“She isn’t much to look at on the outside but she’s a real beauty on the inside,”
So my taxi driver informed me as I was being chauffeured from Christchurch airport.
We were talking about the lodging he was sending me to, a small luxury boutique hotel called The George, the first 5-star accommodation to open in this famous South Island city in New Zealand some 70 years ago. Reassuringly, it is still winning awards.
I didn’t choose the hotel (see note below) and I knew little about it but as it turns out I couldn’t have been happier with the arrangement. It helped that upon checking in, I was told I’d been upgraded to a Junior Suite. Sweet! It also helps when you happen to be the only person checking in, warranting the sole attention of all (well both) reception staff. But throughout my stay, all 17 hours of it, I found staff friendly, helpful and warm.
I later found out that The George is the only Christchurch Hotel with a 1-to-1 staff to guest ratio. It is also home to two award winning restaurants. The George is regularly judged New Zealand’s leading boutique hotel in World Travel Awards. I was offered a welcome drink sent straight to my room. I chose the tea set instead of fruit juice (nothing alcoholic on offer in case you’re wondering).
Glancing around while checking in I found The George’s reception and connecting lounge areas were small and cosy but there’s no skimping on style. Described as New England, there were pops of strong colour and geometric patterns on display to say that this was both a classy and trendy place for appointments.
It had both a sense of history as well as a sense of play.
At least, no one would question its sense of history. The George was built in the 1950s and like everything in Christchurch, has had its share of experiences going through earthquakes and hanging on to everything it knows for dear life. Thankfully, the hotel survived any major structural damage in the devastating 2011 earthquake and was the only CBD hotel to remain open in the months of its aftermath. It served as a temporary place of refuge for guests from other hotels that were badly damaged.
But they didn’t just stop and heave a sigh of relief. The George has gone on to win multiple awards since, and it was no small achievement to be nominated the World’s Leading Luxury Hotel Villa in the 2016 annual World Travel Awards for its top VIP offering, The Residence.
Of course I knew none of this and wasn’t aware of The Residence’s existence when I opened the door to my Junior Suite. Just as well because I don’t think I would’ve been as ecstatic to find I had heated bathroom floors and towels. I couldn’t fault my room which had a modern Hamptons style sensibility with Art Deco touches. But I did find things to pick on in the bathroom, which didn’t provide much benchtop space for my makeup and toiletry bags, there was no tissue box and no toothbrush/paste provided (something I later found was typical of New Zealand hotels. Good thing I packed an emergency set).
But my complaints lost its voice after I returned from a late afternoon walk to see Christchurch’s ruins. For there, waiting for me next to my bedside, were a selection of macarons, chocolate and a teddy bear to take home. No prizes for guessing his name (it’s George, funny that).
But there’s more. Food more. At the hotel’s contemporary restaurant 50 Bistro. Now I normally don’t eat hotel food if I can help it, preferring to see what I can sample in the city or the hotel’s surrounds. But I was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and as it turned out, they’d organised a dinner date with one of their own, flying in from Auckland. Geraldine Tyas, originally from UK, was on a New Zealand adventure of her own, working with the Business Events team at Tourism New Zealand.
We both had the market fish choice which was a garoupa, steamed in olive oil on a bed of mash and gravy. It was fresh and so moist, and the salad greens suggested to us with gentle balsamic flavours helped cut through the richness of the dish. We were already happy with that. But then came dessert, a kahlua chocolate gateaux that was sublime. But as sublime as it was, what I find myself still talking about was the service we got from the restaurant’s chefs.
“One dessert to share,” we’d ordered. What we expected to be served was a single dish with two forks. Instead they went the extra 5-star mile to individually decorate (or “plate” in Masterchef speak) two plates with half portions. Looking at it you would not have guessed that half the dish was sitting on the other side of the table. That made us say wow:
They made me say wow again the following morning. Buffet Breakfast was ordinary but I’d ordered half a serve of French Toast as I didn’t think I could finish a whole dish. This place really knows how to give half serves the X Factor:
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to The George. I packed straight after breakfast (squeezing in my new teddy George) and met Geraldine at the reception for check-out, ready to meet our famil companions arriving at Christchurch airport from Singapore. If I had such a great stay at The George in its Junior Suite and enjoyed 50 Bistro’s food, I can only imagine how heavenly staying at The Residence and dining at the even more upscale Pescatore Restaurant must be.
So despite its Plain Jane look on first impression, The George turns out to be the only Christchurch Hotel with a 1-to-1 staff to guest ratio and is regularly judged New Zealand’s leading boutique hotel in World Travel Awards. It is also home to two award winning restaurants. Am I surprised? No.
STAY: One night
ROOM: Junior Suite
This writer was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand. All views are her own.