November 5, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo
Known by locals as The Conti, after a $200 million redevelopment, the iconic Sorrento hotel, opened in 1975, will soon open as InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula.
The ownership group, Victor Smorgon Group, headed by one of Australia’s richest families, is pushing to have the complex open for the busy post-lockdown Christmas period.
While the Sorrento village has less than 2,000 permanent residents, it swells over summer by tens of thousands, as 250,000 Melburnians opt for a traditional Christmas beach holiday on the Peninsula.
Food and beverage is a major feature of the new hotel with renowned Melbourne chef Scott Pickett chosen to direct culinary operations. He already helms five Melbourne restaurants and describes this as “by far my biggest project”. Pickett will have responsibility for seven restaurants and event offerings at the new IHG property in Sorrento.
Standing proud on a hill beside Port Phillip Bay and the pier that connects it to Queenscliff, the four-storey limestone building is complete with an Italianate tower from which the arrival of ships used to be observed. A horse-drawn tramway used to take passengers from the ferry up the hill to the hotel, which was built by George Coppin – variously an actor, comedian, politician, philanthropist and businessman.
Pickett’s role is spread across a number of buildings with outlets that pay homage to the local history and the designer-casual vibe of summer in Melbourne’s most popular holiday region and home to some of the state’s most expensive real estate.
Pickett has assembled a team of head chefs and administrators to run the multi-kitchen operation and has chosen to name the fine dining restaurant, Audrey after his grandmother. Other F&B options under his watch include six less formal venues, including al fresco dining on sunny terraces or poolside, plus beachside bars and a nightclub that will be open 21 hours a day.
Breathing new life into business events at the southern end of the Peninsula, the hotel is well positioned at 90 minutes – mostly on the freeway – from the city, southern and eastern suburbs. A car and passenger ferry links Queenscliff and Geelong 40 minutes across the bay.
While Pickett says hospitality services are raring to go, the five-star IHG accommodation is not taking bookings before April 2022 for its 108 rooms including 23 suites.
The contemporary redevelopment of the property has restored to former glory its grand ballroom, one of three meeting spaces totalling 450m2. The ballroom caters for 128 (theatre) 90 (banquet), while Halcyon Hall can do 208 (theatre) or 120 (banquet) and the Gallery can accommodate 45 (U-shape), 70 (banquet) or 96 (theatre).
Whether the ‘Conti’ will become the ‘InterConti’ remains to be seen, but the full name avoids any online confusion with a similarly named Hotel Continental Sorrento in the town overlooking the Bay of Naples, not Port Phillip.