Imagine planning your dream retreat where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city with your significant other or a few friends. There would be fresh country air, a winding driveway on an acreage of land… but along the way you make a “whoopsie” and it becomes a part of a multimillion-dollar business empire.
Alright so maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, but the intentions in which Spicers Retreats was born remains the same. Graham and Jude Turner, founders of Flight Centre, turned Jude’s ideal getaway into properties dotted around Queensland and New South Wales where weary travellers can kick up their heels for the weekend. My cousin had her intimate wedding ceremony at Clovelly Estate near the Sunshine Coast, underneath the jacaranda tree (yes ladies, swoon please) and almost two years later she had her baby shower at the Balfour Hotel, which was my first experience there complete with high tea. Am I having macaroon flashbacks while I write this?
Balfour General Manager Sam Giles was happy to accommodate me and my nosiness considering the hotel was booked to capacity for State of Origin, so I was grateful for whatever time he could give for me. The Balfour is unique in that it is one of only two city estates the company owns, occupying a converted Queenslander in a prime spot along Bowen Terrace, with an award-winning kitchen and a rooftop bar looking towards the Storey Bridge. But what did the old house used to be? A backpacker’s hostel, of all things!
“The owners like to invigorate the old instead of building a whole new hotel.” Sam explained when I asked why the property was chosen “They all have their own individual theme…it’s more like an art piece on the street.”
In 2015 the Turners expanded down the street to Simla, which houses the Balfour Suites, designed for long haul stays and international travellers. The building is 1920s art deco in style and has a more upscale look and feel, from the colour scheme to its furnishings with plush carpet, grand king beds and white couches you should be afraid to sit on. Jude herself is very much involved in the design process, and kept much of the original building like the bricks and tiles intact. I kid you not, one step inside the foyer and I felt like I walked into a Gatsby novel. I then decided I had found the place for my future wedding reception (provided I could find the fiancé to go with it).
A Balfour Suite
So what draws people to Spicers in the first place, and what keeps them coming back? Word of mouth and good reviews online are important, as well as atmosphere. The property feels homely, intimate and accessible compared to large hotels. “It’s relaxed luxury…luxurious but not pretentious.” Sam agrees when I point this out “People like to see a friendly face as well, most of us have been here for an extended period of time.”
When asked about his favourite place in the Balfour, Sam laughed and answered that it was the bar, where we were sitting. Two words; view goals. “(The hotel) does sell out quite quickly for Riverfire; our in-house guests watch the fireworks, followed by a five course dinner downstairs.” AKA book ahead, bag a spot at the bar and wear discreetly stretchy pants for dinner.
So after all this, can you describe the Balfour in one word, Sam?