Chrissy's Collection: Raffles, Singapore
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What is Chrissy’s Collection?With her lengthy travel background, Chrissy has years of experience assessing accommodation with quality and customer satisfaction firmly in mind. She was also a hands-on Director of an upmarket Kensington apartment-hotel for five years
As our own Silver Travel Advisor we are delighted that Chrissy brings her experience and eye for stylish detail when she reviews Boutique and Country house hotels. Chrissy’s Collection are her personal recommendations of hotels with something extra that makes them stand out from the rest: discreet and exceptional levels of personal service; stylish, contemporary and comfortable interiors where relaxation is key; smaller, quirky or character properties; luxury hotels with super spa facilities, exquisite dining or amazing locations. In short, very special places.
Raffles Hotel. Singapore. It’s almost impossible to imagine one without the other.
Although visitors to Singapore usually head to Raffles Hotel and, in particular, to the famous Long Bar to sample a Singapore Sling cocktail, the hotel proper is only open to residents. Although not resident, we had been invited to have a tour and supper at the hotel by Annie Choy who has worked at Raffles for ten years. Lucky us.
Annie was an enthusiastic and engaging guide. With the help of a large gallery of original sepia and more recent photographs, she brought the history of the hotel to life, as we walked around this beautifully restored, colonial, gem in the heart of the city.
The hotel started life in 1887 as a small bungalow with ten rooms and was owned by the Sarkis brothers, who hailed from Armenia. They wanted a hotel that was open to everyone and named it after the founder of Singapore, Stamford Raffles. It soon became so popular they started to expand the building. From the late 1880s the hotel was a magnet for travellers and local residents.
Reaching its heyday around 1915, the hotel was the first property in Singapore to have electric lights, fans and a French chef! Writers, actors, politicians and other luminaries were regular visitors and the hotel gained a reputation as the best hotel in Asia. Today Raffles is recognised as one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world.
In 1989 the hotel closed for renovation for 2½ years. The benchmark style year for the restoration was 1915 and it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory. Period furniture, oriental carpets, teak floors, over 400 pieces of restored furniture and original pieces of silver and historical china, are testament to the hotel’s classical, colonial past. From the moment you step through the doors into the exquisitely furnished, elegant and expansive lobby, it’s like stepping back into a bygone era.
The hotel has 103 large suites, all with 14’ high ceilings and overhead fans, a sitting room and dining area which leads to the bedroom, dressing area and the en-suite bathroom. Each suite is extremely spacious, colonial design and comes with its’ own Butler! All share a common verandah with some overlooking the glorious tropical gardens that occupy over a quarter of the entire site. There are two two-bedroomed suites which are truly stunning, In essence, huge self-contained apartments, complete with large teak oval dining table for those intimate dinners royalty and very wealthy VIPs may want to host. Just in case one of the 15 distinctive restaurants or bars wasn’t serving something to their taste…
Although the hotel now takes up an entire block with roads running around it on all sides, with its lush gardens it remains a low-rise, oasis of calm and relative tranquility. Apparently, back in the day, Somerset Maugham used to sit under the Palm Court frangipani tree every morning writing up bits of gossip and scandal overhead at dinner parties, which later appeared in his novels. I’m sure Raffles, with its eclectic mix of guests over the years, must be the secret custodian of numerous racy stories that, sadly we will never fully learn. But, immersed in the history as I wafted around the building, I longed to have been a fly on the wall all those years ago…
The tour over, we headed to the famous Long Bar for a well-deserved drink. The earthy décor of this two-storey bar, inspired by Malayan plantations in the 1920s, was very atmospheric of the era. The tradition of serving large bowls of monkey nuts on all the tables still followed. Naturally, we had to try a Singapore Sling. Invented at the turn of the century, when drinking by women in public was frowned upon, the hotel’s barman created a highly potent, pink, alcoholic drink. In essence, a turn-of-the-century, guilt-free Alcopop, the ladies of the day could enjoy. Still delicious today and, I can report, just as potent!
We tucked into the complimentary monkey nuts, but where to put the shells? Historically everyone threw them on the floor. A quick look around the bar, piles of shells everywhere on the floor, which, with large fines for litter-louts in Singapore, was highly surprising. In fact, I hadn’t noticed any litter or rubbish at all in the city, which is pristine clean. However, in 1987 Raffles was designated a national monument by the government and the Long Bar is the only place in Singapore where you can now legally ‘litter’ without facing a huge fine. We all duly threw the shells onto the floor with gay abandon.
We strolled across the courtyard over to the Tiffin room for dinner, one of the main dining areas of the hotel. The décor and ambience reflect the hotel’s glory days at the turn of the century where a Tiffin Curry Buffet, featuring North Indian specialities and Asian favourites, has been served since 1899. Needless to say, with an amazing array of vegetable, seafood and meat curries together with accompaniments, the food was superb.
Raffles fully deserves to be one of Singapore’s iconic and famous landmarks. It also deserves its many accolades and reputation as one of the destination hotels in the world. If you haven’t visited yet, add it to your Bucket List.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Singapore Tourism Board.
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