Luxury Down Under: A Review of The Langham Sydney
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The Langham Sydney debuted in December 2014 after a AU$30 million ($24.4 million) renovation of the former Observatory Hotel. Four years into its new incarnation, the hotel is still looking fresh and fabulous, and the service is as good as ever.
I had to be in Sydney for a weekend in December, so I started looking around for interesting hotels to check out. I’ve visited many of the points properties there before, including the Park Hyatt Sydney, the Hyatt Regency Sydney, the InterContinental and the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, so this seemed like a good opportunity to look beyond the usual suspects.
A number of boutique hotels have opened in the city recently, but before I settled on one of those, I remembered to check out the list of hotels available through both Visa Signature Hotels and Visa Infinite Hotels, since I had many cards that fell into the former family and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which takes part in the latter.
I pulled up Visa Signature Hotels first and found it included good options such as The Darling, the Ovolo Woolloomooloo, the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney and The Langham Sydney.
The Langham is one of my favorite hotels in the city, so I was happy to see room rates of around $324 available there for my dates. Additional benefits included a room upgrade upon arrival when available, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, complimentary daily breakfast for two, a $25 food or beverage credit, VIP guest status and late checkout upon request when available.
I then logged into the Visa Infinite Hotels portal using my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and found that it was offering the same rate of $324 at The Langham (the rate listed below is just a generic one with no dates). The inclusions were the same, but there was an additional $75 dining credit. So for the same rate, I’d get an extra $75 in value.
Before booking, I looked at the rates available directly through Langham and found that the nonrefundable advanced purchase rate was $341, while a rate including breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi was $438.54 per night.
I didn’t have the Platinum Card® from American Express or the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, but I was curious, so I checked the Fine Hotels & Resorts portal too. The rates there were the same as on the Visa portals, and the inclusions were mostly the same, including daily breakfast for two, late checkout and complimentary Wi-Fi. The one difference was that the up to $100 property credit for booking was general and did not have to be used for food and beverage. So if you wanted to use it on the spa or other services like laundry, that might have been a better way to book.
Given how much cheaper the Visa Infinite rates were than the direct Langham ones, and all those extra inclusions, I decided just to book through there and used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar on it as a travel purchase.
The Langham Sydney was in a quiet section of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, The Rocks. To get there from the airport, I took Sydney’s Airport Train to the Wynyard station for about AU$17 ($12) and walked 10 minutes from there. An UberX would have cost about AU$55 ($40).
Though the hotel was in a sleepy part of the neighborhood, you could take the stairs over Observatory Hill to the rest of The Rocks, where you’d find the starting point for the Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb as well as lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. It was also a quick walk to Circular Quay, from which you could catch a ferry to the northern side of the city or the northern beaches.
The final morning of my stay, I walked a few blocks north and took a stroll in the park development of Barangaroo Reserve and Millers Point, which had some nice jogging trails.
Though it might be more convenient to stay closer to Circular Quay or within the Central Business District if you’re in town for business, the hotel’s quieter locale was a nice respite from the bustle of the city.
I walked along Kent Street to the hotel, and as soon as I was within a block of the entrance, the team of bellmen had spotted me. By the time I was near the front door, one had rushed over to ask if he could take charge of my suitcase while I checked in, so I left it with him.
The hotel lobby was small but stunning thanks to Calacatta marble floors, stylized chandeliers and Art Deco-inspired furniture in a mix of taupe, gold and teal.
It was looking especially festive thanks to a large Christmas tree decorated with ornaments in Langham’s signature pink hue.
Because of the holidays, the staff had also put out a fancy gingerbread house in the reception area (though there is candy there at other times of year), and I couldn’t resist getting a picture.
The young woman who checked me in noted the extra inclusions of $100 in food and beverage credits on my booking and also that it was in US dollars, so that it might be slightly harder to keep track of whether I would go over. But I just kept the Australian equivalent of around AU$140 in mind. She also told me about the hotel’s facilities, including its dining outlets, the new Observatory Bar across from reception, the pool, spa and gym down in the basement.
She did not mention any upgrades, so I just took the room I was assigned, which was up one level and overlooking Kent Street. I am a member of Langham’s 1865 Club, the chain’s loyalty program, and I made sure that my number was attached to my reservation. While booking through an online travel agency like Expedia usually means you give up the opportunity to earn points and elite credit with hotel programs, that’s not the case with Visa Infinite Hotels and Langham.
I don’t stay at Langhams much, so I’m just at the base-level Explorer tier. That entitles me to perks like complimentary in-room internet access (which I already received through my Visa Infinite booking) and use of recreational facilities like the gym. But it also means that I can earn miles on stays with the program’s airline partners. The rates vary by airline, but my preferred partner via Langham is American Airlines AAdvantage, with whom you can earn 500 miles per night up to 1,500 miles per stay. Since I was just staying for two nights, I would earn 1,000 AAdvantage miles.
The bellman who had taken my suitcase was waiting for me at the entrance to reception and led me to the elevators and then up to my floor to show me around my room.
My room was midway down the hall. One of the touches I liked most about the hotel was that they kept all the original doors and closet interiors of the Observatory Hotel, so there was a palpable sense of history when you walked into the room.
The Langham Sydney’s 98 rooms and suites rooms were among the largest in the city, starting at nearly 527 square feet.
That size was a key feature of the rooms because, just inside the entrance, there was a hallway with the closet and bathroom. Then there was a second door that you could shut for added privacy and a noise buffer from the hallway.
The décor had not changed much since my last visit to the hotel a couple years ago, but it still looked bright and vibrant. It was regal and genteel without being fusty or overdone.
I had booked a deluxe room with a king bed, though in reality the bed size was more like an extra-wide super king.
The bed had a tufted, cream-colored headboard and was dressed in crisp, white linens with six enormous pillows that practically invited you to dive right in. I slept really well both nights and loved being able to stretch out in all directions.
Each side of the bed had a panel of switches to control the room’s various lights.
Across from the bed was a shiny white Art Deco credenza with a television sitting atop it.
Underneath the television was a clock radio with various power cords for charging different types of devices. I used it to plug in my phone, which meant I had less of a chance of leaving my own charger behind when checking out.
Inside the credenza was the minibar, including a fridge full of juice, soda and wine. I took advantage of my food and beverage credit to enjoy the sparkling and still water.
One of the minibar drawers held snacks, including gourmet chocolate bars and a variety of chips.
On top, there was an espresso machine, with which I brewed the complimentary pods that were replenished every day.
Next to the windows, a round table with a lamp doubled as the desk. I also liked the colorful painting on the wall above it.
There were plugs with A/V and USB ports on the wall next to it.
The hotel provided an adapter for complimentary use during your stay.
On the opposite side of the room, between the bed and the window, was a sofa and marble-topped coffee table where you could lounge. Though I was traveling solo, this would've made a nice extra sitting space if I'd had someone else in the room.
The windows had wooden French shutters, which I thought was an elegant look, and provided much-needed privacy from the houses across the street while still letting in light. My room looked out over Kent Street, which was never too noisy or busy.
I might normally have preferred a room on the other side of the building, overlooking West Harbour. But in this case, I was glad to have gotten a street view, because there was a ton of construction going on the other side between the hotel and West Harbour.
One thing I did find surprising was that the sheer and blackout curtains were hand-operated rather than electronic. Housekeeping closed them at turndown, but in the next refurbishment, the hotel should consider putting in automated ones.
On the wall opposite the windows was a vanity with a large mirror. This was another thoughtful touch, since, if you were sharing the room, one person could get ready out here while the other used the bathroom. There were even outlets on the wall, so you could use the hairdryer or a curling iron.
The bathroom was the part of the room that looked the most dated, mostly due to the drab stonework. There were two sinks.
And there was a box of Chuan Spa toiletries.
The bathtub took up one side of the room.
The other held the toilet and the shower, which had both overhead and wall-mounted shower heads.
The bath amenities were from Chuan Spa, too.
The closet was small, but contained some space for hanging clothes, a few little drawers and the in-room safe.
The Wi-Fi worked fine, if not amazingly fast.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had a few different dining outlets. As part of my Visa Infinite rate, I was entitled to free breakfast for two each day at the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant, Bistro Remy. The staff here were fantastic — they all knew me by name the second day and that I preferred cappuccinos. One of the hostesses even asked about how I’d enjoyed my day out at the beach with a friend. In fact, since my rate included breakfast for two, I’d had my friend over for a meal the morning before we headed out to the beach.
The buffet was beautiful, if not extensive. It had sections for cold items like yogurt and fruit, as well as hot stations for eggs, sausage and congee, plus a pastry table.
I was also able to order eggs à la carte. The rest of the à la carte menu looked fantastic, including a dish of truffled wild mushrooms with poached eggs, spinach and feta on sourdough for AU$25 ($20).
The total for the breakfast would have come to AU$45 ($30) per person, or AU$180 ($130) total for my stay, so I’d say that this was a real value-added benefit.
Next to Bistro Remy, and a focal point of the lobby, was the hotel’s signature restaurant, Palm Court, which was open from 11am to 10:30pm daily. In addition to lunch and dinner, this was where the hotel’s signature afternoon tea with Wedgwood was served between noon and 5pm. I did not have the chance to experience it myself, but it looked lavish and tantalizing ... for AU$70 to AU$100 ($50 to $70) per person, depending on which version you ordered.
As I mentioned, the hotel also opened a new cocktail lounge called the Observatory Bar across from reception shortly before my stay.
The décor mirrored that of the lobby, though there were conversation pieces like a big brass telescope and a specialty table for serving expensive Louis XIII cognac.
The cocktail list was an avant-garde twist on classic drinks using indigenous ingredients. It was also expensive. Prices ranged from around AU$21 to AU$40 ($15 to $30). I particularly enjoyed a martini made with gin infused with Australian green ants (and garnished with a few of the creatures as well) plus extracts of lemon myrtle and saltbush.
My friend ordered The Flight, made with gin, rhubarb shrub, pink grapefruit tonic and butterfly pea, which gave it a dreamy blue hue. It tasted crisp and delicious.
The hotel was also planning to open a restaurant called Kitchens on Kent with show kitchens preparing and presenting dishes from nine different international cuisines. There seemed to be a bit of construction going on in a corner of the lobby in preparation on the Monday morning of my stay, though it was not really loud or inconvenient.
The hotel’s other main amenities, the Day Spa by Chuan and the fitness center, were in the basement. That might sound drab, but it actually provided a tranquil getaway from the city.
Chuan Spa is Langham’s in-house brand, with a focus on the healing power of water. The product lines they used here included the Dr. Babor skincare line and an organic Australian skincare brand called iKou. Prices started from AU$215 ($150) for a facial and AU$185 ($130) for a massage. Too bad my Visa Infinite credit didn’t cover the spa!
The real pièce de résistance, though, and part of what made the Langham a landmark, was the gorgeous, 20-meter indoor pool.
In a nod to the nearby observatory, the ceiling was painted to look like a night sky with twinkling lights as the stars. There were beach scenes painted as frescoes on the walls, too. The ambience created was one of bygone grandeur regained. It truly was one of the more special hotel amenities in the entire city.
The fitness center was also down there. It was small but contained a decent array of cardio and weight equipment.
As for the service during my stay, it was wonderful. Everyone I interacted with was warm and welcoming without overstepping, and they were diligent about anything I asked for help with. For instance, I asked a simple question about the product lines in the spa and ended up getting a personalized tour of the facilities. Someone in the restaurant saw I was having trouble handling my plate and a glass at the buffet and was instantly at my elbow to take one or the other from me so I could finish getting everything I wanted. Overall, this was among the best hotel service experiences I’ve had in Australia, let alone Sydney.
The Langham Sydney is among my favorite hotels in the city. The hotel provides a high level of luxury at half the price of comparable hotels like the Park Hyatt.
Its location in The Rocks means it is close enough to the CBD to be convenient for work and tourism needs, while being just out of the way enough to feel secluded and private.
I loved the size, décor and amenities in my room. The renovation in 2014 kept the best parts of the old Observatory Hotel but imbued the property with a fresh, colorful yet classy look that should stand the test of time for years to come. The intersection of classic hospitality and contemporary vitality are evident in some of the key amenities like Palm Court’s Wedgwood afternoon tea and that unforgettable subterranean swimming pool.
Hopefully it will remain a Visa Infinite partner and I’ll get the chance to book another stay here with even more benefits.