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InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula: Iconic Victoria pub's hotel transformation

Travel News from Stuff - 05-12-2022 stuff.co.nz

The 1875 Continental Hotel building is to the Mornington Peninsula town of Sorrento what Flinders Street Station is to Melbourne – a commanding landmark central to the town's character and life.

Little wonder there was trepidation when the hallowed local pub became subject to redevelopment, with earlier attempts failing before the current consortium completed a $120 million effort this year.

Fears appear allayed. With the original four-storey limestone structure thoroughly renovated and joined by a Woods Bagot-designed new build, the public bar and beer garden – now in glossier form – remain populated with locals. The bistro and night spot come to life in the evening, continuing their tradition as egalitarian gathering places on Sorrento's increasingly fancy main street.

The property is also now home to the five-star InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula, which is where I am staying.

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With touches such as rugs by Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, it's no surprise there's retro glamour afoot. An overriding colour scheme of bottle green and crimson takes me back to my school uniform – and to heritage interiors of the 1980s. But it is updated and works, perhaps because it's broken up.

In different zones, there are different aesthetics. Reception has a Thai Airways-looking floral backdrop that's in reference to endemic orchids. A long breezeway has rattan wallpaper and a chinoiserie vibe. A guest lounge with mirrored walls and pink chairs is art deco. The photogenic pool deck with ocean views is pure Sorrento of the Italian variety and dining zones each have their own look and feel.

It's all part of the property's aim to be like a cruise ship – full of interest and variety, encouraging inhabitants to explore and linger.

At the time of writing, the large adjoining spa by Aspar is yet to open, but looks a treat, in calm grey marble and timber.

There are 108 rooms of various shapes and sizes, including one and two-bedroom suites. I'm in a corner suite in the old build, with views of Port Phillip Bay beyond the heritage balcony and Sorrento township rooftops. It's gorgeous, with velvet furnishings, a big bed, standalone bathtub and bathroom tiles to die for.

But it is on the smaller side; I run into an acquaintance at breakfast who's in a similar space and he and his wife find the size disappointing.

Checking out the new build rooms, all smart and sunny and bright, I think on my return, I'll hole up here. They feel more holiday.

The moral of the story? Research for a room that suits.

Acclaimed chef Scott Pickett is a partner in the overall Continental enterprise. Audrey's, in the InterContinental space proper, is his fine diner with a honed, seafood-focused menu (there's wagyu and vegetarian options on the night I dine) offering "this or that" options. It's delicious. A brilliantly curated wine list ranges from affordable to eye-watering.

Breakfast, afternoon teas and casual eats are served in the Atrium, a glass-roofed space inhabiting a former void. And then there's the bar and bistro facing the street for elevated pub classics.

Sorrento has trendy boutiques, cafes and eateries – this is high-end Mornington Peninsula. Hit the pretty front beach or roaring back beach and the incredible 30-kilometre Coastal Walk, plus golf options and hot springs.

23 Constitution Hill Road, Sorrento; (03) 5935 1234. From A$595 (NZ$640) a night. See

In an area where holiday home accommodation rules, the InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula is a welcome addition for those who prefer a luxury seaside stay without having to make beds, cook or vacuum up the sand.

All too often these kinds of redevelopments can dispossess residents. Seeing the good folk of Sorrento continue to enjoy their local is heart-warming.

The higgledy-piggledy layout and poorly marked service lifts had us ending up lost and in all manner of places we didn't intend, including a kitchen.

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