My seven night, seven hotel odyssey came to an end at the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, opened in November 2017 and amazingly enough, the first new-build luxury hotel in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics.
With 590 rooms and just next to the International Convention Centre, it’s decidedly more of a business outfit than a boutique one. And yet it’s far from stodgy, with design by Richard Francis-Jones (whose CV includes the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Bunjil Place) and styling by the A+ Design Group (as seen at the St. Regis Bali, W Shanghai and Aman New Delhi).
While I wasn’t a fan of the Sofitel Singapore City Centre, subsequent experiences in Munich and Seoul have caused the brand to grow on me. It was time to see if the Sydney outpost could continue the upwards trajectory.
|🦘 Journey to the Hermit Kingdom|
|🏨 tl;dr: Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour|
|Stylish and modern, the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour brings a little je ne sais quoi to the neighbourhood.|
|👍 The Good||👎 The Bad|
Rooms at the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour start from A$460 a night, and while I wasn’t prepared to pay that much, I had a Stay Plus free night certificate from my Accor Plus membership, which I hold courtesy of the AMEX HighFlyer Card.
Stay Plus space can be difficult to come by at this property, but it just so happened to be available the night I intended to stay.
These bookings are room-only, and don’t include breakfast unfortunately. I thought about upgrading to a room with club lounge access, but get this: they wanted a A$390 upgrade fee (A$450 if you have a companion). Goodness gracious me, that’s practically the cost of another hotel room!
The Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour is located at 12 Darling Drive, housed within an imposing 35-storey glass exterior with a red ochre and blue exterior colour palette. According to the press release, the design is meant to pay tribute to the indigenous clans of the Eora nation who lived around Tumbalong (which we now know as Darling Harbour).
It’s directly opposite the Convention light rail stop, but somewhat inaccessible if you’re heading over from the Martin Place area (because it’s on a different line, you’ll need to get off at Town Hall and drag your bags the last 1 km).
Nearby attractions include the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, and the walk across the nearby Pyrmont Bridge is impressive indeed, offering panoramic views of Darling Harbour and the nearby port.
I stayed on a Monday, so the hotel was relatively quiet when I arrived. Check-in was processed efficiently, and as an ALL Silver member, I received a single welcome drink coupon (I was disappointed they only gave one, since most hotels give two regardless of how many guests there are in the room).
The coupon could be redeemed for any of the following drinks at Esprit Noir, Atelier by Sofitel, Le Rivage or the Champagne Bar.
What’s interesting is that Platinum and Diamond members had access to a better selection of wines, including Veuve Clicquot Brut champagne. That’s only fair, and it’s nice to see a hotel recognising their top tier members with something a little special.
The affable doorman (who hailed from Malaysia) helped me wheel my bags to the room. He was quite excited about the Singapore-Malaysia VTL, and was looking forward to visiting Malaysia via Singapore as soon as he could.
I was booked into a 35 sqm Superior Room, the lead-in category at the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour.
The door opened into a passageway with the wardrobe on the left and the bedroom further on. If you’ve stayed in a Sofitel before, you’ll know what to expect: stylish design, purple flourishes, nods to the golden age of travel (that headboard behind the bed is supposed to call to mind vintage luggage, with its leather straps and grey upholstery). The room has floor to ceiling windows, but the backlighting was so strong I had to keep them shut for decent photos.
In a corner was a divan and oval glass-topped coffee table, which replaced the traditional work desk. It’s alright perhaps for dining on room service, but it’s not a place for prolonged laptop use.
Wi-Fi speeds at the hotel clocked in at 121 Mbps up and 204 Mbps down, among the fastest I encountered on my Sydney trip.
A Nespresso machine and four complimentary capsules were provided, although the mini-bar had been emptied out as a COVID precaution.
The standard-issue Sofitel MyBed gave a good night’s rest, and the hotel has seven different pillows on its pillow menu. Power outlets and USB ports were available at both bedsides.
Even though the bathroom was on the smaller side, they still managed to fit in a freestanding soaking tub. I was surprised to see this, since tubs aren’t listed as a Superior Room amenity on the hotel’s website.
Bathroom amenities are by Balmain, and although it’s a brand known more for fashion rather than fragrances, they lathered well and smelled great.
The shower area had both rain and hand shower options, and water pressure was pretty decent.
For a modern hotel, it was surprising to see a toilet without a concealed cistern. I noticed that wasn’t really a thing at a lot of Sydney hotels- I guess they trust the guests not to mess with it! No bidet seat nor bidet hose was available.
The hotel’s 20-metre infinity pool is located on the 4th floor, offering panoramic views of the Darling Harbour area and the CBD skyline. According to the website, the pool is heated, but the water felt mighty cold to me.
Swimming hours are 12 p.m to 6 p.m from Mondays to Thursdays, and 10 a.m to 6 p.m from Fridays to Sundays as well as public holidays. The hotel further advises that the latter period are peak demand days, and recommends that guests book a 2-hour time slot to access the pool (10 guests are allowed in the pool at any time, with 95 in the pool deck area).
About a dozen and a half pool recliners were laid out by the side, although they looked rather uncomfortable since they lacked any sort of padding.
By the swimming pool is the La Rivage bar, a popular spot for Instagrammers wanting to get shots of overpriced cocktails with a view in the background.
The SoFit gym is located on level four, and open 24/7. A maximum of 20 guests can use the facility at any time, and they’ll enjoy a sweeping view of the Darling Harbour area while they work out.
Gym equipment includes Technogym cardiovascular machines, shock-absorbent treadmills, an air resistance rower, elliptical cross-trainers and exercise bikes. Free weights, exercise benches, balls and yoga mats were also available.
I didn’t have breakfast in the hotel because I had a few more brunch places to cross off before I left, but it’s served at Atelier by Sofitel and runs from 6.30 a.m to 10.30 a.m Monday to Friday, and 6.30 a.m to 11 a.m on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.
Full breakfast costs A$45 per person, and continental breakfast A$30 per person. Kids under the age of 12 dine free.
My main experience with F&B at the hotel came when I wandered down to the Esprit Noir Lobby Bar to order a late lunch.
“As a single diner, I can get 25% off the bill with my Accor Plus membership right?” I said, being Singaporean and wanting to double confirm.
“Er, yes. But I’ll give you 50%, it’s fine.” came the response.
Coming from a place that’s so by the book with rules, this was unbelievably refreshing.
While it won’t be competing with the Park Hyatt Sydney anytime soon, the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour is a pleasant enough hotel. I’m still not convinced that Darling Harbour is the best place for Sydney first-timers to stay, although the rejuvenation of the area continues in earnest.
I’d be curious to know how this hotel measures up to the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, so those who have stayed at both, please weigh in!