It was a beacon of prestige in the Garden City’s hotel scene. A striking city landmark that inter-connected with the Christchurch Town Hall and served as a glittering backdrop to Victoria Square’s amphitheatre. When it first opened its brass doors in the flashy ‘80s, the ground-breaking property endowed Christchurch with an irresistible sense of international hotel glamour. I fondly recall savouring my first Wizard’s Potion cocktail at the hotel, as a teenager, while admiring the tube-like glass elevators that soared above the atrium.
I half expected to see JR Ewing swagger out of those elevators. And like all Christchurch residents, scores of family birthdays and special occasions were eagerly celebrated within the variety of distinctive venues that studded the hotel. It was a cachet destination. Beginning life under the Park Royal brand before being rebranded the Crowne Plaza, the loss of this emblematic hospitality beacon to the devastating earthquakes, left a gaping hole in the city’s hotel scene.
Six years on, it’s such a thrill to see the Crowne Plaza signage gracing the skyline again. Fittingly, the brand-spanking hotel hasn’t strayed far from its former site, taking up residence at the southern end of Victoria Square, on the Colombo/Armagh St corner. Formerly known as the Forsyth Barr building, post-quake, the new property owners have undertaken a multi-million dollar top-to-toe makeover, including the installation of five new lifts and a scissor staircase, in the 17 storey building.
Hot on the heels of the triumphant July opening, I was treated to a staycation at the new Crowne Plaza Christchurch. Suitably, the sparkling new hotel hasn’t sought to replicate its previous incarnation, opting instead to chart a fresh course of striking distinction. And as you enter the main entrance, what really stands out is the all-embracing sense that you’ve entered a brand new building.
A proud sense of heritage and place radiates throughout the property, which occupies the same site that played host to the city’s first hotel, The Golden Fleece, circa 1851. Cafe 1851, a buzzy deli-style café pays homage to that history, which is open from 7am serving fresh Mojo coffee, pastries and light meals. The headline dining space, Market Place Restaurant, lustily draws its inspiration from Victoria Square’s rich mercantile legacy.
Previously called Market Square, this was traditionally Christchurch’s produce mecca and the restaurant staff attire playfully echoes that past, with their blue checked shirts, bow ties, braces and cloth caps. Dinner menus are presented on rustic brown paper, compartmentalised into produce sections. Most of the dishes are designed as share plates, but there are stand-alone options, too.
You can pick and choose from the respective dining sections - the fishmonger, the butcher, the vege patch, the cheesemonger and the patisserie. Exquisitely showcasing the finest local and hand-picked produce the city and region has to offer, I heartily grazed from a variety of dishes. My top picks would be the Cider braised pork belly, apple & pear chutney, Coconut poached Akaroa salmon fillet, and the spectacularly drool-worthy Leak walnut & blue cheese crumble. You’ll be demanding the recipe!
Another sublime space, wrapped around a welcoming fireplace, is the Social. This convivial lounge setting, adjacent to the lobby, is an ultra-comfy sophisticated wine bar, with scrumptious platters, striking the perfect blend of swish surrounds and a relaxed ambience. Boasting 204 guestrooms, the new Crowne Plaza is the city centre’s largest upscale hotel.
Despite its size, the personable and intimate hotel ethos makes this property feel positively boutique. Being a new generation Crowne Plaza, every conceivable creature comfort has been considered. Enjoy unlimited free WiFi and Samsung Smart TVs that are equipped Bluetooth connectivity and wireless mobile device mirroring. Several USB ports throughout the room will keep your tech toys recharged.
Cocooned in plush and luxurious bedding, I enjoyed a cloud-comfortable night’s sleep in my “zen-like” room. You’ve got an extensive pillow menu at your disposal, plus an extra-nice touch is the complimentary Elemis Room Mist, a sleep-inducing therapy you can spray on your pillow. Guestrooms are furnished in warm and earthy hues, with eye-catching photography celebrating the Mainland. But the piece de resistance are the panoramic views, across the ever-evolving city.
To be honest, the prospect of sizing up the city’s revitalisation from this lofty perch, was what I was looking forward to the most. After all, the new Crowne Plaza is one of the city’s tallest towers, and its located right in the heart of the rebuild action, with an incomparable ring-side view on the city’s regeneration. If you want a Cathedral Square view, request a south-facing room, accordingly.
Beyond the vivid panoramas of the central city’s resurgence, lapping up the expansive views of the serrated peaks of the Southern Alps is another banner attraction. You’ll want a north-facing room for that mountain magic. But whatever room-with-a-view option floats your boat, beautifully designed banquette-style seating, flanks the guestroom windows. It’s the ultimate relaxation roost and the cherry on top of the Crowne Plaza’s rousing return to the heart of Christchurch. www.ihg.com