If you're looking for a comfortable, welcoming hotel handy to Melbourne's CBD, reasonably priced and with a range of free extras, then Alto on Bourke might be the one for you.
In Spring 2013, I took my two sons (aged 9 and 11) to Melbourne for a school holiday treat. It was just us three, and I didn't want to hire a car, so I was seeking a location where we could easily walk to a range of child-friendly attractions and travel to visit friends and relatives in various directions. After much Googling, I settled on the Alto and it proved a good choice.
The Alto is a boutique hotel in a refurbished heritage building that once housed a railway union. It has a charming 1930s brick façade but an interior that is contemporary, comfortable and stylish. It offers heaps of free extras and is proudly eco-friendly -- but more of that later.
I booked a two-bedroom apartment (Room 403) for our stay, at around $300/night. It proved a good choice -- two spacious bedrooms plus a good-sized living area and a galley kitchen with stove, dishwasher, microwave and full-sized fridge.
It was very comfy, made more so by air-conditioning that could be individually controlled and, better still, turned off completely. We did this for most of our stay, and enjoyed the fresh air that we could let in through the windows, which actually opened (oh, bliss). Our outlook wasn't fancy, but I enjoyed the view of rooftops and old buildings. Our room was quiet and we all slept well.
The Alto offers free wi-fi throughout, so we could use our laptop as we wished and my older son's iPod worked fine. If you don't have your own devices, there are also two free PCs in the lounge area near reception on the ground floor. This area also offers free tea, coffee and hot chocolate, free massage chairs and a free guest library. Complimentary newspapers can also be delivered to your room each morning on request.
For us, the Alto's location was ideal. It's just around the corner from Southern Cross railway station, where the airport's Skybus drops off. It's also close to tram stops and is walking distance to the CBD. Bourke Street mall was a gentle 15-minute stroll, which we enjoyed in good weather but found a bit more challenging when a Melbourne gale sprang up. And for younger kids (say, under 8), you might be better off tramming it.
Green initiatives at the Alto included sorting of rubbish from recyclables, pump-pack (not disposable) toiletries, green energy sources, and the option of refusing daily towel changes. The hotel even hires out an electric car ('Sparky') for short-term use. Yet I still felt pampered during our stay, with beds made and dishes washed daily, and unfailingly helpful front-desk staff (thanks Stewart and Charlie).
We only ate in the little hotel restaurant once, but our breakfast was nice and the prices on par with most hotels (my children ate half-price). There were a range of good and cheap eateries nearby.
All in all, I recommend the Alto as something of a hidden, low-key treasure. It's not in the upmarket part of the CBD, but it was as comfortable as any upmarket chain that I've stayed in, if not moreso. Plus it offered a range of free extras and green initiatives that really set it apart. We plan to return next time we holiday in Melbourne.
PS Book early, especially for weekends, as the Alto is often booked out. We had to shift rooms for the last two nights of our stay, into a King Studio, because our apartment had been pre-booked for those nights by somebody else (which I knew when I booked). While the King Studio would have been fine for a night for two couples, it was pretty squishy for a family group.