“This is the top venue on the Gold Coast,” the driver told me as we approached the Palazzo Versace. “If you don’t like this, don’t come back.”
Straight off the plane from Sydney, I, a brunette, dressed in sombre black had clearly been labelled an out-of-towner. Pulling into the heavily mosaic tiled driveway of the award winning hotel we watched a Donatella-type, platinum-haired and tanned, slink past, body conscious in heels and I immediately understood why. As I paid my fare, the driver looked at me sympathetically and warned: “Just don’t take the bathrobes home. The slippers are fine but if you take the robe they’ll charge you 500 bucks”.
Donatella is, of course, the sister of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace and now figurehead of the Milan-based empire. Gianni, before he was shot down outside his Miami home was a flamboyant figure on the international party scene with glam mates such as Sting and Princess Di. Predictably, the family has remained in the headlines and worldwide the Versace name is synonymous with sex, euro-style and scandal.
Opening in our sunny state in 2000, only 100 meters from Main Beach, the Palazzo Versace became one of the world’s first fashion branded hotels. And much like its namesake, it keeps a high profile. There are all the usual trappings of a five-star hotel, all appropriately ostentatious. 200 rooms, 72 condos – either with private rooftop area or plunge pools, a private marina berthing up to 32 meters, three restaurants, a spa, well-equipped gym and a Versace boutique. The swimming pool, not content as that, doubles as man-made beach.
Visually, it is an open embrace of the Renaissance and Baroque eras with marble in abundance and bespoke carpets, linens and crockery (sporting the ever-present Medusa’s head) offer a point of difference at every occasion. The centrepiece of the lobby is an ornate chandelier, which once hung in the State Library of Milan. The result? Opulent but well executed.
Others agree. The Leading Hotels of the World gave their seal of approval shortly after launch, awards have reached ‘too many to mention’ proportions and in a move that seals their position in the global luxury market, a second Palazzo Versace is set to open in Dubai next year.
My willing date for the weekend is my husband and feeling like two characters from a Fellini film, we adopt a ‘last days of Rome’ approach that warrants over-indulgent as an understatement. Perhaps it is the pressure to live up to the glamorous décor? We dine lavishly, forget to wear sunscreen, spend a little too much on wine, go to bed late and wake to find our suite decorated with chocolate wrappers – the remnants of a game we like to call ‘death-by-mini bar’. It is a sweet life, La Dolce Vita style. Our only saving grace is rising early to soft-sand run along Surfer’s great white strip – a wry attempt to repent for our sins before we do it all again.
Despite the decadence, it is the super-relaxed, uninhibited atmosphere that gives this establishment its edge. Here ‘Italians do it better’ arrogance meets the Gold Coast’s unsophisticated vibe and the magic is in the juxtaposition. No amount of hotel-school can hide the bleached locks of the surfer-turned-barman who prepares my apértif each afternoon – the negroni (a house favourite hailing from Milan’s legendary Bar Basso) and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Was I tempted to steal the robe and slippers? Absolutely not. After all, what use would I have for them. To borrow the oft-repeated words of Donatella Versace: “Glamour is back”.
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