The Queen Mother of Singapore – the most famous hotel in the Lion City
LIKE A PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES
The legendary Raffles, one of the most famous hotels in the world, a Singapore icon, is once again home to the stylish world traveler who wants to experience luxury, tradition, lifestyle and nostalgia.
Of course, the Raffles can’t be the same as it once was. The world is changing continuously and luxury hotels must not resist the new zeitgeist. Thus, Raffles exemplifies how innovation should be integrated into the historic and nostalgic hotel character. After extensive renovation and refurbishment in 1989 and 2019, the colonialist luxury hotel is once again enchanting discerning and illustrious guests from all over the world. Responsible for the fabled restoration work, among other people, is the New York interior architect and designer Alexandra Champalimaud, whose stylistic devices are mainly pompous chandeliers.
The palatial Grand Lobby, the heart of the hotel, welcomes all guests with a true statement: a four-meter-high and five-meter-wide lotus flower-inspired chandelier with unique crystal flowers and octagonal, almond-shaped decorations made of crystal and onyx towers over the entrance area. Reportedly, this precious, exclusive and magnificent chandelier from Preciosa (the name of this world-leading manufacturer of cut crystals speaks for itself) took up half of the multi-million-dollar modernization budget.
LIKE A STAR
Every time I enter the new grand lobby and walk up the wooden staircase, which is only allowed for hotel guests (of course, there are several modern elevators), I feel like a star and feel an almost reverential atmosphere. I think of the countless crowned and uncrowned heads who have also stayed at the stylish Raffles. Maharajas, sultans, princesses, divas, kings, literary as well as cinematic greats and intellectuals once lodged and wandered through the corridors, just as discerning travelers, stars and state guests stroll through the inner courtyards today. The so-called “Wall of Fame” is something to behold.
The sophisticated “Grand Old Lady” combines the charm of the colonial era with the most modern technical amenities of the 21st century. FOR ME THE ONE AND ONLY IN SINGAPORE. It offers more than a very high level of luxury and it is worth a thousand stars! I feel – thanks to the exclusive world-class service – not only as a VIP, but as a M(ost) I(mportant) P(erson). You too must experience this lady in your life. She will inspire you, because she impressively reflects all facets of the city.
HISTORICAL IDENTITY AT THE PULSE OF TIME
An original cast-iron portico with the old logo decorates the nostalgic balustrade at the entrance, while the new logo adorns the snow-white marble floor not far away.
The “grande dame” of the luxury hotel industry, once the city’s beach hotel, has been a national monument since 1987 and knows how to combine nostalgia with modernity and timeless tradition with modern high-tech. Giving a heritage hotel a new lease of life is all about details, the distinct story that each location tells and the latest available technology. Built in 1887 by four Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies brothers, and thus 80 years older than the city-state itself, the Raffles Hotel opened on December 1st with just 10 rooms and at that time already enjoyed running water, electric ceiling fans, electric lights and a dining room with marble floors. The beach, or rather the sea view, has receded into the distance in the course of the city’s development, and the gleaming white Raffles with its graceful architecture is now suurounded by a few high-rise buildings.
Over the years, it has been extended and expanded again and again. In 1899, the gleaming white neo-Renaissance-style building was erected. New hotel wings, additional facilities and amenities were added over time, such as the Raffles Arcade, where luxury stores, as well as the Raffles Boutique, the luxurious Raffles Spa, bars and restaurants delight guests.
Steeped in history, Raffles Singapore, a tranquil oasis in the heart of modern and bustling Singapore, is characterized by timeless elegance, supreme comfort, inimitable service, exclusive ambience, historic tradition and contemporary luxury. Already in the 19th century the hotel’s advertising slogan was: “Please remember, we are no better than the best, but better than the rest” and this still holds true today. None of the new luxury hotels around Marina Bay can compete with the somewhat aging, dusty old lady after her extensive renovation and detailed restoration. She awoke royally from her deep sleep. The magnificent Raffles, whose architecture “still exudes the spirit of colonialism,” as the New York Times notes, keeps its finger on the pulse of time and presents a successful balance between tradition and innovation. It deserves my respect as well as esteem for its outstanding performance and its sense for new trends and social developments. The “Raffles philosophy” lives on!
The flagship of the Accor Group is managed by the dedicated and passionate German hotel manager Christian Westbeld. Raffles impressively embodies “the sense of style of the past with the expectations of modernity,” emphasizes the ambitious hotel director, who personally greets each guest when his commitments allow him to do so. Every single employee at Raffles makes the hotel a very special place, in addition to its luxurious rooms and its truly palpable history. Be it, as just mentioned, the hotel manager; the butler who fulfills you every wish or the iconic “Raffles Doorman”, a traditional Sikh, dressed in gold-brushed uniform and immaculate white turban, representing Singapore’s colonial past. The so-called “The General,” an Indian brand ambassador knows how to welcome each arriving guest and leads them down the red carpet.
More than 400 employees work around the clock at Raffles and all of them shape the image of the renowned hotel. It is important for me to mention the resident historian, Nazaimoddin Yusof, called Nazir. He led us in a two-hour private historical tour through and behind the historic walls of Raffles, so that we could feel the living history of this noble hotel in the “sacred halls”. Furthermore, the house historian revealed some secrets to us: in 1902, for example, a dedicated butler finished off the last wild and stray tiger in the Bar & Billiard Room, now the Italian restaurant. Thanks to Ngiam Tong Boon, a barman of the house, the Long Bar, is considered the birthplace of the Singapore Sling in 1915. The drink, which visually resembles a non-alcoholic cocktail, at the time also allowed women at the bar to consume alcohol unobtrusively. In the famous bar, guests are served fresh peanuts and – today as in the past – visitors are surprisingly allowed to throw the empty shells on the floor. In Singapore, after all, carelessly throwing things away (as well as spitting on the floor) in public is punishable by a draconian fine.
Nazir also showed us true treasures, such as the legendary restored grandfather clock by Smith & Son, which sounds the classic melody “I’ll see you again” every evening at 8:00 pm. The Grandfather Clock – along with other valuable antiques – has held a place of honor in the Grand Lobby since it opened in 1887. On the third floor in the main house, there is an antique piano that is always locked. This relic from the old days is reserved for selected guests and personalities, among them the late Michael Jackson.
However, the historian Nazir mentioned the darker side of Raffles, too: The Great Depression in 1931 and the capture of Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. As Japanese troops advanced on Singapore, the British community gathered at the hotel and proudly, but unsuccessfully, sang “There Will Always Be A England.” Just before the fall of the city, the governor ordered the destruction of all liquor stocks. The Raffles employees tried to hide all the wine bottles and valuables of the hotel from the Japanese. Finding no more room for a sterling silver serving trolley in the house, they buried it in the garden and three years later – after Japan’s surrender – they dug it up again. Until a few years ago, this cart adorned the French restaurant.
As for the 115 spacious suites, which have been renovated from top to bottom and feature the legendary Raffles butler service, I highly recommend all categories. Everywhere, the four-meter ceilings have been preserved, as have the polished teak floors and exquisite stylistic elements. All have stylish separate bedrooms and living rooms (some even have four-poster beds), bathrooms with locally made Peranakan ceramic tiles, and immaculate furnishings, including antique showpieces, hand-knotted oriental rugs, legendary wicker chairs, and modern coolness, such as the unique minibar in the form of an old wardrobe trunk and the tablets on display. These allow guests to control all functions – from the air conditioning and light settings to operating the TV or blinds – from the comfort of their bed, sofa or bathtub.
The 31 Courtyard Suites score with their fantastic location in the heart of the hotel, providing direct access to the main building and the legendary Raffles facilities. I was particularly impressed by the verandas overlooking the immaculately manicured tropical gardens and lawns directly in front of our suite.
Guests choose from six categories, with check-in and check-out in their own suite an added convenience. The Studio King Suite, the State Room Suite in the historic Basah wing, the Courtyard Suite, the Palm Court Suite in the newer wing, the Personality Suite in the courtyard named after the hotel’s personalities, such as Charlie Chaplin, and the two Presidential Suites, known as Raffles Suites.
I will take you with the following pictures to the legendary 260 square meter Raffles Suite (with impressive stucco work, 2 wonderful bedrooms, 2 exclusive bathrooms, a red dressing room, a unique living area and a stunning veranda) named after Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826). Singapore owes its current success story to this passionate, inquisitive explorer and also British colonial official. In 1819, Raffles recognized the strategic location of Singapore, an extremely sparsely populated island (Singapura / Singa=lion; pura=city) and skillfully negotiated a treaty that allowed the British to establish a trading post there. According to Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lee Hsien Loong, “If Raffles had not landed, Singapore would probably not have become the unique place in Southeast Asia, very different from the states in the archipelago around us or the states of the Malay Peninsula. But because of Raffles, Singapore became a British colony, a free port and a modern city.”
Furthermore, this suite, as well as other places at Raffles, were locations for the filming of the romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” which hit theaters in 2018.
ELECTIC MIX OF CUISINE
The bar- and restaurant scene at Raffles are the best in the city. You don’t need to leave the hotel to dine out. The Raffles offers guests sophisticated cuisine, ranging from French haute cuisine through authentic North-Indian gastronomy to high-end Chinese dining or Italian specialties. Each restaurant offers a culinary and visual treat. You can also enjoy a light meal or the traditional Raffles Afternoon Tea.
Run by Anne Sophie Pic with her 3 Michelin stars, LA DAME DE PIC in the main house (a pun on the French term for the playing card queen of spades, La Dame de Pique) reveals itself to be a true gourmet gem. The new Chef de Cuisine Alexandre Alves Pereira presents the finest flavors of fresh culinary delights. While the palate feasts on the unique flavors, the eyes feast on the unique chandelier. Here, metal discs dangle with ease, decorated with the playing card pattern of the card of spades and LED light strips.
The restaurant yì BY JEREME LEUNG delights guests with contemporary Chinese cuisine. Yì means art in the Chinese language and Chef Jereme Leung is a true master of his culinary art. Let yourself be enchanted by his dishes.
The legendary 127-year-old BAR & BILLARD ROOM, one of the most storied part of Raffles Singapore, indulges not only with a true Dolce Vita feeling, but also with a refined and inspiring Mediterranean cuisine that is second to none – thanks to the famous, Sicilian Chef de Cuisine Natalino Ambra.
BUTCHER’S BLOCK, a steakhouse in a class of its own, in the Raffles Arcade pampers guests above all with meat and fish specialties cooked in the open kitchen over an open fire. But the desserts enjoy highest popularity, too. We will never forget this multifaceted culinary experience.
In the RAFFLES COURTYARD, the small hunger as well as the big thirst are always satisfied.
The TIFFIN ROOM, modernized on the first floor of the main building, reflects the neoclassical character of the hotel with its colonial-style rattan furniture. Here, guests can savor an extensive breakfast buffet in the morning, afternoon tea and North Indian specialties in the evening. The North Indian dishes are served in the popular tiffin boxes and animate an interactive enjoyment. English-style teatime, a must when in Singapore, is also celebrated in the GRAND LOBBY with live-music. Following the British model, delicious homemade scones, savoury finger sandwiches and sweet delicacies are served on etageres – all complemented by a curated collection of exquisite tea. If desired, they can also be served with a glass of champagne.
While the famous Long Bar has been the home of the Singapore Sling for over a hundred years and a real tourist hotspot, the new Writers Bar is a stylish retreat. It treats guests to cocktails inspired by the literary greats who once stayed there (Andre Malraux, Pablo Neruda, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling). The cocktail menu therefore comes in the form of a leather-bound travel magazine. At least the iconic Raffles offers a Raffles Writer´s Residency Programme.
The Raffles Spa in the Raffles Arcade scores with a sauna, hydrothermal bath, steam room, vitality pool, versatile beauty treatments and multi-faceted massages.
On the last floor in the main building, an outdoor pool with comfortable loungers and breathtaking views of Marina Bay Sands offers total privacy and relaxation after an eventful day in Singapore or after a workout in the hotel’s state-of-the-art fitness facility.
Those who prefer to stroll through the tropical hotel gardens can also relax there on one of the many seating areas and unwind.
Anyone who wants to explore Singapore´s sights will also find pure relaxation in the world-famous “Gardens by the Bay”, which can be reached on foot from Raffles. I recommend a visit to “Floral Fantasy” and “Cloud Forest”. While the latter reveals an almost mystical atmosphere with the impressive waterfall, the former shows an artistically playful world of flowers. At dusk, the 22- meter high “OCBC Skyway” between the “Supertree Groves” is the most beautiful time for a walk. These 18 futuristic trees with over 160.000 plants are another highlight in the “Gardens by the Bay”. They shine in all colors and they are the scene of the impressive lights- and sound show “Garden Rhapsody”, too. This dazzling show is not to be confused with the breathtaking light- and water show “Spectra”, which takes place at the bayfront every evening, too. These two free shows let the soul dance and offer pure well-being. Some photos in the slideshow reflect an impression of these unique deceleration experiences.