Staying In Glam Retro—Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula NSW

The concept of the humble motel was once a last resort where tired travellers stopped in for the night when they couldn’t or didn’t want to drive any further. A convenience at best, a necessary peril at worst. Now, these beautifully renovated retro hotels are a destination in themselves.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula

Anyone who’s stayed in an original roadside motel—either back in the day or now—knows what I mean when I say, with all due respect, that they can have a certain ‘murdery’ quality. You never feel quite safe.

Up until recently, this was a majority of motels and roadside inns. But then something happened: a realisation of the nostalgia potential that these roadtrip stop-gaps held.

Turn up the volume on the kitsch, get an AVO out on the less convivial aspects and you’re onto something great.

Since then, motels up and down the country have been enjoying a renaissance.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula

Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula

Merimbula, some seven hours south of Sydney, is the oyster heartland of the beautiful Sapphire Coast. Down at sea level, its magnificent blue lake grows some of the finest Sydney rocks you’ll ever taste.

And at the top of the highest point in Merimbula and boasting the “best view in town” from the red sign on its roof now faded pink from the sun, the aptly named Hillcrest Motel looks down on it all.

Check out our quick walkthrough video of the Hillcrest here:

We pull into the winding drive of the motel and our eyes are compulsively drawn to the vista beyond the flat porch of the reception.

You can see the whole town from up here—all the way down the water. The bay, the beach and the inlet to Merimbula Lake, with its rows of oyster leases cross-hatching dark lines across the brilliant blue water, lie before us.

Best view in town indeed.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - original sign

Our Room At Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula

Much like the views from here, at first glance nothing much seems to have changed at the Hillcrest. Many original features remain in this splendidly positioned ‘70s motor inn.

You park your car outside your door. As you enter, the minibar and bathroom are on either side the room’s entrance. Then through a faux art deco arch is the main room with the bed, back door and balcony.

It’s as it would have been 40 or so years ago.

The difference, however, is the detail. And the details here are profound.

The bed is now huge and comfy, and is laid with thick sheets and a beautiful Portuguese linen blanket. There’s a seductive chase longue on a curved concrete plinth against one wall and a low cane armchair by another.

Curvy bedside tables are minimalist, but also more interesting than just a square box, and the floor no longer sports low-maintenance carpet. Instead a soft luxurious rug hugs your feet and makes you feel at home.

These comparisons with what used to be and what is here now do make a difference, but even more poignant are the existing contrasts that have been left in on purpose.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - bed Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - Kevin Murphy amenities

It’s the smooth polished concrete floors, but the old brick paving as you come in. It’s the Christmas cake brown vintage tiles in the bathroom floor against shiny new white ones that clad the wall.

It’s the original teak chest of drawers and wardrobe versus the boho beachy tongue-and-groove bead head and the giant paper pendant lamp hanging in the corner.

Beyond the room, the boxy balcony, exposing the grizzled dark brick of the building, hasn’t been touched. That’s if you don’t count the fun bright red outdoor setting and—best of all—the double-sliding door. This glides back to open two thirds of the wall up to the fresh sea air.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - sunrise viewWhere to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - balcony view

All of these improvements and innovations still allow you to be taken back to how this place must’ve looked back in the day, while at the same time coddling you with high-end, modern comforts.

Kevin Murphy toiletries, the huge TV (which is already logged into Netflix for you by the way), even a set of binoculars on the side to take full advantage of the view, they all work together towards the same message.

Other Facilities At Hillcrest Motel

Of course, the retro luxe feel of Hillcrest doesn’t stop with the rooms. Past the cute little reception, a corridor encourages you down to the bar and lounge.

With its mahogany timber floor and high ceiling, this wide airy room is the perfect spot to relax.

The beachy ‘70s vibe ramps up here, with old wooden surfboards and surf culture posters on the walls. There are even vintage tennis rackets in their wooden frames, sets of golf clubs in their bags and Mid Century Modern furniture throughout, all adding to the feel.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - cruisy beach vibes in lounge Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - Honesty Bar

But it’s through the floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch the width of the room where the real impact of this room lies. Feeling more like a surf lifesaving club than ever, the last couple of metres of the lounge is all glass looking out towards the sea. There’s also an open-air balcony and bar stools perfect for enjoying a wine or beer from the honesty bar inside and taking in the views.

Down below the lounge, there’s a tennis court if you fancy a hit and an LA style pool for a dip, though the landscaping here is more about lounging than swimming.

On cooler nights, there’s a communal fire pit and, dotted around the lawns, comfy chairs and sofas turn the whole outdoor area into the ideal sundowner experience.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - tennis courtWhere to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - pool view Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - fire pit

Pamper Yourself At Safir House

Although there are no spa or wellness facilities on site at Hillcrest, down in Merimbula town, you’ll find Safir House. As you walk in, you get all the vibes of a regular day spa. Gently perfumed air, soft lighting, fluffy towels and lilting music welcome you in.

But you won’t find any of the usual massage and facial treatments here.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - Safir House day spa Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - Safir House day spa

Safir House is more focused on the confluence between science and wellness. Services here include ice baths, infrared saunas and lymphatic drainage. It’s a place to come and relax, but Safir House is also committed to encouraging health and vitality too.

Riding On The Hillcrest Of The Wave

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - pool

Hillcrest is very much part of the new-wave renovated motels that give you that notion of nostalgia, but at the same time are cleverly decorated so as to have some fun with the original feel of the motel.

Other prime examples of this movement are places like Bannisters at Mollymook and Araluen Motor Lodge in Bateman’s Bay. Contained within their original retro shells, the rooms are far away from what they once were.

Mind you, there’s a feeling that these motels have always had a certain sense of glamour. Just like these others, the air of romance at Hillcrest goes beyond what’s here now.

The romance here is historical.

Where to stay on the Sapphire Coast, Hillcrest Motel, Merimbula - Jim & Christina

We stayed as media guests of Hillcrest Motel as part of EAT Merimbula Festival, but our opinions and experiences remain our own.

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