The ongoing redevelopment of Darling Harbour hit full speed in 2017, with the opening of Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour reinvigorating the city’s exhausted luxury lodging landscape and immediately gathering acclaim. A gleaming glass tower of 35 storeys, high above the sparkling harbour and its myriad of neighbouring buildings, the high-end property exudes a modern opulence in all areas and embraces French Art de Vivre – meaning to ‘appreciate fine living’.
When it opened, the hotel was Sydney’s first international 5-star hotel built since the Olympics. Now, just two years on from when it first welcomed guests, Sofitel has taken home the HM award for Australia’s Luxury Hotel of the Year.
The design and interiors ooze inspiration from both the hotel’s harbour setting and French heritage. Sofitel links all its international properties with a different French city, and in this case, Marseille. The multicultural port city pairs with Darling Harbour’s rich maritime past, with a coastal theme running throughout the property.
In the foyer, large nautical ropes drape from the ceiling and vintage photographs of Marseille’ famous port line the wall. Lavish touches include a Louis Vuitton suitcase-like archway near the elevators and Australia’s largest aquarium behind the check-in desk. Striking details continue in the Champagne bar with a Swarovski crystal chandelier resembling champagne bubbles caught in the sails of a boat.
For this sky-high luxury hotel, it’s about providing proximity to the harbour, with soaring glass walls keeping guests in constant connection with the location’s beauty.
Spread over the 35 floors of the hotel are 590 rooms, including 35 suites. My Superior Room was located on the 23rd floor. The 35ft-square room is spacious and adorned with floor-to-ceiling windows with sublime views over the harbour. The room features the Sofitel’s king-size “MyBed” and is topped with extra-large pillows. On each bedside table are complimentary bottles of water, switches for the lights, aircon, power outlets and a USB port. The free WIFI is easy to connect to, and the television has a good range of live TV channels and movie options.
Adjacent to the bed, are two large sliding doors opening up to the bathroom. There is a deep freestanding bathtub in the centre. The shower and toilet both have their own private space enclosed behind frosted glass doors. Hanging on the wall is another cue to Marseille, with a mix of black and white photographs depicting scenes at the city’s port.
Overall the rooms strike a nice balance between corporate comfort and unique character, but by far the views are its most desirable feature.
I will add that I have previously stayed at the Sofitel in a west-facing Luxury King Room with corner windows. There was something uniquely cool and luxurious about the corner room. Light floods in from every angle through large glass windows. The views offer a brilliant, yet different perspective over the city (or Darling Harbour depending on the room). So if you can, check in to a corner room to add the wow-factor to your stay.
Services and Facilities
Service is personalised and prompt. On arrival, the doorman greets you with a cheerful ‘bonjour’, and staff at both the concierge and reception desks are polite and helpful. Check-in and check-out were both smooth experiences.
On level four is a 20-metre infinity pool with breathtaking views stretching across the harbour. The poolside bar, Le Rivage, will keep you refreshed with french champagne, cocktails and light bites. There is a focus on local Sydney drinks and spirits, with brands such as Manly Spirits, Brix Distillers, Archie Rose Distillery and Sydney Brewery.
On the same level is the twenty-four-hour gym ‘SoFit’. Expansive glass walls look out onto the harbour, guaranteed to make a workout routine much more motivating.
The Champagne bar is elegant and stylish. It’s regal setting and harbour views make it an ideal evening destination for sipping on quality french wine and champagne cocktails, with complimentary aperitif-style snacks. Notable cocktails to try, inspired by the harbour include the ‘Marée Haute – High Tide’ (Brix Distillers White Rum, lime, mint and rosemary), and ‘À la Dérive – Adrift’ (Cargo Cult Banana Spiced Rum, coconut, pineapple and orgeat). There is also a happy hour Monday to Thursday from 5 – 7 pm.
Guests staying in Club Suites have access to Club Millesime. From up on the hotel’s top floor the views are unlimited, with enchanting city outlooks from every angle. Soak up the grand panorama while enjoying complimentary canapes and drinks, as well as a range of bespoke butler services provided on demand.
The Atelier restaurant recently launched a new Spring/Summer menu celebrating the South of France. There are Provence staples including the Aix Rosé, Niçoise salad and Onion Pissaladière (a Niçoise pizza). Don’t go past trying the Pampelle Ruby l’Apéro, an artisanal French aperitif liqueur that features red grapefruit from Corsica.
Breakfast is also served here, with different sections spread out across the entire restaurant. There is a cold section with fruits, yoghurts cereals, cheeses and salads, a hot section with classic options like eggs, sausages, mushrooms as well as a selection of Asian-fusion dishes. There is also a made-to-order omelette station, pastry and bread bar, and a designated gluten-free area.
Sofitel’s location is exceptional. Around Darling Harbour, there is a range of cafes, restaurants and shops just a few steps away. Those attending the International Convention Centre can appreciate that the hotel is just next door.
You’re only a short walk away from one of Sydney’s most exciting new developments, Darling Square. Here are where some of the city’s latest range of new cafes and eateries can be discovered. Don’t forget the stunning architecture of The Exchange Building’s spiral-like facade. It’s worth checking out the two-storey library inside, where innovation and creativity are being taken to new heights.
It is also an easy walk into the vibrant CBD, as well as the neighbouring inner-city pockets of Pyrmont and Barangaroo. Nearby landmarks including the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Botanical Gardens are also in close proximity, best reached by taking a leisurely stroll around the harbour across Millers Point and The Rocks.
The hotel’s efficient service, lavish comfort and central location are compelling reasons to stay here. The average nightly rate is on the steeper end for Sydney’s accommodation options, with base rates going for $409. However, it’s diverged from the cookie-cutter guest experience often expected at large chain hotels, but without slipping on top-tier hospitality. This is enough to make it a smart choice for the sophisticated traveller visiting Sydney, for both business or pleasure.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Address: 12 Darling Dr, Sydney NSW 2000
Contact: (02) 8388 8888
The writer stayed as a guest of Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour.