Like the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok and the Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Raffles Singapore is one of those legendary hotel properties that have set the bar when it comes to Asian hospitality. Tucked between the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Singapore’s business district, the Raffles takes up an entire city block. There are tropical gardens with age-old trees and ferns, an al fresco shopping arcade with dozens of stores and elegant white-washed wings that accommodate the majority of the property’s suites. But the heart and soul is the iconic main building, with its elegant wrought-iron-framed entrance, soaring lobby with teak balustrades and balconies, and 1930s light fixtures. It’s not difficult to picture guests dancing the night away (the hotel used to host lavish balls in the spacious lobby) during its heyday in the 1930s.
The seven grandest suites are in the main building, with fine period furnishings, 14-foot ceilings, sumptuous fabrics and an old-world vibe (you wouldn’t be shocked to see Somerset Maugham reading in a corner). The remaining 96 suites are clustered in wings that connect to the main building and are centered around two landscaped garden courtyards. Interiors throughout are grand, with reproduction antique furniture, marble-clad bathrooms, Oriental carpets and teak floors. But the rooms’ most recent renovation was in the 1990s, so there are also details that may be less-charming to the high-tech traveler, including tube televisions and cord phones. Of course plugged-in visitors know that they don’t come to the Raffles for the latest in technology (even though the property is planning a room overhaul soon). Rather, you check in for the unparalleled service (each suite comes with its own dedicated butler, who is on call 24 hours), for the history (don’t miss the hall of fame, a wall with priceless black-and-white photographs) and for the excellent location within walking distance to the happening waterfront marina area.
There are fifteen restaurants and bars on the premises (this sounds a little Vegas but considering the size of the property, they are well spread out); don’t miss the very cool Billiard Room and Bar with its turn-of-the-century pool tables and the two-story Long Bar, which hosts live bands in the evenings. The shopping arcade, meanwhile, is spread across two stories and features such haute Asian brands as Jim Thompson, Lotus Arts de Vivre and Lai Chan (the latter carries fantastic contemporary dresses inspired by traditional cheongsams). In sum, the Raffles is a small universe in and of itself, but instead of gong the way of New York’s Plaza, another iconic property that thoroughly lost its way in the course of renovations, this Singapore grand lady has emerged with its heart and soul intact.
Who Should Stay: Travelers who love historic properties that speak of a place and who can overlook certain high-tech shortcomings for such thoughtful details as the inspiring book excerpts left on your bed at turndown.
Who Should Not Stay: Design mavens will be happier at the Fullerton Bay or even the Ritz-Carlton, and those looking for a marina view. Due to the fact that the Raffles is one of the area’s smallest buildings in this skyscraper landscape, the rooms have no views to speak of.
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