Halcyon House instructions: take one faded surf motel and in it muddle one part Mediterranean pool chic, one part breezy Californian cool and one part Long Island nauticalia. Shake well and serve over a laid-back Cabarita beachfront. Garnish with a crowd-pulling restaurant and lashings of sunshine. Sit back and drink it in.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of prosecco and chef's plate on arrival, plus one cocktail of your choice whenever you most fancy it
11am. Check-in is anytime from 3pm, but flexible – the earliest check-in is noon.
Double rooms from £542.59 (AU$990), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include an á la carte breakfast and a free soft-drinks minibar. Rates don't include a credit-card surcharge (0.8 per cent for Visa and MasterCard; 1.9 per cent for American Express a stay) – this will be charged at the hotel.
Six vintage bicycles – artfully restored and painted in Halcyon House colours – are free for guests to use as they please. Ask staff for the most picturesque coastal route. If you'd rather get around quicker, the hotel has two Audis available to rent – call the travel team for more details. If you don't want to venture further than the lawn, there are backgammon boards and croquet sets to while away your afternoon with.
At the hotel
Quiet beach, spa, free bikes to borrow, two Audis for hire, gardens, outdoor pool, free WiFi. In rooms: minibar stocked with soft drinks, air-conditioning, tea and coffee-making facilities, hairdryer, Evo bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Part beach house, part Hamptons hideaway, part interiors mag show home – whichever individually-styled room you get, you're in for an aesthetic treat. The nautically edged Master Suite 301 has top-floor bragging rights and its sea-view terrace has strategically placed palms to buffer any unwanted breezes. Classic Rooms might not be blessed with such views but they are closest to the beach, and there's plenty to admire in their antique furniture, brass bathroom-fittings and well-kept private courtyards.
Framed in teak, fringed by palms and lined with blue and white candy-stripe day beds, the heated saltwater pool has a touch of Côte d'Azur centrepiece about it. Time your lounging just right and the chef will hand-deliver a home-made ice-cream from his vintage gelato cart.
The relaxing seaside Halcyon Spa has tranquil treatment rooms, a relaxation area and a unique dome-shaped steam room. All-natural products from Australian skincare brand Sodashi and custom aromatherapy oils are used in all treatments, from soothing rituals to age-defying facial feels. Book in for an Ayurvedic facial, a tension release massage or a smoothing jojoba body polishing treatment. There are multi-treatment ‘journeys’ and couples’ pampering sessions too.
Beach bags are provided, so no worries if you forget a few shoreside essentials. Do bring your surfing gear if you're so inclined, though – you'll have some waves all to yourself.
All public areas are wheelchair accessible as are most ground-floor rooms. The Superior Room with Disabled Access has been specially adapted for guests with mobility issues.
The Halcyon Suite can sleep a family of four and two extra beds can be added to the Master Suite (AU$100 each). Cots for under-twos can be added to rooms free of charge. Paper Daisy has a kids' menu and the hotel recommends a local babysitting service.
Take a table facing the wall and you'll be transfixed by a jumbled gallery of coast-themed art
Channel Paper Daisy's colour palette in bright whites and ocean-blue denim.
Art-lined, beach-chic Paper Daisy is helmed by Australian native Jason Barratt, the former owner of cult sandwich shop Hector’s Deli and former head chef at Raes on Wategos. Casual fine dining is his style; locally sourced ingredients, simple preparation, amazing flavours. His creative menu of affordable sharing plates changes often but look out for things like macaroni with king prawns, linguine with clams and Black Angus striploin. Breakfast is just as palate-pleasing: iced passionfruit with home-made yoghurt, fresh crumpets and ricotta, honey-roasted fruit and plenty of locally grown coffee.
A relaxed extension of Paper Daisy, the terrace bar serves local beers, cooling cocktails and well-sourced wines. All are best taken on the shade-speckled poolside deck.
10pm in the restaurant; as late as you like in the bar.
Available 24 hours a day, serving everything from fresh fruit and oysters to pastrami sandwiches and meatballs.
Halcyon House is set a few metres back from the sands of Cabarita Beach – a laid-back, surf-loving coastal village.
Gold Coast (neé Coolangatta) Airport – where Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar fly daily – is 20-minutes away by car. Byron Bay's small Ballina airport is a 45-minute drive; Brisbane Airport is just over an hour.
A set of wheels is useful if you plan on doing any more than strolling, swimming and stuffing your face – Avis has car-hire branches at all nearby airports and on-site parking is free. If you're a sucker for a road-trip, it's a nine-hour coastal cruise from Sydney, passing through the edges of wine-country and a host of national parks.
Worth getting out of bed for
Cabarita Beach is well-known for its surfing and contests are held there regularly – ask the hotel about events if you want to watch some wave-catching. Surf lessons, ocean kayaking, paddle-boarding tours and whale-watching trips (June to November) are all available in the waters off surrounding beaches. Dry off with a short coastal walk to Norries Headland or take one of the hotel’s artfully restored vintage bikes for a ride along the beachfront cycleway. Make your way north towards Kingscliff and Fingal Head for more scenic walking trails and some bijou boutiques. Head south for 15 minutes and you'll find Brunswick Heads and its scattering of antique shops, local designer stores and generous sweep of golden sands. Hippy-vibed Byron Bay is only a half hour’s drive south and has some of the best surf breaks in Australia – while you’re there head up to Cape Byron Lighthouse, which has an excellent vantage point across the bay and Tallow Beach. There's a popular farmer's market every Thursday if you want to seek out the most organic of organic produce.
If you like a stroll with your morning coffee, Kartel Espresso Bar is in comfortable walking distance. Cycle to nearby Kingscliff and have a late lunch at Choux Box, which has plenty of veggie-friendly options for the meat-averse. Italian eatery Osteria Casuarina is a scenic walk north along the Tweed Coast where dinner is quite a draw, so book ahead. For a special occasion, try Steven Snow's sustainable seafood restaurant, Fins – they also do cooking classes if you want a more hands-on culinary experience. For days in the 'Bay, hit the Top Shop Byron Bay for brunch and excellent coffee. If you like an eyeful of ocean with your fresh tuna salad, Beach Byron Bay is the lunch spot for you. Head inland to Mount Warning and you'll find Mavis's Kitchen, a grand colonial-style house that was dismantled and moved from its Queensland home and is now a beacon of free-range fare and charming home-cooking. For super-fresh lunches and dinners under a canopy of trees, head to Harvest in Newrybar – on your way back, pop into their neigbouring deli for olive oil, homemade chutney and wood-fired sourdough.
St Elmo Dining Room and Bar in Bryon Bay serves modern tapas and sharing plates alongside local craft beers, inventive cocktails and a well-balanced wine list. And, 1940s pub, Hotel Brunswick, in Brunswick Heads has a renowned beer garden, regular live music and river views. At nearby Fleet, you can sip sustainably produced local wine and try sublime seasonal snacks.
As we zip along the coastal highway towards boutique hotel Halcyon House, just beyond the New South Wales border, I let the word ’halcyon’ roll off my tongue a few times. Halcyon. Hal-see-on. Halcyyooooon. It sounds good. It sounds sunshine-y. it has the opposite effect of saying ’moist’ – it’s skin-tingling, smile inducing… Saying it puts me in a halcyon mood.
I snap out of my linguistic daydream. Tuning in the car radio reminds me that we’re far from anywhere vaguely metropolitan. A station blaring Eighties and Nineties hits feels apt, harking back to our own childhood memories of coastal holidays when Richard Marx and Bananarama reigned supreme.
Shoreside ‘burb Cabarita bears the hallmarks of those bygone beachy days – pockets of local shops whose owners have thumbed their noses at updated signage since the early 1980s, and that quintessential chubby grass; glorious, thick ultra-green lawns, which are either the result of residents with gardening time to kill, or perhaps the delightful climate. We arrive in August, allegedly late winter, but the sun is well and truly present, and I’m wearing flip-flops – the truest measure of temperate weather.
With a backdrop of blue sky, Halcyon House hotel looks resplendently crisp and white as a stiffly starched shirt. It was once a surf motel, but you’d never know it looking at the groomed gardens and luscious flower beds framing its façade. Like a dorky teenager who disappeared for a stint in Europe, only to return tanned, svelte and head-turning, Halcyon House feels more like an exclusive members’ club than boutique hotel. Bravo to whoever had the foresight to kiss this surfer-hangout frog and turn it into Instagram bait.
Check-in is a breeze with the gorgeously Amalfi-accented Sylvia. She takes a shine to our toddler, and we briefly considered exchanging our first-born for room keys, but instead our threesome gets stuck in to lunch in on-site restaurant Paper Daisy. The menu has tasty poolside snacks, light meals from the grill and most importantly – the life force of all young mothers – fabulous, glorious wine.
For basking on the pool deck we switch our soundtrack from Bananarama to laid-back Balearic beats – the ideal accompaniment to a third glass of crisp, chilled chardonnay. We haven’t made it up to our room yet, but what’s the rush? So goes the whole weekend, as one by one we mentally strike off plans to venture into Byron and Bangalow for shopping, eating and meandering. As the sun grows warmer time slips into the ether, and nothing seems a higher priority than keeping ourselves as close to horizontal as possible.
Eventually, we peel ourselves off the pool deck’s day-beds to explore our suite. Halcyon House’s owner handed creative control to Australian queen of colour Anna Spiro – an inspired choice; we love her pick of prettily patterned curtains and bespoke headboards upholstered in suzani (traditional Uzbekistani embroidery). Nothing here screams ‘hotel’; the style is more cosy and chic beach house, where each room is a treasure trove of unique vintage finds, textural layers and colour. Anna’s keen eye ensures that a chaotic mix of styles looks quirky yet sophisticated, like the Hamptons by way of Sorrento.
Only a few hours had passed since lunch, but these days little else excites us parents more than an early dinner and maximum bed time; so, with our room’s over-stuffed, downy pillows in mind, we resumed vertical positions and returned to Paper Daisy for a four-course feast. Helmed by Ben Devlin (formerly of Noma), the eatery’s on-plate creativity is in step with the bold and bright surrounds. Our little one was rewarded for good behaviour with over-the-top attention from the wait staff; Halcyon House isn’t a family hotel per se, but little guests are well catered for here. As are big guests (growing bigger as every course rolls out) for that matter: our slightly delayed desserts were delivered to our room instead, so we could finish them off on our terrace.
The rest of the weekend was spent meandering along Cabarita Beach (a hop, skip and exactly three jumps from the hotel’s back gate), lazing on blue-striped day-beds by the pool or enacting our finest Free Willy impressions. Yes, it was winter, yet the pool clearly missed the memo; the initial shock of jumping into cool water quickly subsided. Service remained top notch throughout the weekend, from the front desk clerk through to the pool attendants. One lovely server happily entertained Mr Smith by discussing the nuances of Tweed Heads’ local brew versus the Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, offering tastes of this and that so we could wax lyrical on the virtues of a wheat beer.
We managed to remain on-site for our entire stay, giving Paper Daisy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus a thorough run through, yet leaving enough untried dishes to warrant a return visit. A final farewell cocktail by the pool succinctly summed up our beach holiday. Balmy sunshine, a perfect playlist and a setting fit for a Slim Aarons portrait: some last-minute revelling in the ‘Halcyon effect’ before heading home.