Louis Li: how I travel

Louis Li

Louis Li

Inspired by the cinematic visions of Stanley Kubrick and Wong Kar Wai, the founder of Jackalope Hotels has fashioned his début hotel on the Mornington Peninsula with more than a touch of the surreal.

I was brought up in Kunming in southern China, which is also known as Spring City because of its weather. It's such a pretty place to live. Lots of film directors, writers and dancers live there. It's not a major city like Shanghai or Beijing, but it has poetic elegance.

When I arrived in Melbourne in 2007 to study filmmaking at Swinburne I was struck by how creative and grungy the city is. It's a very intimate city, with close connections between the worlds of design, architecture and hospitality.

The most significant trip I ever took was to Berlin six years ago. I was there for the film festival, and it was on that trip I encountered a sculpture of a jackalope hanging on the wall of an antique shop. I asked the owner what it was, and he told me about this mythical creature. I became completely obsessed with it. That was where the idea for Jackalope came from. A creature so rare it exists only in myth is the perfect symbol for my hotels.

Three years ago I was having lunch at the Willow Creek vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula and the winemaker told me it was on the market. I thought immediately that was what I wanted - to create a surreal hotel in a rural landscape, a real destination.

My family are hotel developers, so I know the formula for creating a good luxury hotel. I wanted to go further, however, to merge my artistic exploration from filmmaking with this formula to create an unexpected product. It was a risk, but Jackalope is a fearless brand. You have to be a dreamer. If you think about the consequences too much you compromise the vision.

Travel for me is not a relaxing experience. I travel for inspiration. I take an intense trip and look for the unfamiliar, to get out of my comfort zone. My favourite hotels all have a daring vision. They're almost the product of obsession - a summary of the owner's inner life and lifestyle. I look for a place that's not copyable, that can exist only at that site.

My ideal kind of trip is a combination of food and art. I'll book 20 restaurants when I'm going somewhere like LA for two weeks, and I will definitely travel just to see an exhibition or a gallery. The most important thing I take with me is a book filled with my personal notes.

Luxury these days has become something of a meaningless term. People are looking for memories, not just for a two-night stay or a fine-dining restaurant. I always say luxury is defined by rarity. We're all so technology-obsessed that solitude has become luxury. You know yourself so much better when you can have a conversation with yourself.

My favourite travel quote is "We don't take a trip. A trip takes us." It's from John Steinbeck, and to me it sums up the wonderful things that can happen if you leave a day unplanned and just wander.


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