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Posts from the ‘Hotels’ Category

A Private Island Paradise for World Earth Day

Cempedak Island 1

What’s the story?
Cempedak is a new private island resort in the Indonesian archipelago, five years in the making. This just opened venture is from the same team behind nearby Nikoi Island, another Robinson Crusoe-esque set up.

How does it differ from Nikoi Island then?
It’s a few notches up on the design and cuisine front. What they can’t better is the service which is legendarily good on Nikoi – it’s as equally smiley and attentive on Cempedak. The main difference is that Nikoi is geared more towards families with young children whereas Cempedak is for adults only.

You’ve got my attention, how do I get there?
Catch a ferry from Singapore to Bintan (an hour’s crossing) where you’ll be picked up by private car and driven across the island (another hour) then it’s a 30 minute speedboat ride to Cempedak. Trust us, it’s worth it. Or you could arrive direct by yacht.

Cempedak Villa 4

What does the resort look like?
As your chosen vessel approaches the tiny, verdant island, a series of striking structures hone into view. These thatched roofed, curved bamboo buildings make up the villas and public areas of the resort.

So it’s designed to look like a pretty tropical paradise?
Well yes but Cempedak is not just a pretty face, the owners are committed to eco-friendly practices. Bamboo is sustainable and the open sided, high ceilinged designs cut down the need for air con. The resort has been built by local workers using locally sourced materials and employs only Indonesian staff. Added to that, the owners have set up The Island Foundation to help improve the income, health and education of surrounding communities.

Cempedak villa

Tell me more about the guest rooms
They’re all villas and they come in two types: beach fronted or set back and elevated with a view of the sea. Both have airy, open sitting areas, terraces and a plunge pool large enough to get a couple of strokes in. A spiral staircase leads up to a bedroom complete with sitting area to further soak in the view and en suite bathroom with semi open shower.

Cempedak Villa 2

What about the food?
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all held in the main restaurant (though in-villa or on a nearby deserted island are also options) but with a choice of terraces and some hideaway nooks, you can move around for each meal and feel like you’re having a new dining experience every time. All meals are set menus and alternate between Indonesian and western cuisine, using local produce including seafood, fish, vegetables and fruit, and all of a high standard.

Is there a bar?
There are three: one part of the restaurant and one next to the pool plus the gloriously designed Dodo Bar perched on top of a huge rock and with a multi storey thatched roof. There’s a story behind its curious name. Ask the bartender to tell you when he’s fixing your drink from the impressive array of boutique spirits.

Walkway to Dodo Bar

What is there to do?
For active sorts there’s a whole heap of activities on offer including watersports, tennis and croquet. Or you could just loll about by the swimming pool, the beach bar within easy reach. And if you’re even too lazy to do that (mea culpa) you could loaf about on your own terrace next to your own plunge pool. After all, the in room magazine is The Idler.

Cempedak Main Swimming Pool 3

Is there a spa?
Spa treatment rooms are planned for later in the year but for now massages are available in the none too shabby environs of your villa.

Anything else I should know?
This is very much bare foot luxury. There’s no room key or air con, you’ll need to bring your own hairdryer and the walkways do not invite high heels. If you like your luxe resorts hermetically sealed and Disney sanitised this probably isn’t the place for you. If however you like the feel of a sea breeze and being lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping waves, you’ll love it.

I’m sold, what’s the damage?
From SG$450 per night (plus taxes) for a Sea View villa; SG$95 per person per day for full board. For more visit http://www.cempedak.com

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

One of the three imposing doormen at the entrance to Raffles

[UPDATE: In celebration of its 130th anniversary, Raffles Singapore is offering the Raffles Experience upgrade for S$130 plus taxes which includes a choice of Buffet Lunch, Afternoon Tea or Buffet Dinner at Tiffin Room for 2 persons, a 30 mins Back or Foot massage for 2 persons at Raffles Spa, a complimentary bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve and a late check-out at 3pm. Available until August 16th 2017.]

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

Raffles’ lofty and serene lobby

We’re shown, not to the Presidential Suite, where William and Kate recently stayed, but to the Somerset Maugham suite, number 102, overlooking the Palm Court. There have been many additions and alterations since Raffles first opened 125 years ago in December but this wing is the most serene. The view invites you to sink into a rattan chair on the balustraded veranda and sip a welcome Singapore Sling brought to you by your butler. So we do.

All the suites (there’s nothing so hum drum as a room at Raffles) are vast compared to modern hotels. They come with a veranda and a sitting room to the front and a huge bathroom to the back. Don’t expect a zen wetroom but instead Victorian tiles, a liberal amount of marble and brass fittings.

Number 102 was Somerset Maugham’s favourite and is now the hotel’s most frequently requested suite. As well as the usual dark wooden floors, half tester bed, oriental rugs and antiques, our suite has framed pictures of and letters from W Somerset Maugham lining the walls, a writing desk and a smattering of the author’s novels. I suddenly feel under pressure.

The hotel’s Palm Court

Time for a cocktail. We cross the courtyard into the main building to the Writers Bar. Some people will encourage you to visit the famous Long Bar and throw peanut shells on the floor but the Writers Bar is lovelier; an exclusive little nook off the lobby. Billecart Salmon Ultra Brut champagne is on offer here – an exclusive in Singapore. Wine director Stephane Soret, winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Excellence Award, cleverly chose it for its lightness in the searing Singapore heat.

After the resident pianist plays Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again at 8pm on the dot, we move into the adjoining Raffles Grill for dinner. An engaging waitress talks us competently through the menu and to start I choose the steamed foie gras which has a delicious salty topping and served with a pear that’s been poached for two hours in red wine. Eric, the young and enthusiastic Chinese sommelier, matches it with a sweet wine. I usually steer clear of the foie gras-dessert wine combo but this has a tropical fruit tang that’s not at all cloying.

Raffles Grill

The halibut main course comes with a nice crust of butter on the skin with punchy tomatoes on the side and is paired with a wonderful minerally Pouilly Fume. To finish, there’s a chocolate souffle which is all that it should be. Eric appears with a gigantic bottle of ’88 Armagnac and it would be churlish to refuse but after that it really is time for bed.

The next morning we climb the Gone with the Wind staircase that leads up from the lobby and head to the swimming pool, tucked away on the third floor. Set in a walled roof terrace with trellises covered in climbing plants, terracotta urns, flowering trees and striped towels on sun loungers, it’s part Italian garden, part beach club. Wonderfully I have the pool to myself save for a dragonfly.

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

I’m just about hungry now so we go for breakfast in the Tiffin Room – an airy, colonial style restaurant with white pillars and ceiling fans on the opposite side of the lobby to Raffles Grill. There’s the usual five star buffet arrangement which is very well done but also an interesting a la carte menu. I order the Raffles Omelette – a spicy empire days inspired dish of eggs, peppers and chilli powder. Just the trick after a late night.

The Tiffin Room

We return to the Tiffin Room for lunch to try Raffles’ famous Indian buffet (while you’re staying here you should really eat inside the glorious main building as often as you can). The buffet is a spread of northern Indian hot and cold starters, chutnies, curries and vegetables with standouts such as cucumber masala salad and overnight-cooked black lentils. The highlight though is the chef’s specially prepared curry (on this occasion, a rum-soaked lamb dish) served as a generously proportioned amuse bouche, and mopped up with a freshly made naan breads.

The grandfather clock in the lobby is chiming, signalling that it’s time to leave. I do so reluctantly. So long Raffles, I’ll see you again.

Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore. Tel: 65 6337 1886. http://www.raffles.com/singapore

[UPDATE: Restoration of Raffles Singapore began in January 2017. The hotel’s Arcade, including the Long Bar, is closed for refurbishment and some of the guest rooms will close in the middle of August 2017. The hotel will close fully at the end of 2017 for a further revamp and expected to re open in mid 2018.]

Magical Mallorca

 

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Chopstix makes a special European foray this month in homage to the annual reopening of the Belmond La Residencia hotel.

The hillside village of Deia, on the north west coast of Mallorca, embodies “the other side” of the largest of the Balaeriac islands. One that’s altogether more sophisticated and relaxed. Distinctive honey stone buildings with their terracotta roofs and green shutters are staggered in tiered terraces down the hill, punctuated by verdant trees and reached by tiny winding streets. Added to all this is the appealing weather: warm in spring and autumn and balmy in high summer. It’s little wonder that this enchanting enclave with its special energy has become a refuge for artists and the internationally famous. At its heart sits Belmond La Residencia.

The sprawling property is made up of several historic buildings including two 16th century manor houses now conjoined and making up the two main hotel buildings. There’s an olive press room originally belonging to the manor, now a fine dining restaurant, and a watchtower, thought to have been built by Cistercian monks in the 14th century to guard against pirate invasion. This clutch of stone structures was originally turned into a hotel in the mid 1980s and has been owned by the now Belmond group since 2002.

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There are just 67 guest rooms and suites at this boutique property and while no two are the same, each has been kept in a traditional Mallorcan style with a nod to rustic chic: all white walls, beamed ceilings and terracotta tiled floors with an abundance of rugs, antiques and artworks. For families and groups of friends or simply for those seeking more privacy, there’s a villa a short walk from the hotel with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and private pool.

La Residencia’s generously sized grounds encompass citrus and olive groves, tiered terraces, traditional dry stone walls and even a sculpture garden. Dotted around the gardens are superb facilities including two outdoor swimming pools, four restaurants, an art gallery, spa and tennis courts. While some guests are keen to hike the surrounding Tramuntana Mountains others are happy never to leave the property.

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Artist and art teacher Cecilie Sheridan runs the hotel’s acclaimed art gallery, Sa Tafona, and organises regular exhibitions in the space focusing on Deia based artists. Cecilie lives just in front of the hotel and has lived in Deia for more than 40 years, she has been with the hotel since the beginning. Along with her late husband, George Sheriden, Cecilie has amassed a large collection of paintings from artists based in Deia, many of which hang on the walls of La Residencia. Her own artwork, and those of her husband’s, are among them. Cecilie also leads a weekly art tour of Deia for La Residencia guests. The complimentary Walk and Talk tour starts from the hotel, visiting artists in their studios around Deia. Guests have a chance to speak with the artists such as Arturo Rhodes and David Templeton and view their work, while Cecilie gives an insight into the Deia art scene along the way.

There is a strong link with the art world in Deia and it started not with painters but writers. Robert Graves, the charismatic novelist and poet, was the first to move to the area and his presence drew other artists. Graves is buried in the church yard in Deia, in the shadow of a cypress tree, and his former home Ca N’Alluny is now a museum. Another interesting place to visit in the village is a museum of archeology set up by American anthropologist Jackie Waldren who also lives in Deia.

La Residencia has embraced the art scene of Deia not least with its own art gallery and the original artworks by local artists that adorn the walls throughout the property. The hotel has one of the biggest collections of modern art of any hotel in Europe with some 750 paintings. The collection was started by George Sheriden who was the founder of the art movement in Deia.

On the lawn in front of the hotel is one of Spain’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, curated by Juan Waelder who is also one of the hotel’s resident artists. Guests also have a chance to interact with the artists through regular master classes held at Belmond La Residencia. There are three resident artists – a painter, sculpter and potter.

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The hotel is also home to five donkeys including Alba, who is mascot of the Kid’s Club, Pancho and Luna and Gitanillo and Fosca who were born at the property. The Donkey Trail is a very popular activity with guests. Once a week, guests have the opportunity to take a stroll with three of the donkeys through the olive grove in the grounds of the hotel up to a hillside peak. At the summit there’s the refuge of a stone shepherd’s hut with a wonderful view of the property and the village. General Manager Ulisses Marreiros says it’s his favourite view on the property. A typical Mallorcan lunch is laid out here for guests with food and wine from the island such as local breads, olive oil, tomatoes, cheeses and meats.

The hotel’s two Vespas are also in high demand for touring the surrounding scenic area, designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2011. Guests ride along the winding roads to the pretty villages of Fornalutx, Soller and Valldemossa – where Chopin lived for many years – and Port de Soller with its attractive marina.

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Housed in its own building, the award winning La Residencia Spa is very much in keeping with the hotel with the same rustic chic feel. Top brands including Aromatherapy Associates, Carole Joy and Natura Bisse from Spain are used and signature treatments incorporate popular ingredients grown in the area. The Almond Delight Facial involves a face massage with warmed almond oil followed by a sweet almond mask; the Olive Activator uses La Residencia’s own olive oil for a lymphatic body massage and the Citrus Siesta includes an olive oil body exfoliation followed by an almond, lemon and orange oil massage.

On top of the many treatments – available inside or on al fresco terraces – there’s also an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub based at the Spa and complimentary yoga and Tai Chi classes are offered once a week. Alternative therapist Anja Burkhard visits the Spa once a month for a week-long stay. Anja’s intriguing speciality is Body Talk. Through hands-on healing, carried out fully-clothed, Anja can diagnose problems in the body and help the body heal itself.

As well as hands-on healing, Anja may use Timewave – a computer programme with its roots in quantum physics. While in her home country of Germany Anja worked in a lab alongside specialists who were researching the effects of space on human body and from there the Timewave programme was born. Even the most cynical of clients have been won over by Anja’s approach and many book their trips to coincide with her stays. In some cases she has cured ailments in just one session.

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The children’s club, Smile, was introduced three years ago for four to 12 year olds. Until recently the hotel only allowed children to stay over July and August and the Easter holiday but due to demand that has been lifted and many of the master classes offered to adults are now available for children. These include pottery workshops, cooking classes and tennis coaching. Child-sized bathrobes and slippers are also provided in the guest rooms. Because of the size of its grounds, the hotel is able to have two outdoor swimming pools (as well as an indoor pool) one of which is for adults only and the other designated for families.

 

Gastronomy is very important for Belmond La Residencia, Chef Guillermo Mendez has been with the hotel for 27 years. Guillermo, a native of nearby Soller, started working in a professional kitchen on Mallorca at the age of 12. He went on to train with Raymond Blanc at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons among other big culinary names in Europe.

Chef Guillermo overseas all the hotel’s restaurants including the romantic, fine dining El Olivio, housed in a former olive press room, the more casual Café Miro which specialises in tapas served on a pretty terrace and Son Fony, where breakfast is served overlooking the swimming pool and out to the mountains.

Belmond

The cuisine is Mediterranean focused with several Mallorcan influenced signature dishes. Two very popular dishes from the area are a roasted suckling pig cooked for 32 hours at 65 degrees so the skin is crisp and the meat tender; and Gambas de Soller made with prawns from from the Bay of Soller and salt from the south of the island. The dish is served in a pretty box made by one of the hotel’s resident artists.

As well as top international wines, Belmond La Residencia offers a choice from the burgeoning local wine scene. The quality of Mallorcan wineries has improved hugely in recent years led by wineries such as DO Binissalem which uses local grape varieties including the reds Manto negro, callet and gargollasa and the white grapes moll, prensal and perellada. There are now some 80 wineries across the island producing wines from local or, like Pla de Llevant DO, a blend of local and international grapes such as chardonnay with giro blanc or moscatel. La Residencia carries 25 of the best Mallorcan wines across white, red and rose.

The hotel grounds include a 30 acre olive grove of 1,500 olive trees, some more than 500 years old, that is undergoing constant restoration. From the grove, La Residencia produces its own olive oil, pressed by a co-operative in nearby Soller and available in the hotel’s restaurants and shop. The label is designed by local artist Jaime Colorao who won a competition held by the hotel and open to local artists.

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There are several other connections La Residencia has forged between its guests and the local residents. One of the hotel’s turn down gifts is salt from Es Trenc in the southeast of the island, another turn down gift is a ‘lucky starfish’ made by Joanna Kuhne, a ceramics artist who lives in the village. Joanna also makes the charger plates used in El Olivo restaurant. Another local lady designs the beautiful glass plates in the restaurants while the popular Gambas de Soller dish is served in a wooden box designed by one of the resident artists.

Most recently the hotel has started to carry artisan knives made by a fourth generation local craftsman. The knives are traditionally used for spreading sobrassada (a soft sausage served at breakfast in Mallorca)onto bread. Of course Belmond can arrange to take guests to see where the knives have been forged on the island for 120 years.

 

 

 

First Look at the Aman Shanghai

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Aman Resorts new hotel just outside Shanghai, its fourth in China, has been named Amanyangyun after the ancient Chinese phrase Yang Yun meaning “the nurturing of clouds” and will open in autumn this year.

This “renovation like no other” has been a ten year project to save and transplant endangered ancient trees and historic buildings from the flood planes of Jiangxi.

Some 50 Ming and Qing Dynasty houses have been preserved and reconstructed by master craftsman in their new home just outside Shanghai. And traditional Chinese architects have added new buildings to blend with the historic structures.

Antique Villa

10,000 camphor trees have also made the 800 kilometre journey, overseen by expert botanists. They’ve been replanted in native soil and face the same direction as they had previously. Three years later they are said to be flourishing.

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As well as the historic houses which are now four bedroomed villas with pools, there are newly built one bedroom club suites designed by Kerry Hill Associates the architect behind Aman Tokyo.

Club Suite

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Amanyangung also features several dining options, a Club Lounge, banqueting hall and of course a spa.

Dining Terrace

Dining Terrace

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Raffles Rings in the Changes for the Singapore Sling

Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith

[UPDATE: The Long Bar at Raffles Singapore is closed from today for refurbishment until 2018 but Singapore Slings will be continue to be served at the hotel’s Bar and Billiard Room during 2017.]

Take equal measures of quality and tradition, add a dash of modernity and a splash of serendipity, and you have the perfect recipe to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling.

The gin-based cocktail is said to have been invented at Raffles, Singapore by barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. By chance Sam Galsworthy, the co-founder of Sipsmith artisan gin, visited the iconic hotel and requested a meeting with the F&B director the year before the landmark anniversary. And Galsworthy happens to be a descendant of Sir Stamford Raffles – the British statesman who founded Singapore and after whom the hotel was named.

“I’ve always felt an emotional connection with Raffles because Sir Stamford Raffles was my great, great, great, great, great grandfather,” says Galsworthy, whose first name is officially Stamford. “When I mentioned this to Nigel [Moore], I saw his face light up as I hoped it would. But I was blissfully unaware that 2015 would be the centenary of the Singapore Sling.”

Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling

The timing of Galsworthy’s visit was serendipitous as Diana Banks, Raffles vice president of brand and luxury sales explains. “We had started thinking about what we could do to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling. It had to have elements of both the old and the new and we thought that a bespoke gin would be an excellent way to do this but had not thought of a partner we could work with,” she says. “I had heard about Sipsmith and their growing reputation for catalyzing the revival of gin culture in London. They share so much of the attributes that Raffles has.”

When it launched in 2009, Sipsmith was the first new copper gin distillery in London for 200 years. Like Raffles, they pride themselves on heritage and high standards, producing London dry gin in the authentic way with no short cuts. As well as producing their spirits in copper stills (they have three – nicknamed Prudence, Constance and Patience), they use the “one shot” process where no extra alcohol is added to stretch and dilute the gin.

Originally the Raffles team suggested creating a gin in a style similar to one around in 1915. But the idea was quickly over-ruled by Sipsmith’s master distiller. “He said we certainly will not,” said Galsworthy. Apparently 1915 was not a great year for gin quality.

Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith has an overlay of local spices Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith has an overlay of local spices

Instead, for the Raffles 1915 gin, Sipsmith incorporated spices and ingredients of Southeast Asia. The spirit is inspired by the hotel’s location but is also a nod to Sir Stamford, who developed Singapore as a port for the spice trade and had a keen interest in botany. He had even cultivated spices on Government Hill, now Fort Canning in Singapore.

Six botanicals that would have gone into an original London gin, and go into every Sipsmith bottle, form the base of Raffles 1915: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, cinnamon and lemon peel. On top of that Sipsmith has added pomelo, lemongrass, jasmine, nutmeg, mace and clove.

After some 40 variations, the Sipsmith team got down to a long-list of nine formulas that were whittled down to two. These were sent to Turkey, where the Raffles top brass were attending a conference, for the final sampling. “It was the best part of the three days,” laughs Simon Hirst, general manager of Raffles Singapore. “There was one clear winner that had a unique freshness and brightness.”

Raffles 1915 is designed for all gin cocktails Raffles 1915 is designed for all gin cocktails

From this month Raffles 1915 is available across F&B outlets in Raffles Singapore and Paris. And the exclusive gin is not limited to making Singapore Sling cocktails which also include cherry brandy, Cointreau, DOM Benedictine, Angostura bitters, grenadine and pineapple and lime juice. “It will be used in Singapore Slings but it’s not anchored to one specific drink,” says Galsworthy. “Gin is so versatile and Raffles 1915 has an incredible mouth feel and warmth so I love it on the rocks or in a martini.” Galsworthy also suggests a garnish of one of the overlaying Southeast Asian ingredients such as lemongrass or pomelo. “I love crushed jasmine flowers in it. Whichever you choose will really bring that ingredient to the fore.”

By the end of the year the gin will go into Raffles hotels in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Beijing and Hainan. All remaining Raffles properties will take delivery in 2016, as Raffles 1915 is not solely being produced for the Sling’s centennial year. “It’s definitely a long haul product,” says Hirst. “I think we have our own copper still?” he asks Galsworthy who confirms that Patience is exclusively dedicated to crafting Raffles 1915.

“It’s one of those great opportunities where everything fell into place at the right time,” Hirst continues. “This is a hotel that’s built on stories and this is the latest one. It’s a match made in Singapore.”

http://www.raffles.com

This piece was originally published in November 2015.

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