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City slicker for a week, Susie reviews a Sydney getaway

Location, location, location: the real estate industry’s residential property catchword applies equally to hotels – beachfront versus centre-island bure; panoramic penthouse suite versus lower floor digs. And in big sprawling cities like Sydney – an address close to the action and attractions.

Mantra 2 Bond Street is the perfect spot to access the shows, shops, harbour and ferries, vibrant new Barangaroo, The Rocks, museums and the city’s world-class restaurants. Between Pitt and George Streets on the George Street corner next to Australia Square, the hotel’s prime possie lends perfectly to strolling to Circular Quay and nearby precincts to reach regular festivals such as open-air cinema, Botanical Gardens events and next month’s Vivid Sydney (Fri 26/5-Sat 17/6). The city’s annual son et lumiere tribute dresses CBD landmarks in effervescent colour over its three-week season, stirring visitors’ adrenalin levels to join in song, dance and exhibitions. For kids: Taronga Zoo’s extraordinary light sculptures of animals delight even the youngest. Currently, a must-see is my favourite Sydney fixture, Opera on the Harbour, until Sunday April 23. This year it’s Carmen; I saw it in 2013 and recommend it highly: get your stomping boots on for the Toreador’s Song! Stage-edge French-English subtitles are terrific for audience involvement and there’s the utterly romantic backdrop of stunning city skyscrapers and harbour lights and great pre-show on-site open-air dining options.

But first to settle in to our executive studio apartment: one of the smaller, more economical, of some 200 guest rooms in this all-apartment hotel, yet comprising four generous spaces over 38sq.m: bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, sitting room. A laundry (washer, dryer, washing powder) sits off the marble bathroom. The bed chamber’s elevated in a sophisticated private mezzanine effect above the living areas. An excellent kitchen and lounge area opens to a balcony via slider doors (rare in downtown Sydney for fresh-air respite from the air-con). The studio’s one of 120 rooms newly finished New York loft style, eschewing that tedious hotel sameness. The self-catering kitchen, white with trendy grey subway tiles, is perfectly equipped, mini bar in a proper-size fridge. There’s a 7-Eleven type store just along George Street and Woolies offers an online pre-order service that sees your groceries stored in-room on your arrival.

Memento, Mantra’s all-round breakfast buffet, coffee lounge, bar, restaurant and room-service kitchen, beside the ground-floor foyer, offers a range of budget meal incentives. Its hours are confined to peak demand times and no wonder: our dining pleasure was indulging in bringing in exotic takeaway or self-catering for a relaxing night-in after a long day on the town, with multiple LCD TVs, a breeze via the balcony, chilling on the chaise. Mornings: no need to dress for brekkie, just easing into the day enjoying “home” brewed coffee, newspapers delivered to our door. And stepping out to sample Sydney’s wonderful, renowned restaurants: Merivale’s Mr Wong (open Sunday nights); its knockout sister Felix; Martin Place’s verissimo Italian Intermezzo Ristorante; Bowery Lane, also Manhattan themed, nearby in O’Connell Street. The city’s latest dining must-do, though, is at Barangaroo: stunning sushi, Turkish, seafood and plenty more – see www.thestreetsofbarangaroo.com    

On the Mantra rooftop, gaze out towards the bridge and harbour from the heated pool and spa, hotel gym adjacent. On-site underground parking is $60/night (one entry/exit per 24hrs), steep to out-of-towners but on par with CBD charges, where just two daytime hours in a parking station’s around the same. We found having the car at hand convenient, and economical for a trip to Palm Beach. To use it during the day and attend a couple of city functions at night we used Wilson Parking’s post-5pm $5 to $15 CBD flat fee to get closer and more quickly to various evening venues, so still qualifying for Mantra’s daily one-entry/exit. But otherwise: walk, take a bus, taxi/Uber, ferry or train (Wynyard station, practically next door).

Footnote: Sydney’s futuristic new light rail system for the city-east, being built along George Street, allows essentially round-the-clock track-laying works “at approved times” (currently, until April 9; but new “approved times” could follow ). So George Street here is closed to traffic. Frankly, it didn’t trouble us; we didn’t find a distant, brief early Sunday jackhammer burst anywhere near the usual noise of regular George street traffic, horns, sirens and the constant roar of buses. Heck, this is the city centre! Thick glass balcony doors dull exterior sounds and, a bonus, there’s lighter pedestrian activity. If apprehensive, intending guests can check Mantra’s website link to planned works (and find special offers and excellent video of guest rooms) via www.mantra.com.au or go to http://sydneylightrail.transport.nsw.gov.au/library – Notifications. Or, as invited by the hotel, call them direct.

Armchair Traveller

TOKYO STYLE GUIDE

A population equivalent to near half of all Australia’s lives in the heart of Tokyo, the world’s most densely-inhabited urban area. Part of a series written by authors who know a country intimately (in this case, Aussie Jane Lawson), this new form of guide features recommendations of where to eat, sleep, shop and find novel experiences like walks, markets and hidden off-the-beaten-track surprises. Beautifully produced. With its 2020 Olympic Games looming, Tokyo is capturing the zeitgeist. Murdoch Books. $39.99.

HAVANA

No longer a no-go zone for westerners, Cuba’s attracting big tourist interest: a restored colonial city whose cobblestoned streets yet run through areas left to crumble since the revolution. New York journalist Mark Kurlansky, 10 years the Chicago Tribune’s Caribbean correspondent, presents an insider’s view of the tropical, ramshackle, alluring capital. A riveting cultural history and travelogue, with photographs and even recipes, of Havana’s music, literature, architecture and culture. It’ll have you at “Hola!” Bloomsbury. $36.

50 GREATEST WONDERS of the WORLD

I deplore publishing’s prolific, lazy, use of lists: 10 top this, 20 finest that. But judge this book not by its cover claim to have triaged the world’s 50 best – a big advance on the original seven, but by its inclusion of just two Australian entries, Uluru and the Reef. That seems fair considering British travel writer Aaron Miller has to select from an entire earth’s worth, of such as Switzerland’s mind-boggling Large Hadron Collider as well as the usual suspects. Good casual reading, well-written. Allen & Unwin. $22.99.

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