There's always that nervous moment, opening the door of your hotel room. And, pulling into the Sebel in Busselton at the end of a working week, we find exactly what you'd hope to see: a home away from home.
Everything looks brand-new in our clean and comfortable self-contained apartment. There's an open-plan lounge area with a big couch, overlooked by a dining table to seat six and a kitchen complete with stone benchtops, a hotplate, oven and dishwasher drawer. And to my boyfriend's delight, there's a TV with Foxtel - he won't miss watching the golf or the soccer.
Throwing our bags into the bedroom - there's a TV in there, too - we discover not one but two spotless bathrooms, one with a big freestanding bathtub. There's also a second bedroom with two single beds.
It's all positively luxurious for a couple, and would be very comfortable indeed for a family with one or two young kids, the kind of place you can imagine settling in for a stretch with facilities to suit - a washing machine and dryer in the second bathroom, plenty of cupboard space in the bedrooms, a good-sized fridge in the kitchen.
The next morning, we're up early to take a look around the Sebel. Previously known as the Grand Mercure Busselton and rebranded following a refurbishment late last year, the property now offers 75 studio, two and three-bedroom apartments. Guests can make use of the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and a fitness centre, among other amenities. As the apartments are self-catering, there's no restaurant on site but management has recently launched an in-room dining service, where a chef prepares a three-to-eight-course meal in your apartment.
The property fronts the coast at Broadwater and, following a path down to the beach, there are more tennis courts, a grassy area and a wide sweep of sand with the protected waters of Geographe Bay behind. A few hardy souls are huffing and puffing along the coastal walking path, their breath visible in the early-morning chill.
The Sebel Busselton is one of three properties in WA owned by the Accor Vacation Club, and we're here in the South West to get an idea of what's available to the club's approximately 30,000 members.
Established in 2000, Accor Vacation Club offers a kind of a modern spin on the timeshare concept but with more flexibility - members aren't locked into a particular week of the year, or staying at a single hotel or resort.
An initial purchase price, plus an annual fee, entitles members to a yearly allocation of points for the life of the club (which will expire in 2080). Points are then used to book stays at the club's 21 properties in Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand, and members also get access to various travel- related benefits.
Different membership levels come with varying points allocations according to the size of accommodation and length of stay members require but the up-front spend starts from $18,900. The annual fee, used to cover the club's operating and management costs, is from $505.
It is, of course, also possible for non-members to book stays at the club's properties through the usual channels.
With a coolness lingering in the air, we head into Busselton proper for breakfast at The Goose, cosy by the open fire, looking out to the jetty. Afterwards, beanies and scarves are donned for the walk along its length - 1.8km in each direction - before we meander further south. There is wine to be tasted and lunch to be eaten, so it's mid-afternoon before we arrive at our second Accor Vacation Club property, the Grand Mercure Basildene Manor, near Margaret River. (In WA, the club also owns the Sebel Swan Valley The Vines.)
Like the Sebel in Busselton, Basildene makes a fantastic first impression - albeit of a rather different kind. As we come up the drive, an expanse of lawn slopes down to a pond with a wisteria- draped pergola and a tennis court. Ahead, behind an established oak tree, stands Basildene itself, a charming 1912 stone farmhouse surrounded by landscaped gardens. It's immediately obvious why this is a popular spot for couples on a romantic break.
Entering the reception area, we're met by the friendly and knowledgeable Max, who gives us a warm welcome followed by a tour of the house and its history. The tour is, he says, offered to all new arrivals to help them feel at home.
As Max tells us, the house was built by Percy and Margaret Willmott, who bought the land on which it stands in 1909 while Percy was working as chief lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin. The first dwelling was a shack made from flattened kerosene tins that had held fuel for the lighthouse, and this was where the couple and their children lived while the rather more salubrious two-storey stone home was under construction.
Percy is an interesting character. Born in England and raised by his mother after his father died when he was two, Percy joined the merchant navy at age 15. Three years later, he persuaded his younger brother Frank to accompany him on the long voyage to WA. After arriving, Percy spent a few years travelling extensively in the South West and as far afield as Shark Bay and the Pilbara before settling in Busselton. He married Margaret in 1894 (Frank wed her sister Edith soon afterwards) and took on the lighthouse keeper job the following year.
Percy was an enthusiastic and talented amateur photographer, and today the walls of Basildene are hung with copies of his black-and-white prints. Max points out a few as we walk around and I later take a closer look at them, leafing through a book of Percy's photographs in the guest reading room. The pictures provide a vivid portrait of life in the South West at the time - the family boating on a river or posing on the rocks at the beach; the newly constructed Basildene, its garden not yet planted.
Percy himself features in many of the images, his eyes somehow cheeky despite the serious expression necessitated by the cameras of the day, with their long exposure times. In one of his most dramatic shots, he stands balanced on the very top of the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. It is titled, with tongue firmly in cheek: "Always on Watch".
After Percy died suddenly in 1920, Basildene remained in the family for many years, with most of the surrounding farmland eventually subdivided. The home was sold in 1983 and converted into a guesthouse, with a string of owners to follow. By the early 1990s, it was in a state of disrepair. Two successive owners carried out repairs and improvements including, in the late 1990s, landscaping the grounds and adding a two-storey extension at the rear of the farmhouse. This now houses eight of the property's 17 guest rooms, including our own spacious suite, which has a sofa, desk, flat-screen TV and a balcony along with an ensuite with a massive freestanding tub.
We're treated to a Devonshire tea in the glass-walled dining room overlooking the garden. This is something of a specialty at Basildene and, as we tuck into warm, fluffy scones, strawberry jam and cream, I hope that Percy would thoroughly approve.
The threat of rain foils our plan to walk the 2km into Margaret River, so we relax in our room and have a look around the shops in town before heading to the coast to watch the sun set over the beach near Gracetown. We're well placed here to explore the area but on a winter's afternoon the comforts of Basildene are equally tempting.
Breakfast the following morning is a treat, topped only when we're presented with a little bag of two scones, jam and butter as we check out. They're just the thing a few hours later when we get peckish on the road - a welcome little taste of a home away from home.
Rooms at the Sebel Busselton start from $175 per night for a studio (from $114 for six nights or more). Upgrading to a two-bedroom apartment is an additional $100 per night. accorhotels.com.au/ hotel/sebel-busselton or 9754 9800.
Rooms at the Grand Mercure Basildene Manor are from $289 per night, including breakfast for two. basildenemanor.com.au or 9757 3140.
For more on Accor Vacation Club, see accorvacationclub.com.au.
Gemma Nisbet was a guest of Accor Vacation Club.