Halcyon days

A refreshing antidote to the hard-edged beach resort, Australia’s newest boutique hotel finds that elusive sweet spot between nostalgia and the now.

Languid little Cabarita Beach is the kind of Australian seaside town that can be hard to find these days. A golden strand protected by an undeveloped headland, it consists of just a few shops and, until recently, a solitary motel. This May, though, that shabby surf motel reopened as Halcyon House, a 21-room luxury hotel. Equidistant from the overdeveloped Gold Coast and the bucolic bohemia of Byron Bay, Halcyon represents a new era of boutique properties in Australia, distinguishing itself through distinctive design, an excellent but low-key restaurant, and an abiding commitment to the classic beach vacation.

The sense of nostalgia Halcyon conjures—that feeling of being a kid on holiday—begins at check-in, when guests are greeted with a scoop of homemade ice cream (local passion fruit; chocolate flecked with slivers of native finger lime), and extends to the rooms, where the furniture is upholstered in 1960s-era graphic fabrics. Although a bright blue-and-white scheme dominates, no two rooms are the same, and the walls are hung, salon style, with framed ephemera: a watercolor painting of a rainbow lorikeet, a cameo from the 1930s, a tiny mirror with a tiki-style cane border. In the restaurant, Paper Daisy, Noma alum Ben Devlin showcases innovative dishes that make the most of the area’s offerings, such as the prawn roll with avocado, mayo, and iceberg lettuce, and the paper bark–grilled cod with onion and seaweed.

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Photos: Kara Rosenlund © Condé Nast Traveler July/August 2015