With its elegant facade and immaculate position high on the hill at the edge of historic Fort Canning Park, this iconic heritage hotel is a unique destination in Singapore and a perfect location for families stopping over.
Constructed in 1926 as the Administration Building of the British Far East Command Headquarters, the building was occupied by Japanese Military during the Occupation (1942-1945), then reclaimed by the British after the war. In November 2002, the present owners took over the premises, launching a premium town club here called The Legends before restoring and reopening the heritage building as Hotel Fort Canning in 2011.
Whilst I’ve visited Singapore many times for business and to see friends, this was the first time en famille, so there were many question marks about getting the balance just right. After all, Singapore has excellent business accommodation as well as teensy-tiny-boutique-room accommodation for couples, but how to make a Singapore stay work for a family when you need space to move in your room, access to a bit of green, and want to stay as central as possible so you can enjoy a range of activities without too much running about?
The perfect answer came in the form of recently opened boutique Hotel Fort Canning with its superbly spacious rooms, its excellent location adjoining the wide green space of Fort Canning Park, and its position smack-bang between shopping destination Orchard Road one side and entertainment hub Clarke Quay the other
Our taxi zipped along the wide tropical greenery lined highways from the airport, through the high-rise hub of the business centre, then the merchandising madness of Orchard Road, before winding up the road into the delightful oasis that is Fort Canning Park. Here, we were delivered beneath the colonnade of this glorious colonial establishment (one with colonial aesthetics to rival even the iconic Raffles Hotel) just as free pre-dinner drinks were being served in the lobby lounge (good timing indeed!). Then it was up to our room on the first floor – there are only three floors, so no high-rise jitters to be had here!
Based upon the layout of the colonial offices of the British Far East Command, rooms here have that wonderful high-ceiling/spacious feel from this era – so there is room for the inevitable travelling luggage mayhem. But rooms also offer a work zone, with a desk that comes complete with B&W Zeppelin Mini iPod docking station (yay, you can recharge your phone without unpacking a thing) and international power points (again, no ferreting about for that adaptor you probably left at home!). Our glorious Studio Suite boasted a huge bathtub, massive bed, and vast marble-clad floor space, as well as a separate living room with a double sofa bed – perfect for the kids. While this is a great option for families, there’s also the option of adjoining rooms (the answer for larger families), or smaller but equally elegant rooms that are perfect for couples with a baby.
Next morning, after a somewhat broken night of jetlagged-three-year-old sleep, we were up before dawn and out into the steamy sauna-like morning to take a dip in the pool; perhaps I should say pools, as there is a lap pool, a swimming pool, and a toddler pool. And oh the delight of a three-year-old who has a luxury pool that he can call his own; there was no persuasion needed to tempt him. The pools officially open at 7am, but there is no curfew as such and we were happily occupied for an hour or so in the early hours before the rest of Singapore woke from slumber: paradise indeed!
Breakfast in the new and modern Glass House restaurant followed swiftly thereafter. Being so early, we took our leisurely time to enjoy everything on the menu from bircher muesli, croissants and fruit salads to Asian dim sum, baked beans and hash browns. Then there is the breakfast specialty of the Glass House – individually prepared omelettes and pancakes, whipped up and cooked while you watch. After the manager told us they were the ‘world’s best!’, we simply had to sample both. They were certainly world-class and Oliver adored pouring syrup over everything – from pancakes to eggs and beyond.
Fully sated, it was time for the big decisions – the five minute walk to Orchard Road and the mecca of shopping chaos? The 20 steps to Fort Canning Park, which hosts not only a selection of national museums, but also a heritage and a nature trail that children are invited to explore (the hotel gives kids their own explore pack with guides, games and activities for these trails)… Or the ten-minute stroll through the park to Clarke Quay (which was redeveloped in 2006) where you can shop, eat, be entertained or simply sit and watch as traditional junks make their way down Singapore River.
We decided on all of that, plus a little bit more. As we knew our clocks were all set to the wrong time, we even risked a late tour of the famous Night Safari at Singapore Zoo before returning to our rooms truly touristed out. Midway through our second jetlagged toddler night, Oliver woke adamant that it was breakfast time. Fortunately, the fabulous 24-hour room service was there to save the night with – of all things – fish and chips as well as a cup of milk, all served in elegant traditional dim sum bamboo containers. After a bath in the fabulous deep tub, Oliver reluctantly agreed to keep watch from the bed for the rising sun (we had told him he could go out for a swim – that seemed to be the big attraction – when it was light) and his eyes finally drifted shut – just before dawn arrived. Happily, our late checkout option allowed for another window of sleep before we regretfully waved goodbye to yet another perfect home-from-home and all the lovely staff who had made our stay not merely a stopover but also a wonderful little holiday in the heart of Singapore.
Design The Winner of Singapore’s 2011 URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) Architectural Heritage Award, this conservation building was styled by award-winning DP Architects to retain the heritage features of the building, including the facade and interior stairwell, whilst reconstructing to allow for luxury accommodation. “There is probably no other boutique hotel in Singapore that is situated within a National Heritage Park with a history that dates back to the very beginning of Singapore,” explained Mr Jeremy Tan, Senior Associate Director for DP Architects says. “Our approach was to celebrate the history of the Hill by enhancing the richness of its heritage.” Retaining the main internal structural elements and layout, they effectively rebuilt the internal area of the hotel within the facade, and cleverly utilised the previous ‘verandah’ hallway to become either elegant meeting rooms or bathrooms for guest rooms located on the park-view side of the hotel. Furthermore, in the lobby floor there is a glass-topped archaeological pit filled with 14th and 19th Century artefacts unearthed by Dr John Miksic, Resident Archaeologist and associate professor at National University of Singapore.
Rooms There are 86 Rooms (from 32.5 to 94 square metres) which run from Deluxe (which although the smallest of the rooms, still offers a full bathtub and shower layout as well as a writing desk space) – an option for a couple with a baby; Premium (which have been specifically designed with business travellers in mind and offer a dedicated living room for work and meetings as well as a separate bathroom); Studio Suite, which offers an entirely separate living area with fold-out double sofa bed (perfect for a family with one or two toddler to tweens who are happy to share a sofa bed); all the way to adjoining room options for larger families who need a little more space and separate beds for two or more children. And then, of course, the two suites – The Majapahit and Governor’s Suite. All rooms have a bathtub and monsoon rain shower; international plug extensions; work desk; HD television with satellite/cable, plus DVD player available upon request; complimentary wi-fi; iPod docking station (B&W Zeppelin Mini); Nespresso coffee maker; and 24-hour room service. Furnishings are by Italian design company Poltrona Frau.
Eating There are three dining options on-site (and a thousand within five minutes walk!). The Glass House – a modern Asian bistro for breakfast (07.00–10.30) lunch and dinner (last orders 22.30) | Gattopardo – an Italian grill and pizza bar that is open for lunch (12.00–14.30) and dinner (18.30–22.30), but closed on Wednesdays | Tisettanta Lounge – primarily a mixologist bar with tapas (12.00–late). There is also 24-hour room service.
Facilities In addition to the gym inside the hotel, there are three swimming pools located adjacent to the hotel (with direct access from the first floor rooms); a super-sweet toddler/children’s pool that is every bit as elegant as the adult pool (which children are also allowed to swim in); plus a dedicated lap pool.