I’m standing under a chandelier the size of truck with my mouth open. “Donatella’s never set foot in the place?” I ask incredulously. The chandelier and I are in the lobby of Palazzo Versace and the crisply tailored man who’s uttered this piece of bling is an employee. But he’s adamant. Ms Versace, who once had an in-house TV channel devoted to her at the Palazzo, has never stepped over the threshold … not once since it opened 13 years ago.
“Kate Hudson, Beyonce, Owen Wilson, Bono, Mick Jagger, Paris Hilton, Natalie Imbruglia and hundred other celebrities have,” he says, but not a single Versace has. One suspects Donatella, has more than enough palazzos in the northern hemisphere.
Like Donatella, I’ve kept my distance. On former visits to the Gold Coast, I’ve swum with sharks at SeaWorld and dodged the monolithic shadows on Broadbeach (cast by the skyscrapers at Surfer’s Paradise), but Palazzo Versace sounded too luxe for me. How wrong one can be.
As I stood under the famous chandelier that once graced the Milan State Library, it took just two minutes to fall under the Versace spell. Coco Chanel fell in love with the Paris Ritz and ended up spending the rest of her life in one of its suites. And anyone with a spare million or two can become a resident at the Palazzo — simply by buying one of its luxury apartments.
Palazzo Versace has been described as “a temple to all things gaudy and glitzy”. Glamorous, yes, and opulent in a subtle, understated way, but there’s nothing gaudy or glitzy about this neo-classical masterpiece. The Versace soft furnishings of the 1990s — those ghastly melanges of gold, orange and pink — are nowhere to be seen. Think ivory, oatmeal, cobalt blue and a few hints of gold.
Launched in 2000 with a price tag of $300 million, three years after the murder of Gianni Versace in Miami, it’s stood the test of time. Soaring marble columns, vaulted ceilings, parquet floors and exquisite mosaics guide the eye from the lobby through a plate glass wall to the heated salted “lagoon” — an organically shaped swimming pool with a sandy beach and a view across the bay.
The lagoon is at the heart of the resort, a place to lounge and be seen, or not be seen, if you prefer. Just hire one of the cabanas for privacy. They look like four-poster, king-size beds with floaty gauze drapes. Here, you can sip Champagne, nibble canapes or have lunch with a friend and stickybeak a lazy summer’s afternoon away.
The entry level rooms also have parquet floors, as well as wall panelling and corner columns. Comfortably spacious enough for two, these rooms have sumptuously dressed beds, deluxe bathrooms with frosted glass doors and fine views over the lagoon. No trace of gaudiness or glitz here.
Coco Chanel once said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” On my visit to the Palazzo, most of the guests were dressed casually and all I remember are their fraying lycra trackies, nylon shorts and shapeless T-shirts emblazoned with logos. You can build a palace, but you can’t dictate what your guests wear.
There are three restaurants:Il Barocco, where the breakfast buffet looks so tempting it will stop you in your tracks;Vie, overlooking the ocean, which serves food of such quality and simplicity, it’s one of the best restaurants in southern Queensland; andVanitas, which, for my taste, takes sophisticated dining a little too seriously — fruit sandwiches and goat’s cheese lollipops may be novel, “show-stopping” canapes, but they left me yearning for a mini beef pie.
However, anyone in need of indulging their inner-Heston Blumenthal should join one of Vanitas’ sophisticated cooking classes. They’ll leave with an impressive list of canapes to wow their guests with.
No resort can survive without a spa and the Palazzo’s Aurora Spa Retreat is sublime — without doubt, one of the most refined temples to indulgent pampering in Australia.
Once inside the Palazzo, it’s tempting to stay cocooned from the outside world. Luckily, the lush rainforests of Mount Tambourine draw many guests west into the Gold Coast hinterland.
Highly recommended is the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, (07) 5545 2222, where you can explore 12 hectares of magnificent rainforest with a kilometre of tumbling creek and rock pools. Forest floor paths and a steel walkway 30 metres high in the canopy give two fascinating perspectives.
Privately owned by the Moore family, the property has one of the last remaining north-facing valleys in south east Queensland where rainforest thrives. It’s a haven for wildlife, including 12 different species of tree- and ground- frog, bower birds, dinosaur pines, freshwater turtles, rare wild orchids, 100 species of trees, 20 varieties of vines and a selection of wide-eyed nocturnal critters.
The Mt Tamborine Cooking School.
Exploring this lush wilderness is guaranteed to sharpen the appetite and as luck would have it, Mt Tamborine Cooking School, (07) 5545 4564, is just up the road. Terri Taylor is your host and her professional kitchen at her mountain home has not only has a memorable view, but enough cooking mod-cons to impress a masterchef.
In a morning, Terri taught us how to cook her Italian Menu with its 12 dishes. Yes, in a couple of hours, we created the following feast: Ligurian scallop tartlets, Baked ricotta and tepenade, Zucchini wrapped bocconcini, Gorgonzola in grilled figs with prosciutto, Prawn and sweet potato ravioli with pesto, Polenta and mushrooms, Lentil salad, Chicken scallopini, Salade Caprise, Rhubarb cake, Tiramisu and Bake rhubarb and cherries.
Then we ate it ... and it was glorious, but the best of it was that with Terri’s thoughtful tuition and tips, and armed with her recipe sheets, we were all confident of pulling off our own Italian lunch party!