The Raffles Touch

Le­gendary ser­vice since 1887.

DestinAsian - - DIS­PATCHES | JOUR­NAL -

Raf­fles Ho­tels & Re­sorts of­fer tai­lored ex­pe­ri­ences and im­pec­ca­ble, in­tu­itive ser­vice in cul­tured sur­round­ings. Ev­ery Raf­fles prop­erty is a dis­tinc­tive land­mark – an oa­sis for the well- trav­eled, a time­less set­ting for grand cel­e­bra­tions, and a meet­ing place for travel connoisseurs and lo­cal lu­mi­nar­ies alike.

Raf­fles Makati sets the stan­dard for con­tem­po­rary lux­ury in the Philip­pines’ lead­ing busi­ness cen­ter. Lo­cated in Makati City, the ho­tel has just 32 suites start­ing from a gen­er­ous 60 square me­ters, with floorto- ceil­ing win­dows, hand- tufted car­pets, mar­ble bath­rooms, and but­ler ser­vice in­cluded. Up­scale brasserie Mirèio puts the spot­light on French Mediter­ranean cui­sine, while Writ­ers Bar and Long Bar nod to their cor­re­spond­ing venues at the Sin­ga­pore flag­ship. The prop­erty also hosts a trove of 1,800 Filipino art­works, with spe­cial tours led by the in- house art concierge.

In Phnom Penh, Cam­bo­dia, Raf­fles Ho­tel Le Royal oc­cu­pies a care­fully re­stored French- colo­nial struc­ture from 1929. Guests stay­ing in the her­itage build­ing and suites can en­joy 24- hour but­ler ser­vice, and Raf­fles Spa stands out for the tra­di­tional Kh­mer mas­sage. Long­time drink­ing in­sti­tu­tion Ele­phant Bar is a must- visit for its af­ter­noon tea ser­vice and Femme Fa­tale, the sig­na­ture cock­tail cre­ated for Jacque­line Kennedy dur­ing her 1967 visit. French clas­sics and orig­i­nal recipes from Cam­bo­dia’s Royal Palace are served at Restau­rant Le Royal.

Just a 15- minute drive from the tem­ples of Angkor and Siem Reap In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Raf­fles Grand Ho­tel d’Angkor is set in six hectares of man­i­cured grounds di­rectly op­po­site the Royal Palace. Orig­i­nally opened in 1932 as The Grand Ho­tel, the prop­erty boasts one of the largest swim­ming pools in Cam­bo­dia, au­then­tic royal Kh­mer cui­sine, and one of Siem Reap’s best din­nerthe­aters. Un­ob­tru­sive but­lers cater to your ev­ery whim, and a sen­si­tive ren­o­va­tion has re­tained the ho­tel’s 1930s charm – along­side its orig­i­nal tim­ber el­e­va­tor – while equip­ping guest quar­ters with mod­ern com­forts.

In early 2019, the brand will be mak­ing its Mal­di­vian de­but with Raf­fles Mal­dives Mer­ad­hoo. Sit­u­ated on the Gaafu Alifu atoll and ac­cessed via a 15- minute speed­boat ride af­ter a 55- minute flight from Male Air­port, its 22 is­land vil­las and 16 ocean vil­las are a trav­el­ing cou­ple’s dream. All come with pri­vate pools and 24- hour but­ler ser­vice. The re­sort also has three restau­rants, two scenic cock­tail bars, and a range of other fa­cil­i­ties such as an over­wa­ter spa and gym, plus a PADI- cer­ti­fied dive cen­ter to make the most of the un­der­wa­ter won­ders nearby. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit raf­fles.com

and curled up in a bul­bous heap.) The Homestead it­self was con­structed in 1856 and has been hand­somely re­stored by Wild Bush Lux­ury, which bought Ark­aba in 2009. While much of its orig­i­nal char­ac­ter has been pre­served—flag­stone floor­ing, cor­ru­gated-iron roofs, pressed­metal ceil­ings—the build­ing now fea­tures com­fort­able fur­nish­ings and all the mod cons, with the ex­cep­tion of TVs and Wi-Fi. There’s a li­brary, a lounge with comfy arm­chairs plus a help-your­self fridge stocked with wine, and the swim­ming pool, which has a par­tially shaded canopy. Din­ners are served al­fresco on a cov­ered ve­randa with gor­geous views of the sun sink­ing over the hills. In­deed, the food here, pre­pared by Mel­bur­nian chef Matt Collins, is a ma­jor high­light, with dishes like pan-fried scal­lops and a tooth­some tortellini of but­ter­nut squash and goat’s cheese ap­pear­ing on the sea­sonal menu.

While it’s bliss­ful to ar­rive, switch off, and dig­i­tally detox for a day or two, it would be rather miss­ing the point not to get out and ex­plore your sur­round­ings, which you can do by ve­hi­cle or on foot. One af­ter­noon we drove out to an old stone shear­ing shed where his­tory oozed through the brick and wood and where, a cen­tury ago, work- ers carved their names around the door­frame. I could eas­ily imag­ine the heat, sweat, swear­ing, smell, and noise at shear­ing time. A bank of vin­tage elec­tric clip­pers dan­gled for­lornly from a wall; the cob­webbed diesel trac­tion engine that once pow­ered them sat rust­ing close by.

Then came an overnight hike. Led by a guide named Dar­lene, we set out on a 30-kilo­me­ter trek that took in one of Ark­aba’s two camp­sites. The walk­ing it­self was not too ar­du­ous, but the heat took its toll as our lit­tle group tramped up and down ridges flecked green, brown, and orange. We crunched along riverbeds on car­pets of eu­ca­lyp­tus leaves and stopped fre­quently to in­spect plants and trees, emus and kan­ga­roos. Orig­i­nally from New Zea­land, Dar­lene also told us about the Eu­ro­peans’ rather dis­as­trous im­pact on the land­scape, which is only now be­ing cor­rected. White set­tlers se­verely over­grazed the parched land, in­tro­duc­ing way more sheep per hectare than the en­vi­ron­ment could pos­si­bly sup­port. They also brought with them in­va­sive plants, goats, cats, foxes, and rab­bits, all of which wreaked havoc on the frag­ile ecosys­tem. It’s thought that in the last 200 years, at least 22 mam­mal species have be­come lo­cally ex­tinct in the Flin­ders Ranges, in­clud­ing brush-tailed pos­sums, quolls, and rab­bit-eared bandi­coots.

Wild Bush Lux­ury has made restor­ing the orig­i­nal bio­di­ver­sity of the area an in­te­gral part of Ark­aba’s DNA; over 3,000 goats have been re­moved from the prop­erty, as have 350 feral cats, while rab­bit war­rens have been dug up with bull­doz­ers. “Pest plant” pro­grams have been de­vel­oped to make way for na­tive plants such as the nar­row-leafed emu bush and Oswald’s wat­tle. From next April, a levy of two per­cent on all stays at Ark­aba will go di­rectly to on­go­ing

con­ser­va­tion projects.

As we hiked along un­der the South Aus­tralian sun, I be­came some­thing of a tree ob­ses­sive. River red gums, with their scabby, flak­ing bark, were my fa­vorite. High­lighted against a cloud­less sky, each seemed to have its own per­son­al­ity; I imag­ined them as grumpy old men grous­ing about the state of the world to­day. Flow­ers were rare, so the shock­ing-pink blooms of a bindweed stood out and de­manded a sniff. I was also fas­ci­nated by the fierce-look­ing meat ants that swarmed into at­tack mode when we stepped too close to their un­der­ground colony. Less wel­come were the flies that tried to suck the mois­ture from the cor­ner of our eyes; they were the cause of con­stant arm flap­ping, not to men­tion in­creas­ing lev­els of swear­ing.

Hav­ing tra­versed Mo­ralana Hill, Madge’s Gully, and the Red Ranges, we fi­nally ar­rived, some­what dusty, at our camp­site. In keep­ing with Ark­aba’s eco ethos, the setup here was “lux­ury rus­tic.” Bush show­ers—es­sen­tially buck­ets filled with wa­ter warmed over the camp­fire—were on hand for those want­ing to wash up, while beds came in the form of swag rolls ar­ranged on in­di­vid­ual wooden plat­forms. Af­ter a sim­ple but nour­ish­ing din­ner of chicken-and-potato salad and choco­late-macadamia bars, we crawled into our swags and fell asleep un­der a sky filled with a bil­lion twin­kling stars.

The next morn­ing, we were all awake with our cam­eras for dawn: the first creep­ing rays of light tip­toe­ing over Mount Aleck blan­keted the hills in a rich hon­ey­comb hue. We ate a hearty break­fast be­fore set­ting off for Ark­aba. Tiny chest­nut-crowned bab­blers flit­ted about; there were galahs and Aus­tralian ravens too, the lat­ter’s call sound­ing rather like a child’s talk­ing doll be­ing stran­gled. We caught whiffs of curry bush and bit­ter salt­bush, learn­ing more about how plants such as these are supremely adapted to the harsh en­vi­ron­ment.

Af­ter a pic­nic lunch, we walked on for a few hours and then, drop­ping down from a hill­top stud­ded with eu­ca­lyp­tus trees, we were back at the Homestead. I al­most sprinted to­ward the wine fridge like it was a long-lost friend.

Rest­ing by the pool later, I watched a group of kan­ga­roos nib­ble grass in the front pad­dock. They kept their backs to my cam­era, taunt­ing me. Next time, I de­cided, I’ll save my photo ops for koalas.

In­side the bed­room of Raf­fles Makati’s Pres­i­den­tial Suite.

A Beach Villa at Raf­fles Mal­dives Mer­ad­hoo.

Above: Tak­ing in the scenery of the Flin­ders Ranges. Be­low: Fire­side con­ver­sa­tion at one of Ark­aba’s wilder­ness camps, where guests sleep un­der the stars.

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