Chrisanthi Kaliviotis

When every (wo)man and their dachshund is in Byron Bay (or what’s now aptly referred to as North, North Bondi), where does one go for the bliss they were originally searching for?

Raes, of course.

Arguably the most spectacular pocket of sand in the greater Byron area, Raes has called Wategos home for more than two decades. But after the Catalano family purchased the seven-room boutique hotel in 2014 — and under the impeccable management of hotel impresario Francesca Webster and her team — things look (and feel) a little different.

There’s the formidable touch of Australia’s foremost interior alchemist, Tamsin Johnson, for one. That recognisable Johnson jooj can be seen from Suite to Cellar Bar, articulated via unhoned travertine, sculptural shell scones, Sisal rugs, rattan and a wrought iron chandelier sourced from an antique fair in Parma, Italy. Or the Lucy Folk-designed towels and staff uniforms, her sunny aesthetic presiding joyfully on beds and bodies alike. Or perhaps it’s the undeniably delicious waft of Santa Maria Novella products emanating from the Moroccan-style Spa below.

That 1960’s Argentinian facade, with its curved undulating white walls, remains the same, but the new Raes has done something remarkable in these strange, travel-less times: it’s plugged the veritable hole of international travel; of lush European escapades, of wine-soaked sunsets, of blissfully untethered moments. So much so, you’re left wondering, Capri who?

Surfacing from a lockdown a little worse for wear and with a severe case of wanderlust, a stay with Rae (and the gang) was just what the travel doctor ordered. Suite 7 was my home for the night, those famous wooden louvers opening out onto a vista worthy of any European postcard.

But unlike a trip to Mykonos, a trip to Raes is without the long-haul flight, language barrier, questionable service and YSL Tribute-trodden sand. It’s unequivocally the most blissfully luxurious thing you can do in Australia (and the people-watching is on par with its beachy European peers).

Despite having a dinner booking at the Dining Room downstairs (which, under the gourmand helm of Head Chef Jason Saxby, is first-class), my Covid-conditioned eating habits called for an in-room “snack” prior to dinner: oysters, fries and a “Filet O Fish” — along with a glass of chilled prosecco enjoyed in the Suite’s very own terrace. It could have been the glistening views of Wategos from the daybed, the in-room alfresco dining or that perfect, perfect fish burger that reduced me to tears, but it was an afternoon unlike any other (note, it was definitely the burger).

But given its intimate sensibility, nabbing one of its glorious seven rooms isn’t always the easiest of tasks (particularly with Europe off the cards). You can, however, still get the Raes experience via the Cellar Bar, Spa or Dining Room, even the morning coffee cart — all of which are all open to the public. The Cellar Bar is a particular highlight. Best served on a sunny afternoon straight from the ocean, the alfresco bar is both casual and cool and solves the age-old beach-to-bar conundrum with perfectly balanced cocktails, freshly shucked oysters and that permanent sense of vacation in tow (sandy feet are not only acceptable, but encouraged).

A rebirth nothing short of historic, the Byron Bay institution continues to carve its own mythology — one born from the glamorous (yet unfounded) whispers of a Salvador Dalí-designed pool and the piano-playing of Liberace.

But perhaps the most wonderful thing about Raes is that despite its luxuries it remains staunchly loyal to its free-spirited roots. The bohemia that people flock to Byron Bay for is honoured most beautifully, each inch contemporary and coastal, as opposed to stuffy and stiff. There’s an affability that comes from a life lived by the sea, one which begins from the very first commute from Lexus car to door. These kinds of hotels are innately rarefied, but Raes feels like home.

When checkout loomed, I did consider hiding in the rattan closet, wedged precariously between the lofty white robe and laundry bag (which, for the record, is also chic). A haven you never want to leave, as a guest poolside quipped to her husband: “I guess this place just brings out the best in people”. Indeed.


Raes on Wategoes

6-8 Marine Pde, Byron Bay,
(02) 6685 5366

Chrisanthi Kaliviotis is a journalist, editor, copywriter and creative consultant across fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands and publications. She has worked with some of Australia’s leading publications & global brands in her 10 year stint, her most recent being with Grazia Australia and Broadsheet, she enjoys longs walks on the beach, Greek food, great wine and doesn’t mind letting her hair down for a good time…