Singapore: Living the high life

Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
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Before embarking on the next leg of a world cruise, Les Peters steps back to the colonial era at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.

There are few names in hospitality that evoke the feelings of colonial high life better than Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Today, 127 years after the hotel first opened its doors and played host to celebrities Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, writers Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward – not to mention various, and sundry, kings, sultans and politicians – one can still play the colonial fantasy traveller.

We had arrived at Singapore airport on our three-day fact-finding mission, ahead of joining a leg of Aurora’s world cruise, and after a short stop to pick up our luggage and we were allowed to side-step customs to a waiting limousine reserved for hotel VIPs; difficult, at first, to imagine this is Singapore with its absolutist law enforcement. The car, a Bentley Continental Flying Spur, has been used for such visits since 2006 and came complete with bottle of cold water, a wet flannel – and, of course, enough walnut in the car interior to build your very own tree house.

The splendid architecture, grand arches, 14ft ceilings, spinning fans, the teak and marble floors and the oriental carpets and furnishings, all give Raffles Hotel an elegance of 1915, but this opulence is matched by the generosity of the welcome. Within half-an-hour, every member of staff seemed to know our names.

Home for three days was a four-room courtyard suite that provided a much-needed oasis from the skyscraper, business world that is Singapore today. Sitting outside the suite, on rattan furniture on the teak verandah and overlooking the subtropical gardens, is in sharp contrast to the city’s hustle which was only a hundred yards away. Sipping an end-of-day drink, it is easy to daydream and imagine that you are a representative of the British East India Company anxious to set up trading posts to receive valuable tea, opium, silk, spices and other goods from China. Each suite entrance is like a private apartment door with a small living and dining area, bedroom, with reproduction furniture, dressing room and marble bathroom.

The hotel has always been at the centre of Singapore’s colonial high life and hosted balls, tea dances and jazz functions during the Second World War. It was also the last rallying point for the British in the face of Japanese occupation and the first place for refugee prisoners of war that had been released from concentration camps.

It is here that the legendary Singapore Sling was created and the hotel still sells 1,000 glasses a day in its Long Bar, which is littered with peanut shells. At around $28 (around £13.36) it is, surprisingly, still a must-do activity for tourists in Singapore... but then the drink is far too sweet and sugary for my taste.

Today Raffles is now more than just a single 103-room hotel: it is the brand and leading hotel in a group of ten hotels worldwide, united under its traveller’s palm tree logo, where excellence can be guaranteed.

This may seem a shame to the sentimentalist in us who believe it is a formula few can copy given the hotel’s historical status and unique character. But, as English hotel manager Simon Hirst explained it makes perfect business sense. It is, he says, also his aim to build close links with the burgeoning business community of the “Asian Tiger”.

Simon moved to Raffles in Singapore just eight months ago. Already, he has reduced the Sunday brunch prices in the Billiard Room and now this “all inclusive” buffet extravaganza. For around £100 a head, plus taxes, there is an bewildering array of seafood, cooked roasts, carvery, antipasti, cheese board, pasta, desserts, cooked fish dishes and soups. Singapore is, after all, now officially the most expensive place in the world to live...

Because it is a natural landmark, the hotel maintains a private inner lobby marked off for “residents only” and tourists are greeted by porters with the oft repeated question “can I help you, sir?”’

Visitors do have access to an array of 50 shops within the Raffles Arcade all selling leading brands of the world. But the brand that is most definitely thriving and could flourish for another 100 years is Raffles itself – and to answer the porters’ question: Yes, I’d be delighted ...

Would a return visit be just too indulgent?

Les Peters flew US Emirates, via Dubai, from Manchester as the first part of his P&O holiday aboard Aurora. He joined the ship in Singapore sailing to Cape Town on a leg of its world cruise. The 21-night leg was marketed with a headline price as from £2,649 per person including flights.

Before boarding the ship, he stayed three nights at Raffles Hotel, Beach Road, Singapore. Daily room rate 1,400 Singapore dollars (£668) to 7,500 (£3579) for single or double room occupancy. Plus 17 pc taxes and service charge.