Sydney has changed since I left for London seven years ago. It's still an utterly glorious harbour-side oasis adored for its coffee and cafes, and it still has beaches I yearn for on cold English mornings. But it has become noticeably cooler in my absence. The galleries that were little more than tiny, unknown establishments in my early 20s have flourished and spread, architects are taking greater risks, food is increasingly daring and festivals of light and creativity seem to be on everybody's minds. This may be the distance speaking, but I love what Sydney has become.
This change is most noticeable when booking into the city's hotels - and Chippendale's The Old Clare Hotel in particular. Constructed from two heritage-listed buildings (the original Clare Hotel pub and the Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building), this 62 room property, part of the Design Hotels collection, is the warm, light-filled definition of industrial chic. A place that honours its history, embraces Australiana and makes leaving its welcoming, elegant interior very difficult indeed
Within the hotel's walls natural tones abound, with each room (all subtly different in design) boasting high ceilings and massive windows. There's polished wood, exposed brick, marble tiling and gleaming concrete, with glass used in communal areas to invite the outside world in and draw attention to the bones of the original buildings - metal external stairwells transformed into pieces of art and brick walls mirroring the streets beyond. There are pendant lights and vintage furnishings (the dentist chair by reception sets to tone immediately), all of which nod the Chippendale's industrial past. Colour is added with the use of soft furnishings, which include cushions inspired by Australia's wildlife and wildflowers and throws you long to secret away.
Once a lesser-known haunt coveted by locals and uni students (music posters from its earlier incarnation have survived, which look rather glorious beside the brilliantly retro central bar), the revamped Clare Bar is open to all, with many of the cocktails made from spirits produced by the local distilleries popping up across the city. A rooftop pool beckons on warmer days - the chaos of the city seeming particularly far away - while the attached Kensington Street Social restaurant is the ideal breakfast haunt. Those unwilling to leave the lushness of their rooms are able to sample the fare as part of the in-room dining service. The hotel is also right beside Spice Alley, perfect if you have a hankering for something Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese ... I could go on. This is Sydney street food and accommodation done right. Here's hoping my hometown continues to thrive.