LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Seeking Sanctuary


Serve yourself some starchitect-branded tranquility at Moonlight Head, Australian architect Glenn Murcutt's first luxury eco-lodge.

Eco hospitality rises to magnificent new heights – the coastal headlands of Southern Australia.

The Great Ocean Road is Australia's most spectacular coastal route. Spanning from Torquay to Peterborough, the 300km drive winds its way along the most southern tip of the mainland looking out across the Southern Ocean. Midway is Moonlight head. Situated on top of the highest coastal headland in Australia, it is close to the seaside resort of Apollo Bay and the untouched rainforests of Otway National Park.

It was while heading down the coastal stretch that Mark Banning-Taylor hit upon the idea of a luxurious hotel, a civilized retreat, yet set just far enough from civilization. "I was on holiday with my wife and we were heading down the Great Ocean Road as part of our holiday. We decided to look at buying a piece of coastal land and I found Moonlight Head on the internet. When I visited the land, I knew the following day that I was going to build and operate a hotel from here. This was almost seven years ago," he explains.

From the outset Moonlight Head was to be no ordinary hotel, and, indeed, no ordinary project. A former student of geology and landscape architecture, Banning-Taylor's profound respect for the spectacular surroundings spurred him to create a world-class luxury retreat, founded on the principles of environmental conservation. The natural choice for such a project was the Pritzker Prize winning Australian architect, Glenn Murcutt, a leading figure in environmental building design, in collaboration with his wife, fellow architect Wendy Lewin. However, the architect famously eschews large scale, commercial designs in favor of the creative freedom of small scale and residential commissions. In a bold move, Moonlight Head's owner not only requested a luxury hotel – a first for the Murcutts – but an additional five lodges, all built upon the 42-hectare coastal farm block. "The brief was pretty exhaustive. It ran to some 12 pages and asked for a hotel and five houses. Glenn had just finished designing the Arthur & Yvonne Boyd center so I guess the opportunity to pursue a project of a larger scale combined with the remote location appealed to him." The hotel – the final stage of the project – is scheduled to open in early 2008.

The first stage, a luxury lodge, opened early this year, with number two in progress. With east-facing windows offering guests unrivaled views of the most sublime sunrises, the lodge is a haven of beauty and tranquility for nature lovers, overworked urbanities in search of sanctuary, or simply fans of thoughtful, intelligent architecture. "The first building is a Ferrari of a house. The light, the spaces, the relationships are unlike anything you have experienced before in a dwelling. It is like living in an old master painting. I now understand why these houses so rarely change hands. Once you own one, living in these sort of spaces is unique," enthuses Banning-Taylor.

Sumptuously furnished and with the latest technology, Banning-Taylor's eco-retreat nevertheless remains true to the Murcutts' philosophy of "touching the earth lightly". Even paper brochures are forbidden, although the most demanding guest will not want for any of the luxuries that the finest hotels afford.

In a unique twist, two of the five lodges will be for sale, offering a rare opportunity to acquire a Murcutt-designed home. The rest of us can take consolation in enjoying all the home comforts that Banning-Taylor's rural sanctuary has to offer.

Rates start from AU$3,000 per night, with a minimum stay of two nights.

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