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Woods Bagot completes $120m refurb of Continental Sorrento with subterranean bathhouse and spa

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Global architectural firm Woods Bagot has completed its comprehensive renewal of the Continental Sorrento in Victoria, Australia, with a luxury underground spa and bathing retreat.

The hotel – known locally as the “Conti” – opened in 1875 and is based in Sorrento; a popular holiday destination thanks to its sheltered coastal access and the region’s naturally occurring geothermal mineral springs.

The opening of the spa marks the final step in the AUS$120m (US$80m, £65m, €73m) overhaul by Woods Bagot to restore and expand the historic hospitality icon's existing facilities.

As the latest addition to the 108-key property, the Aurora Spa and Bathhouse has been designed as a sanctuary in which guests can pause, recharge and refresh. Aurora is a boutique Australian urban spa brand and operating company founded in 1997 by seasoned industry executive Lyndall Mitchell. The new Sorrento outpost marks the third Aurora location, joining existing destinations in Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

The jewel in the new spa's crown is its new bathing suite featuring four geothermally-heated mineral pools rich in magnesium. These include:

• A sky-lit daydream pool (36°C).• A magnesium salt reflexology pool lined with reflexology stones (37°C).

• A vitality pool equipped with swan necks, bubble jets and water jets (38°C). • A cold plunge pool (8-14°C).

Visitors can also discover a Nordic timber-lined sauna, an aroma steamroom, a salt room, sensory showers and a glacial mist chamber.

To help guests get the most out of the facilities, the spa offers a 10-step bathing ritual to relax both mind and body. A traditional spa treatment menu also offers massages, facials, body rituals, flotation therapy, wellness coaching, mindfulness and meditation.

Spa partners include Aurora's in-house skincare brand ASPAR and French skincare specialist Biologique Recherche.

Design touches

To achieve a sultry atmosphere, Woods Bagot used low lighting, textured terrazzo finishes and brass accents throughout the bathhouse, referencing its ancient epicurean roots. In a nod to this, folded copper wall art depicts Centella cordifolia – a species of creeping perennial herb endemic to the Mornington Peninsula. Also known as the herb of longevity, the Centella or pennywort family is believed to possess medicinal properties that help to hydrate and revive the skin.

Woods Bagot associate principal and lead interior designer Sarah Alessi said Aurora’s design incorporates a material palette that invokes the ancient ritual of bathing.

“There is an antiquity about the materials, like limestone and copper, that even conjures a Mexican cenote,” she said.

Upon arrival, spa guests are greeted by a central entrance piece, a copper-clad apothecary counter, selected for the metal’s long-held associations with water vessels, traced back as far as Mesopotamian times, for its low reactivity and naturally antibacterial benefits.

Further renovationsThe wider Conti rejuvenation sought to channel the concept of modern nostalgia, integrating timeless design and enduring practices with state-of-the-art facilities.

Woods Bagot chief executive and lead architect Nik Karalis explained that the vision for Conti’s redesign was “an amalgamation of the best of Europe with the whimsy of Australia”.

As well as reviving the limestone hotel and its accompanying 1930s extension, Woods Bagot designed four new buildings housing a new signature restaurant (spearheaded by celebrity chef and restaurateur Scott Pickett), a bar, beer garden, conservatory, speakeasy and the associated pool club and spa and bathhouse.

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Global architectural firm Woods Bagot has completed its comprehensive renewal of the Continental Sorrento in Victoria, Australia, with a luxury underground spa and bathing retreat.
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