At Sofitel Girls’ Day Out, Sarah Lang got a preview of what’s to come during Melbourne Cup Carnival Week, which is well worth a trip across the ditch!
Flirty fashion, fancy fascinators, fantastic food and a fun flutter at the races – Sofitel Girls’ Day Out at The Victoria Racing Club’s Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne had all this and more last week. The spring event opened the eagerly anticipated racing season in the lead-up to Melbourne Cup Carnival Week in November.
I was at Sofitel Girls’ Day Out with three companions younger and more stylish than myself: Fenelle Victoria, an effervescent travel content creator who makes fun social-media videos and loves all things Chanel; her travel videographer and photographer boyfriend Daniel MacKinnon; and Lana Andelane, a 20-something lifestyle editor who looks like a fashion model. Meanwhile, I was repurposing an oft-worn flowery dress, but I blended in fine, because floral dresses abound at this event to mark spring. Still, I was enviously eyeing up some of the sculptural designer dresses! Headwear is a must here: if you don’t have a raceway-ready hat or fascinator already, milliners sell some fabulous options onsite. Thankfully for me, headbands also count!
Sofitel Girls’ Day Out is targeted at women, but draws at least as many men, looking mighty dapper. We visited the stables, walked along a path bordered by 16,000 (yes, really) rose bushes, headed into a building that resembles an ocean liner, and found our table in The Terrace. Our delicious six-course meal included a dessert that looked like a small handbag! We had a good view of the racetrack, and small screens on our table showed the race finishes up close. I decided which horse to bet on by choosing the name I liked most. That’s how it’s done, right?! Then we headed down to a live-music stage for a boogie.
On Your Marks, Get Set
Now’s the time to book tickets to Melbourne Cup Carnival Week, which consists of four days of events. Victoria Derby Day is on November 4th, Kennedy Oaks Day is on the 9th, and TAB Champions Stakes Day is on the 11th. The central event, Lexus Melbourne Cup Day, is on the 7th,, when there are three races before the main course. Featuring local, national and international equine stars, it’s ‘the race that stops a nation’. Well, two nations; odds are you’ve taken a break from work to watch the Melbourne Cup, and/or taken part in an office sweepstake.
Some areas are already sold out over cup week, and some are member-only, but depending on the ticket you buy, you can access different spaces. Hospitality and dining options are still available on the Derby, Oaks and Stakes Days, including The Rose Room with its five-course meal, and private outdoor deck. On Melbourne Cup Day itself, your options are reserved seating or a General Admission ticket.
Depending on which raceday you attend, GA tickets are between NZ$65 and just over NZ$100, with access to live-music acts. Under-12s are free, and there’s a kids’ zone with entertainment like pony rides and face painting.
Off To The Races
Calling all fashionistas: you can enter the Melbourne Cup Carnival Fashions on the Field competition, introduced in 1962 to attract ladies to the races. It sure worked! Come 2023, you can enter Best Dressed or Best Suited onsite during one of the first three days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. If someone from another city or country who can’t be there in person wants to enter, they can upload three photos of themselves in racewear (this competition closes October 5).
The two top picks from the international digital entries for Best Dressed and Best Suited will be flown to Flemington for carnival week, to compete among a total 13 finalists on the catwalk on Kennedy Oaks Day (November 9) in a competition judged this year by twins and models Lady Eliza Spencer and Lady Amelia Spencer, the late Princess Diana’s nieces.
There’s also an Emerging Designer Award final (November 4) and a Millinery Award final (November 7) to watch.
Close to the airport, you’ll find Living Legends: home to (currently) 29 retired champion horses – including five who have won the Melbourne Cup. They’re spending their golden years in sweeping grasslands situated in the 700-hectare Woodlands Historic Park.
You can take guided tours. We stroke two horses and feed them carrots. I eventually realise that one may have mistaken my orange bag for a giant carrot. Hungry myself, I devour the Devonshire Tea at the onsite Homestead café.
Where To Eat & Stay
Foodies: seafood restaurant The Atlantic is a must-visit. Through the window, we can see passersby on the banks of the Yarra River. And we see one of Melbourne’s eight ‘gas brigades’: computer-controlled fireballs that shoot into the night sky along the river, on the hour. It’s spectacular, as is the woodfired Aquna Murray Cod with kohlrabi, edamame, and a sake beurre blanc sauce. My fellow diners highly recommend the oysters.
And I highly recommend the Sofitel Melbourne. Outside my room on the 46th floor, in a sort of mezzanine corridor, I look down into a sculptural inner atrium that freefalls to the ground floor. If you’re prone to vertigo, it’s easy enough to just not look down! This French-luxury, five-star hotel has very welcoming staff members, chocolates waiting beside a lounge chair and footstool, French-inspired art on the wall, and a seriously comfortable bed. There are seven types of rooms, plus even-more luxurious Celestial Suites on the 50th floor. On the 35th floor, you can dine or have high tea at No35 Restaurant, or sip cocktails at Atrium Bar.
The hotel is perfectly positioned at one end of Collins Street, with numerous fashion-label boutiques to the left-hand side. To the right-hand side are generous green spaces around the Gothic St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Renaissance-style Old Treasury Building, now a museum.
There’s so much else to do – I’ll definitely be back.
Sarah was a gift of Victoria Racing Club
For more Melbourne Travel Tips, including world-class croissants, check out our French themed trip here.