Staying at the Grand Mercure Wellington

Location: The Grand Mercure Wellington holds court over a panoramic view of the city, with Mt Victoria at centre-stage. What was once the original (circa 1983) Terrace Regency Hotel, popular with visiting dignitaries and politicians, is now a striking, contemporary black Grand Mercure Wellington, which reopened at the beginning of last year after a $12 million makeover. Check-in experience: Attentive, informative about the hotel's facilities, and warmly welcoming.

We were told we'd been upgraded to an executive suite on the eighth floor, where beautiful views were assured. Room: Quiet and luxurious in rich and rather regal tones. There's a Bose sound-system, a large Smart TV, and a view to Mt Victoria and, just a short walk away, the artistic and food-loving end of the city the Cuba St Quarter.

The harbour is also part of your view. Bathroom: Behind a frosted glass sliding door, it's not exactly sound-proof for middle-of-the-night nature calls, but it's rather luxurious and comes with all the little extras from the Amiki manuka honey lotions and potions, exclusive to New Zealand's Grand Mercure hotels, to the white robes, slippers and plenty-powerful shower with a rain-shower option. The basin and bench are devoid of a soap dish, so I seriously challenged my OCD senses and popped the wet soap on the marble benchtop.

Food and drink: The front entrance opens into the foyer and reception, but we felt drawn to the left, where an elegant lounge with beautifully-upholstered chairs and a long, glass-fronted gas fire beckons. Here, we sat and chatted and read the complimentary newspapers and ordered a glass of bubbles from the Forage Kitchen and Bar. At the other end of the building, this offers evening diners a magnificent, twinkling-lights view over the city and, by day, a realisation of just how lofty the hotel's perch is on The Terrace hill.

One night, we walked to our favourite restaurant, The Boulcott Street Bistro (boulcottstreetbistro.co.nz).

This end of the city has many cafes, bars and restaurants. Our plan to dine in the hotel's Forage Bar and Grill on our second night was thwarted by my feeling unwell so we ordered room service. Despite a fully-booked restaurant that night, our in-room meals arrived promptly, piping hot and beautifully plated.

What's in the neighbourhood? An elevator takes you down to the ocean-side, carpark entrance and a fairly steep walk down to the Te Aro shops, cafes and restaurants. This is where you'll find New Zealand clothing designers outnumbering the chain stores, and Loretta, our favourite breakfast or lunch cafe, where they print off the menu every morning so it includes the day's weather forecast, and all the crockery is hand-turned by Carterton potter Paul Melser (loretta.

net.nz paulmelser.co.

nz/pottery). Exercise: The hotel's gymnasium offers running and cycling equipment, perfect for notoriously windy or rainy Wellington days. But, when the sun's shining, Oriental Parade is just down the hill and, with its colourful and culturally-diverse Sunday farmers' market, a variety of cafes, bicycle hire businesses, and easy access to the meandering and mighty-steep streets on the edge of Mt Victoria, it's unbeatable for walks and running.

We walked up the mountain, along its dirt trails among the trees, from where we could look back at the capital. Curving around the harbour, busy with yachts and rowers, and backed by densely-planted hills, I was reminded: Wellington really is a stunning, beautiful city.

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