Great for contemporary art and design lovers
What is it? Boutique hotel
Will set you back: From $585 AUD per night
Somewhere in the green, grape-laced landscape that is the Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria stands a hotel that poses in stark contrast to its soft and supple surroundings. Jackalope Hotel is a surprisingly dark, masculine and mysterious sort of accommodation for a wine region. It is bold, heavy and contemporary to the point of being in your face, and as a result it is definitely not to everyone’s taste. But to me, Jackalope Hotel is a palette cleanser for the predictable, country-kitsch courses that are most vineyard hotels – and one that deserves to be truly savoured.
Subverting regional Australia’s hotel design norms is a big part of what Jackalope is all about. You only have to take one look at its black, boxy façade, or look up inside to its neon-trimmed ceiling to understand just how deep the design layers of this hotel go. Jackalope is an accommodation extension of the Willow Creek Winery, which is still very much a part of the Jackalope experience. With design and architect team, Carr Design Group, steering the ship on this gargantuan project, the sheer scale and expense of the project is not lost on guests like me, who have gone and booked an interstate trip purely to feast their eyes on this rare and unusual gem.
And overall, I was not disappointed. Every element of the hotel’s interior and exterior design has been flawlessly and expertly executed. The theme of the hotel is ‘alchemy’, and this idea of the alchemic, wine-making process permeates the whole journey inside, from the glass apothecary-style tubes on display in the bar, to the 10,000 amber-hued light globes covering the ceiling of the restaurant. I can guarantee you’ve never seen a ceiling quite like it outside of an art gallery, and Jackalope is a gallery of sorts, with art, quirky furniture, and accents adorning every space…where it matters, the designers might argue, which takes us to the rooms.
We stayed in a Terrace Room, and unlike many a hotel who uses the word ‘view’ loosely, Jackalope does not disappoint here. The vista of the jaw-dropping lap pool and vineyards beyond was absolutely outstanding and I could have looked at it all day. The room, on the other hand, left a little to be desired. It is incredibly apparent what the interior brief was for the accommodation here – let the vineyard be the focus – and in this regard they’ve definitely succeeded. But I felt it was at the expense of warmth as well as functionality in the room itself. The rooms are super modern and minimal, which is sympathetic to the contemporary design of the rest of the hotel, but they lack the quirky, unique frills that make a hotel feel warm. You won’t find a single piece of art on your bare walls, and the the colour palette is all about black and grey, which, given the depth and heaviness of the rest of the hotel, I think is driving the point home a little too hard.
We found the bed and pillows at Jackalope of moderate comfort. Nothing exceptional to report here, surprisingly, and the mattress was too soft in our opinion. The linen itself was also quite scratchy and thick, and despite having the air conditioning on very cool (in October, no less), we found ourselves waking up both nights feeling hot and stuffy from the linen. There was also no sign of a pillow menu in the room, which is a deal breaker for me given pillows can dramatically affect the comfort of a bed and they are such a personal thing.
From the perspective of how the design affected the comfort of the room, we did find the layout of the Terrace Room quite impractical and the black-on-black, a bit much. While the style oozed cool at first, this started to wear thin once we started to navigate the space for purely practical purposes. You know, like walking to the bathroom or attempting to put a glass of water on the bedside table, which WE COULDN’T SEE because it blended into the dark walls. But the biggest obstacle, figurative and literal, was the absolutely ginormous, black (of course) bathtub. If it was the most beautiful bathtub I’d ever seen I might have forgiven the designers for its positioning in the centre of the room, taking up precious space, but it most definitely was not. It just always felt in the way, and given the bath itself takes a full 30 minutes to fill up (!!!), I’d say the whole tub situation is superfluous, a tad over the top, and ultimately took away from the comfort in the room.
I might sound like a broken record but OMG THE POOL. It probably doesn’t get all too many swimmers in it outside of the few months of summer, as the Mornington Peninsula region is known for its cool climate (and hence its world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays), but who cares when you can just lie on the loungers or sit on your balcony and stare at its magnificent beauty. Its sleek, 90-degree lines tie in perfectly with the symmetry of the vineyards behind it, and well, there is just something ridiculously relaxing about vineyards, isn’t there? For those visiting between April and October, you’ll be pleased to know you can still get your fix of the pool – it has a heated Jacuzzi down one end.
Another thing I loved on the amenities-front was the free minibar. Despite how much of a bonus this is when staying in a hotel, and how much guests always remember this perk, it is not something you find many hotels doing. The free mini bar at Jackalope consists of a small bag of chips, a few ‘funsize’ chocolates, a small jar of wasabi peas and lollies, and a variety of soft drinks and even cider in the fridge. Wine is extra, because, after all he is is the classy sibling of cider and he comes at a cost, plus the hotel can’t very well give away the Willow Creek wine people are paying for a few steps over at the cellar door (or can they?). Jackalope’s isn’t a mini bar to rival the likes of that found in Hong Kong ’s The Upper House, but it’s certainly not bad.
There isn’t a gym at Jackalope, which isn’t a massive deal given the hotel is positioned in a foodie / wino mecca and caters to holidaymakers, not business travellers. Private spa experiences can be booked for in the pool deck pavillion, GEODE, and wine tours are easily arranged through the hotel’s concierge service. GEODE serves as a pool bar during the warmer months, we were told, but I can’t help but think that given the cost and calibre of the hotel, this is something that should be open year-round, or at least for six months of the year.
I could not fault the service at Jackalope. Australian service, although usually very friendly, is known for being a little on the (too) casual side, but you wouldn’t know it from our experience at Jackalope. The staff were all incredibly professional, personable and tuned into the needs of the guests staying there. They even went to great lengths to personally deliver a Kindle I had left behind in my room, all the way to Melbourne to ensure it reached me fore before I flew back to Sydney.
I also love that they do a turn-down service at Jackalope – a perk I’m a big fan of but a detail that is increasingly overlooked by hotels– and the gifting of a little room / pillow perfume was a nice touch. You also get offered a welcome drink either when you check in or when you visit the bar for the first time, and this was a nice little ritual that we’ve never experienced outside of Asian hotels. For those who love a nice chill session pool-side, you’ll also be pleased to know that Jackalope offers poolside service – cocktail, anyone??
The only small crosses on the experience were that we were booked into a Vineyard Room as per our reservation confirmation but only after we checked out did I realise that the room we had stayed in was actually a Terrace Room – an unfortunate mishap given I really wasn’t a fan of the layout and feel of the Terrace Room and the Vineyard Room looked much more comfortable. The other small mishap was our mini bar hadn’t been replenished when we checked into our room, which we discovered when we went searching for snacks and couldn’t find any despite the promise of the complimentary mini-bar – at that point a total mystery to us! The next day this was replenished and my tendency to get hangry was greatly diminished, thank goodness…
There are two restaurants at Jackalope – the fine dining restaurant (with the lightbulbs!!!) found on the ground floor of the restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, and a more casual cellar door eatery just outside the hotel overlooking the vineyard, called Rare Hare. We opted for the four-course degustation at Doot Doot Doot (there’s also an eight-course option) on our first night there and I have to say that it was one of the top five dining experiences we have had all year so far – a big call given the year is nearly through!
Head Chef Martin Webster served up some surprising and delicious courses that were well-sized and not too fussy, using fresh local ingredients to create some really interesting flavor combinations – smoked vanilla ice cream with salmon roe, anyone?! Sommelier Ollie Tucker was also excellent, unsurprising given his pedigree (his last role was at Bennelong), opening a stunning bottle of French Chenin Blanc for us that wasn’t even on the wine list. During our stay in Mornington Peninsula we also dined at Chef Hatted restaurant Montalto, and there was no comparison for us – Doot Doot Doot was heads and shoulders above and beyond and I can’t imagine it will be long before Chef earns a hat for the restaurant.*
*A few days after writing this review Doot Doot Doot received its first Chef’s Chat 🙂
Jackalope is located in Merricks North, next to the popular wine-tasting area of Red Hill. It’s a 10-20 minute drive from the hotel to a whole range of award-wining and excellent cellar doors and hatted restaurants like Port Phillip Estate, Ten Minutes by Tractor, and Montalto. The Mornington Peninsula is located 1-1.5 hours south of Melbourne by car. Fly into Melbourne, hire a car at the airport and head straight down there on the highway like we did and you’ll be tasting wine before it’s midday. Book your stay at Jackalope Hotel here.
Completely different country accommodation experience, where modernity and art meet the super-luxe