In Greek mythology, those who looked the goddess Medusa in the eye were turned to stone and could never look away; a fatal fascination. Being stopped in your tracks was the effect Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace wanted his work to have on those who beheld it.
Medusa rules at the luxury Gold Coast hotel that bears the Versace name and brand. But far from being the mythological monster that she became for the sin of seducing Poseidon, the many images of Medusa around Palazzo Versace instead bear an attractive face below the roiling snakes of hair. She’s there in mosaic on the Italian marble lobby floor, in brass on the bedhead in my lagoon-view suite, etched on the glass of my shower door, on the plastic gold-topped bottles of shampoo and conditioner, looming large in chocolate above the breakfast buffet. In the Versace boutique off the lobby, she’s on belt buckles, shoes, handbags. You name it and Medusa is there, symbolising ‘seduction and a dangerous attraction’ as Versace saw it.
Medusa making an appearance everywhere
It’s nearly 15 years since Palazzo Versace opened its doors on the Gold Coast Broadwater as the world’s first fully fashion-branded hotel, and the epitome of hotel glamour and luxury. Now undergoing a refurbishment, the initial over-the-top glitz has been toned down in accordance with changing times and tastes, while retaining the opulence it is famed for.
As I step from my car onto the porte-cochere, I remember the fuss made about it when the hotel opened. The intricate mosaic of pebbles on the driveway was hand-laid by five master tilers flown in from Italy, along with the stones collected to create it. Soon, two shiny black Rolls-Royce Phantoms will join the hotel car fleet, for VIP transfers.
In the lobby, towering marble Roman columns reach up to vaulted ceilings hand-detailed in gold. But it’s the massive crystal chandelier I can’t take my eyes off. It once graced the State Library of Milan and at 750 kilograms, building its support structure necessitated the loss of two guestrooms above.
There’s a lighter, more modern feel on the guest floors. Corridors are lined with fashion photography, the famous faces greeting me including Paris Hilton, Linda Evangelista and The Rolling Stones. All the beautiful people are here – and that includes a roll call of famous guests, but discretion is absolute.
Richly decorated spaces abound, but the refurbishment – expected to be finished by September – will see all the ornately decorated bedcovers replaced with crisp white fabric and Versace cushions in vibrant colours. My lagoon suite has already had its makeover, and with its gleaming parquetry floors has a more relaxed feel than I remember on past visits. Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors open off both bedroom and lounge to a Juliet balcony, with sun-lounges at either end. If privacy screens were installed, they’d be almost perfect.
From a table overlooking the palm-fringed pool and lagoon area, I tackle the degustation menu at the acclaimed Vanitas. One wall of the restaurant is windows, the opposite features a 13-metre painting inspired by Versace’s book Do Not Disturb, a peek behind the doors of his four luxury homes.
Sitting down to chef de cuisine James Fiske’s beautifully crafted six-course menu, with matched wines from Australia, France, Spain and Argentina (for example), requires gastronomic stamina. There are hors d’ouvres and an amuse bouche to accompany a glass of champagne before we even begin. I’m glad I wasn’t tempted by high tea in Le Jardin.
Each dish is a work of art, rivalling the eye-catching tableware (Versace designs, of course). We dine on Tasmanian salmon with pickled carrot, onion and radish, with beetroot puree, and mud crab with watermelon, pear, mustard cress, and a light bisque. It’s delicious, each serve small enough not to be daunting.
Dinner over, I’m happy to slip into black robe and slippers, ready for a dip in my spa bath. In the morning, after a buffet breakfast in Il Barocco, other guests are dipping in the lagoon and look set for a day lounging in the cabanas overlooking the small beach or tucked among the palms. The cabanas are draped in floaty white sheer curtains for added privacy and there’s a cabana menu, in case you’re still peckish. I look up from my gold-trimmed pillow to see yet another mosaic Medusa gazing down from above a gushing fountain.