1 / 2
By: Kip Brook, Word of Mouth Media NZ
Sitting up in bed swallowing eggs Provencal I gaze out the large ship-style porthole window to glassy Akaroa Harbour. My moment in paradise is interrupted by the sweetest sound of a native bellbird morning song.
This is the Boathouse room at Maison de la Mer, the best cosy, classy romantic accommodation lodge in the historic French village of Akaroa, about a 70 minute drive from Christchurch international airport.
We are in the lap of luxury. By the morning we had shed all our business anxieties when Carol brought us breakfast in bed. We finish our homemade yoghurt, muesli and fruit, wash it down with chamomile tea, then slip under the sheets and relax in romance at the No.1 place to stay in Akaroa, according to Tripadvisor.
Maison de la Mer has also just been named among the top 10 Bed and Breakfast Inns (B&Bs) in the world, according to Trip Advisor. The newly released American Express travel book - the World's Greatest Hotels, Resorts and Spas – also features Maison de la Mer as one of two properties in New Zealand.
New Zealand and Christchurch tourism have been savaged by a series of earthquakes since September 4 but the accolades just announced by Trip Advisor for Akaroa are a huge boost to the battered region.
Maison de la Mer is owned by Bruce and Carol Hyland who have had 20 years experience in the business and had two similar properties in Auckland.
``It’s just fantastic news for New Zealand tourism that we have been recognised by the most important people of all - our guests - via Trip Advisor, the world's leading travel guide authority on where to stay,’’ Bruce Hyland said.
``Not only have we been awarded a Trip Advisor Award of Excellence - 2011, but we have also been given the accolade of one of the Top 10-to-die for Inns and B&B’s around the world.
``We are the first place in New Zealand to win this award. Three years ago we were awarded the top 10 Hidden Gems in the South Pacific award by Trip Advisor, who are the top authority on the planet for good places to visit as they are based on actual guest experience.
``We expect a huge response from this award as we are away from the quake zone and Akaroa is a great alternative to Christchurch,’’ he said.
The Maison de la Mer building was built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1910 featuring intricate carved wooden details in the central hall, and many art nouveau stained glass windows - all of which have survived the years and earthquakes. The Hylands bought the lodge seven years ago. It is furnished luxuriously in French country style, reflecting the unique French history of Akaroa.
Maison de la Mer has previously been named among the best six places to stay in New Zealand by the London Sunday Times, and Frommers Guide has judged Maison de la Mer as one of the top seven places to stay in New Zealand.
After the divine breakfast, we shower, freshen up and head off for a long walk, beyond the old lighthouse to French and early settler cemeteries and monuments. This tiny peaceful harbour resort village at the edge of nowhere in the Pacific was first settled by the French in the early 19th century before New Zealand was officially branded British rule 170 years ago.
Akaroa’s streets have retained their Gallic heritage and charm and some of the early forms of architecture relate to those early days. Often referred to as the Riviera of Christchurch for its bays and cobalt blue waters Akaroa oozed history and is a romantic draw card for a weekend retreat.
We stroll the promenade, drifted through gift shops, sip soy latte in the balmy autumn sunshine and turn down the chance to swim with dolphins in the harbour – we let them be – as this weekend is memorable enough.
Maison de la Mer on Rue Benoit features several expensive imported items from France – including be the antique French oak dining table and the antique bed in the Provence suite from Nantes, where the Akaroa French settlers set sail from France to New Zealand. The bed has the most interesting story, because it is from the early 19th century in a place that has a direct connection to Akaroa.
The lodge is warm, serene and loveable; it oozes elegance; art work gracing their walls dove tails beautifully with the building’s stain glass and art nouveau features. But what places Maison de la Mer up with the best is Carol and Bruce's warm and engaging personalities as hosts par excellence. When we arrived, they had written our names on a chalk board at the lodge entrance, welcoming us - and others like Linda and Colin, who are having their 40th anniversary.
Bruce books us into the quaint Little Bistro restaurant where we dined for a romantic meal. Owners Paul and Emma have set a new high benchmark for dining in Akaroa. It’s the place to go. The food comes out quickly, (order the Akaroa cod); and the service is friendly. Back in our $500 a night Boathouse at the lodge we sip on a smooth buttery Framinghams chardonnay gaze in awe upon the majestic harbour sunset; Magnifique! For a time, it felt like being in Akaroa – the movie.
Have you got a great story to tell?Add your own article