It seems just yesterday we were crouching in our tracksuit pants, hermit-like in our isolation, lifting yet another lot of iso-baking out of the oven; actually no, it really was just yesterday for many of us. However with New South Wales’ very sudden about-turn on easing its restrictions, Australia’s hardest-hit state is soon (from 1 June) to join the ranks of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory in encouraging its residents to recommence intrastate and even interstate domestic travel.
Here at Vacations & Travel this week, our inbox has lit up like a veritable Christmas tree – bringing perhaps the same level of delight – with reawakened domestic tourism offerings, from the city to the outback. As this month rolls into the next, eager travellers have a different, quite wonderful brand of travel awaiting them: the opportunity to rediscover their own home cities and states. We are weary and cabin-fevered, with a renewed sense of appreciation for anything beyond our own front fence.
Australians, the era of the staycation is upon us.
Back in March, I had a small taste of post-COVID staycation life as I spent my birthday weekend at the deliciously extravagant Fullerton Hotel in Sydney. The coronavirus clouds were gathering at the time; I was pressing elevator buttons already with my knuckle, and risk-assessing the breakfast buffet. However, the gleaming fastidiousness of a hotel run at such a lofty standard as this allayed any doubts.
There really is something rather marvellous in entering the five-star lobby you usually pass by on your way to meetings or other such mundaneness. The day you staycation is the day you stop. Take the half-hour bath. Say yes to dessert. Sip your coffee and taste it, rather than injecting the caffeine as quickly as possible into your veins with a gulp.
For me, it was sitting in the Executive Club Lounge on the 28th floor in the afternoon sun with my mini-me, giggling as we watched Martin Place ebb and flow far beneath us, pointing our sandaled feet to anoint this building or that with our toes. Once the lounge closed to children in the late afternoon, we withdrew to our Deluxe King room, both evenings of the weekend, leaving instructions to bring us the most delectable treats they could find from the lounge to our room. These pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres and work-of-art desserts spoiled both us and our appetites – giving my child a completely unworkable obsession with macarons besides – and remain one of our fondest memories and talking points as we retreated to isolation only weeks afterwards. This is staycationing of the most decadent kind.
The day you staycation is the moment you remember to take an interest in your surrounds. The sights and places which you take for granted have stories and history, if you’ll take a weekend to scratch the surface. The free Heritage tour of the edifice that is the Fullerton Hotel, once the General Post Office of Sydney, led us from those famous chequered stairs featured in The Matrix film to the more sweeping, red-carpeted double staircase leading down to the lobby, and everywhere in between. Even the modern history of this building is fascinating, hearing how the hotel changed from the Westin to the Fullerton literally overnight as staff took one set of signage down and mounted the next; how they employed some of the original stonemasons of the newer carvings on the building to come back and restore and steam-clean the sandstone exteriors for the seamless 2019 re-opening.
‘Seamless’ really is the word for the level of service you find here. Within hours of setting foot in the place, staff members I swear I’d never seen before were wishing me ‘happy birthday’. We couldn’t leave the room for more than an hour without a fresh surprise – a sprig of balloons, a teddy bear in full postal uniform for mini-me – materialising in our room.
The most charming souvenir was surely a postcard and pair of bespoke hotel stamps set on the room’s desk, so we could write to our friends and pop it in the giant red pillarbox still standing in the lobby as a cheerful nod to the building’s postal past. Because the day you staycation is the day you take the time to write.
Of course, the unexpected bonus of staying in the Fullerton, in particular, turns out to be its Singaporean roots; after all, this is the brand-mate of the similarly landmark-level pair of hotels over there. This means many of the staff are Singapore-trained, and the food in Sydney’s in-house restaurant, The Place, includes some of the most authentic Singaporean flavours this writer has tasted anywhere in Australia. Who knew this would be the tastiest peanut satay sauce in town, and you can enjoy it overlooking one of Sydney’s most famous iconic atriums? And in these months when we can only guess when we’ll be winging our way to Singapore again, it’s heartening to at least take your tastebuds overseas for a night.
On the ground floor, The Bar is the place for piled-high tea – you guessed it, more macarons for Ms Mini-Me – and imaginative cocktails. While we await the moment we can press that ‘Book’ button (Fullerton Sydney is currently taking bookings from July onwards, but that may change), the hotel has even shared their recipe for a cheeky Sydney Sling so you can taste a sample of their concoctions at home.
Hold tight though, Australia. We’re nearly there. The day you staycation is the day you sip that first lobby-bar cocktail and you know everything is going to be just fine.