Yes, there are still old parts of Singapore. In the 1880s a stunning two-floor, red-tiled building was constructed on Sentosa Island, 100 yards off Singapore Island. This, known as Tanal Merah, was put up to house British officers of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defence Command, based here on the island. Now it is the basis for a unique luxury hotel, Capella Singapore. Drive up, as the gal did, and the lush gardens around might still hide the Command’s regimental silver, buried in 1942 in the last days before surrender.
At the beginning of this century, Pontiac Land – which also owns the stunning Ritz-Carlton Millennia and a couple of other hotels in town – had the brilliant idea of asking architect Norman Foster to add a modern sculpture-form to make what was a straight building into one side of what is now a kidney-shaped whole. Now Mr, sorry Lord, Foster loves curlicues. Remember what he did high above Zurich, adding S-shaped wings to the stately Dolder Grand. Here he has put on a five-floor structure, open-corridor to the centre of the kidney, and its whole outside covered in horizontal bars of dull red, whatever.
Rooms on the far side of the kidney shape have the best views. I love 415, looking far down through the undergrowth of the 30-acre estate to the beach, and the always-interesting vista of enormous container ships, moored in the South China Sea while waiting to go into port. 415, like other 780 sq ft Premier Suites, has an outdoor balcony with seating: sit in the bathtub, by an all glass wall, and look over this balcony and out to sea. You also look down at two of the three big pools. These two are curvilinear. Further down the slope is an adult-only lap pool. Long-stay guests, who rent separate villas, have their own pool, and their own club house.
The gardens are absolutely stunning. Walk the trails and marvel at the heritage-protected trees, Angsanas, Common Pulais and Johor Figs, all stated by the Government to be at least centenarian. In front of the hotel is a weird rusted metal sculpture that looks like dead trees: this one is a modern work, by French conceptual artist Bernar Venet. Other art around includes a massive overhead mobile by San Francisco glass artist Nikolas Weinstein in the ballroom. This, by the way, is the setting for many of Singapore’s society weddings, who use the Bliss Suite for getting ready.
A lot of big names have been involved here. To Foster add Jaya Ibrahim, who has given a decided Balinese flair, with dark granite and simple lines, to bedroom interiors. Legendary hotelier Bob Burns, who had helped with the initial concepts for Ritz-Carlton Millenia, was also called on here, by Pontiac Land, and in thanks the hotel bar is named Bob’s Bar. André Fu (Upper House, Hong Kong) has done the Chinese restaurant. In Knolls, the all-day inside or out, restaurant, features orange and glass walls with wines behind. A fascinating server, Uki, from Japan, explained that my octopus comes from Galicia. Yes, he knows all about it as he was brought up in Spain.
The secret to happy staff, says Argentinian GM of this luxury hotel, Alejandro Helbling – a long-time Ritz-Carlton guy, like his Capella boss here, Robert Lagerwey – is making them feel joyous at work. Give them good food, and shake their hands. He shakes hands with everyone, and he makes you happy simply to be with him (especially when his wife Roselyn is there too, she writes a gourmet blog as she travels around the world with him). Singaporeans are happy to be here, and come back again and again. A mere 15 minutes’ drive from downtown brings you here, to a spacious resort, all this greenery and the ocean. Is this the perfect staycation?