The boho beach town of Byron Bay, Australia—long known for its pristine sands, stunning headlands, and laid-back roots—is trading hippie for hip with a clutch of stylish new hotels and restaurants.

April 06, 2009

DESTINATION Byron Bay, Australia. GO FROM Sydney, Melbourne TRAVEL TIME 90 minutes by air from Sydney; two hours from Melbourne STAY At least two or three nights WHEN TO VISIT Surfers are in the water year-round, but the best weather is from December through March DON'T MISS An afternoon sea-kayak with the dolphins

WHERE TO STAY The poshest place in town is the new 92-room, $33 million Byron at Byron Resort & Spa (77–97 Broken Head Rd.; 61-2/6639-2000; www.thebyronatbyron.com.au; doubles from $325), a Balinese-style eco-resort that opened last year in a beachfront rain forest. The alfresco restaurant, Wild at Byron, serves mod-Oz delicacies with a French twist (dinner for two $100). Those who value privacy as much as 800-thread-count sheets should look to the new four-bedroom Byron Bay Villa (Watego's Beach; 61-2/9331-2881; www.contemporaryhotels.com.au; $3,625 for five nights), a modern oceanfront rental from the owners of Sydney's hip Medusa hotel. The town's original glam hotel, the Mediterranean-meets-Moroccan Rae's on Watego's (8 Marine Parade; 61-2/6685-5366; www.raes.com.au; doubles from $325), opens in August after getting a makeover that includes a new suite. Visitors can still have a taste of its restaurant's famed Australian cuisine (dinner for two $100); try the Tasmanian salmon confit with shellfish risotto.

WHERE TO EAT With its all-white décor and sexy, often shoeless, patrons, Dish (Jonson and Marvel Sts.; 61-2/6685-7320; dinner for two $100) evokes South Beach style—but not, fortunately, the diet. Diners are treated to more decadent fare, such as smoked salmon–stuffed peppers with a creamy romesco sauce. Fins at the Beach Hotel (Jonson and Bay Sts.; 61-2/6685-5029; dinner for two $90), as its name suggests, specializes in fresh fish, seasoned with African, Asian, and Portuguese flavors.

WHAT TO DO At least one of the seven nearby beaches always has good breaks for surfers. For smoother seas, head to the tranquil Belongil Bay, just west of town. The dramatic coastline views along the winding path to the century-old Cape Byron Lighthouse (61-2/6685-8565; www.byron-bay.com) are worth the hike. (Go early to catch the sunrise.) In June and July, and again in September and November, the headlands are also ideal for whale-watching as breaching humpbacks fill the surrounding waters.

Cape Byron Lighthouse

The dramatic coastline views along the winding path to the century-old Cape Byron Lighthouse are worth the hike. (Go early to catch the sunrise.) In June and July, and again in September and November, the headlands are also ideal for whale-watching as breaching humpbacks fill the surrounding waters.

Fins at the Beach Hotel

Dish

Rae's on Watego's Restaurant

Perched on Watego Beach in Cape Byron State Conservation Park, this alfresco seafood café with prime ocean views is the flagship restaurant for Rae’s on Watego's Hotel. The terrace has the best seating, with rows of white linen-tables overlooking the tree-lined beach. Indoor booths look onto the patio through tall glass doors. The menu changes according to the daily catch, but frequently includes whole baby snapper in butter and capers, as well as blackened Moreton Bay Bugs (flathead lobsters) flavored with lemongrass.

Wild at Byron

Rae's on Watego's

Located on Watego Beach and surrounded by Cape Byron Headland Nature Reserve, this pink Mediterranean-style hotel is more like a luxury guesthouse. The seven rooms have touches like four-poster, teak-carved beds and high-arched windows, as well as distinct details, such as handmade Terrazo tiles and paintings by Australian artist David Bromley. The garden suite and two-level villa open to a shared poolside patio, while the larger penthouses have private terraces with views of the ocean or Cape Byron Lighthouse. The in-house Rae’s on Watego’s café serves catch-of-the day fish like barramundi and snapper.

Byron Bay Villa

This BKH-designed luxury villa on the north coast of New South Wales attracts celebrities, surfers, and “discerning Bohemians” to its four bedrooms, floating kitchen, private deck, and wet-edge pool. Furnishings are equally upscale with Kenzo-upholstered sofas, mirrored walls, Carrara marble, Aveda toiletries, and plenty of sunlight through domed skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows. Wategos Beach is a stone’s throw away, but the immediate area includes several more beaches, as well as a substantial collection of restaurants, cafes, bars, spas, and yoga studios. Pets are not allowed, however.

The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa

About 75 minutes by air from Sydney, Byron Bay has long been known for its pristine sands and stunning headlands. Set within a 45-acre rain forest, Byron at Byron Resort & Spa was designed by local architect Ed Haysom to blend into the natural canopy. The open plan of the main building flows between indoors and out: wide, covered verandas are furnished with cane lounges and slow-turning ceiling fans. The alfresco restaurant serves mod Oz delicacies with a refined twist. Take a 10-minute tour through the rain forest to the unspoiled Tallow Beach, or just sit back at Byron’s infinity pool and poolside sauna and soak in the natural setting.

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