After shutting its doors for more than two years, Raffles Singapore officially reopened this month. Built in 1887 as a 10-room hotel, the property has undergone just two restorations in its 132-year history — a rarity in a city where change is near constant.
Synonymous with old world grandeur and colonial tradition, the return of the city-state's oldest and most iconic hotel has been the talk of the town — and the travel circuit.
But is it worth all the hype? Here are five reasons why it may be:
Purists will delight that the hotel's façade — and the gravel driveway that once welcomed horse-drawn carriages — remain largely the same. Under the watchful wisdom of designer Alexandra Champalimaud, the interior redesign stays true to the property's illustrious past. Resident historian Leslie Danker gave his first tour 47 years ago, and he's still part of the team.
Afternoon tea has always been a serious affair at the hotel; it's now served in the Grand Lobby (and typically booked one month ahead). And, you can still sip a cherry liqueur-laced Singapore Sling while tossing peanut shells over your shoulder at the Long Bar, perhaps the only spot where it's proper to be a bit uncouth.
Revamped suites, new marble floors and a massive Prague-made chandelier with exactly 8,142 crystals help justify the new rates, which start around 1,300 Singapore dollars ($800) per night.
Imagine setting mood lighting, adjusting the temperature, closing the curtains, selecting a buckwheat pillow, choosing a movie on Amazon Prime, booking a massage and ordering a glass of Champagne — all from the comfort of your bed. Tablets now control every room within suites and allow communication with suite butlers.
But it's not just tech for tech's sake; the tablets were purposefully designed to be simple to use. Calling the tablets "very user-friendly," Raffles Singapore's General Manager Christian Westbeld says initial feedback from guests is that they are "a wonderful addition" to the hotel's offerings.
The revamped Raffles offers 115 suites (up from 103) in nine categories, from the 495-square-foot Studio Suites to the sprawling 2,800-square-foot Presidential Suites, the latter with living and dining rooms, antiques and private verandas. In fact, every suite has a veranda — where else could one cool off in 19th century Singapore heat?
Personality Suites are new and named after famous former guests – from John Wayne and Rudyard Kipling to Elizabeth Taylor, the latter of whom visited with Michael Jackson in tow.
With the addition of 24-hour-a-day butler assistance, check-ins are performed within suite.
"We don't even have a front desk in the hotel lobby anymore," says Westbeld, adding that services such as checking in and out, and concierge inquiries about Singapore art, cultural and historical events are all handled directly by suite butlers.
The most visible change to the hotel's restaurant scene are the collaborations with internationally renowned chefs. The Bar & Billiard Room has been reborn as BBR by Alain Ducasse. It's the celebrity chef's first Mediterranean sharing and grill concept and the new home to Raffles popular Sunday Champagne Brunch.
With seven Michelin stars to her name, Anne-Sophie Pic makes her Asian fine dining debut with La Dame de Pic. Rounding out the mix is "yì by Jereme Leung," a restaurant that namechecks the Singaporean master of modern Chinese.
Online ratings surely matter, but with properties as historically rich as this, the best attributes often can't be understood until they are experienced in person. Christian says staying at Raffles allows guests to feel that time is ticking in a "different way."
A stay "allows you to actually look at your inner self and think about the world with a different viewpoint. It points out to you what is really important in life," says Westbeld. "And that's something that makes this building extremely special."