Built in 1875, the Continental Hotel building is to the Mornington Peninsula town of Sorrento what Flinders Street Station is to Melbourne, a central landmark of character and life in the town.
No wonder people were jittery when the hallowed local pub began rebuilding, with early attempts flopping before the current consortium completed the $120 million effort this year.
The fear seemed to be allayed. The original four-storey limestone structure has been completely refurbished and joined by a new Woods Bagot-designed building, and the public bar and beer garden – now more glorious – are still populated by locals. Bistros and nightclubs come alive at night, continuing their tradition as egalitarian hangouts on Sorrento’s increasingly flamboyant main street.
The property is now also home to my five-star Intercontinental Hotel Mornington Peninsula Sorrento where I am staying.
With elements like rugs by Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, it’s no surprise vintage glamour is on the way. The palette of deep green and crimson reminds me of my school uniform – and traditional interiors from the 1980s. But it’s updated and works fine, maybe because it’s broken.
In different regions, there are different aesthetics. The reception has a Thai Airways-inspired floral backdrop, referencing the endemic local orchid. A long corridor has rattan wallpaper and a chinoiserie vibe. The guest lounge with mirrored walls and pink chairs is Art Deco. The photogenic ocean-view pool deck (above) is in true Sorrento Italian style, with each dining area having its own look and feel.
It’s all part of the property’s purpose to be like a cruise ship – full of fun and variety, encouraging residents to explore and linger.
The adjoining Aspar massive spa isn’t open at the time of writing, but looks like a treat, in calming gray marble and wood.
There are 108 rooms of all shapes and sizes, including one- and two-bedroom suites. I was in a corner suite in the old building with views of Port Phillip Bay beyond a traditional balcony and the rooftops of Sorrento town. It’s gorgeous with velvet furniture, a queen bed, freestanding tub and bathroom tiles.
But it’s on the smaller side; I met an acquaintance at breakfast who was in a similar place with his wife and he and his wife found the size disappointing.
Check out the newly built rooms, all of them are beautiful, sunny and bright, I think I’ll be hiding here when I get back. They feel more like vacation.
The gist of the story? Research suitable rooms.
food + drink
Renowned chef Scott Pickett is a partner in the entire Continental business. Audrey’s, inside the InterContinental, is his fine dining restaurant, with a seafood-focused menu (wagyu and vegetarian the night I dined) with “this or that” options. This is delicious. The well-chosen wine list ranges from affordable to mouth-watering.
Breakfast, afternoon tea and light meals are served in the atrium, a glass-roofed space that resides in the former vacant lot. Then there’s the street-facing bar and bistro, offering elevated bar classics.
out + about
Sorrento has trendy boutiques, cafes and restaurants – this is the high-end Mornington Peninsula. Head to beautiful front beach or roaring back beach and an incredible 30km of coastal walks with golfing options and spas.
23 Constitution Hill Road, Sorrento; (03) 5935 1234. From $595 per night.Look intercontinental hotel group
InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula In an area with strict holiday home accommodation regulations, Sorrento is a popular choice for those who prefer luxury beachside accommodation without the need to make beds, cook meals or vacuum.
Julietta Jameson is staying at the InterContinental Mornington Peninsula Sorrento.
out of five
These types of rebuilds often dispossess residents. It is heartening to see the good people of Sorrento continue to enjoy their local lives.
The disorganized layout and poorly marked service elevators made us end up getting lost and getting lost in various places we didn’t intend to go, including the kitchen.