dim and brighten with a shimmering effect.
The hotel’s more casual bistro, Rare Hare, also offers a wine and food store so you can pick up some local delicacies to take home. If you’ve overindulged at lunch, this is the spot for a lighter supper offering such things as a charcuterie plate and a glass of wine.
Flaggerdoot is Jackalope’s cocktail bar, set in the property’s original 1876 house (which has been tastefully incorporated into the hotel’s sleek redesign). It’s a playful area, with contemporary art and eclectic touches such as an electric blue billiards table. You’re offered a complimentary welcome drink in Flaggerdoot upon arrival (and if you’re wondering about the names, a flaggerdoot is the collective noun for a group of jackalopes, and a doot doot doot is the leader of a flaggerdoot).
Breakfast is included in the room tariff and veers from your standard all-you-can-eat hotel buffet situation. Guests are invited to select from a small continental selection of pastries and cereals as well as one hot à la carte option. There are some more adventurous choices here that go beyond your usual Eggs Benedict. Soba noodle salad and a spicy lamb curry are among the slightly left-of-centre offerings.
The extraordinary array of food, the tranquil location and the sleek architectural design.
The price tag. The lower-tier rooms themselves can be a little disappointing. If we’d paid $540 for the ‘terrace room’ (no bath, overlooking the carpark), we would have been a bit miffed.
A fine example of an artfully designed ‘destination hotel,’ where you may not actually want to leave the grounds once you get there.
This review was conducted anonymously at the writer’s own expense, so we experience exactly what you would as a guest.