With a rich history and a choice selection of properties across the globe, Raffles Hotels & Resorts promises travellers unparalleled luxury and unforgettable memories
In 1887, a pair of enterprising brothers from Armenia, hoteliers by trade, opened the Raffles Singapore. A former private home, the property debuted as a simple, intimate 10-room retreat by the beach, but soon grew with additions and expansions, gaining a reputation for its elevated standards of unrivalled hospitality.
The hotel paved the way for Raffles Hotels & Resorts, a select group of landmark luxury properties around the globe that have birthed enchanting legends and stories ever since. And while Raffles is inextricably tied to the past, the venerated hotel brand also looks forward with upcoming openings in London and Udaipur, coupled with monumental renovations to icons in Cambodia and Singapore.
On October 1, 2019, the Raffles Hotel Grand d’Angkor, in Cambodia’s cultural capital Siem Reap, reopens on the heels of an intensive six-month restoration. The 119-room resort first welcomed illustrious guests in 1932, built in the French Colonial vernacular with a raised front portico. It catered to the droves of tourists that visited the architectural marvel of Angkor Wat and yearned for a hotel steeped in glamour, elegance and exclusivity. Since then distinguished luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama have walked through its doors and the sense of timeless history and exotic lore is tangible, from the graceful colonial facade to the restored teak and wrought-iron lift that ferries guests up and down the Heritage Wing.
The renovation has refreshed the property inside and out, including accommodations that appear brighter, re-energised while still honouring beloved, established amenities. Warm hardwood floors, lighter interiors, Segafredo Zanetti coffee machines and USB charging stations complement charming ceiling fans and brass bedside telephones. Bathrooms, also extensively renovated, now present a clean oasis with white Italian tiling, rain showers and claw-foot tubs; some even offer views over the broad, serene swimming pool.
The new Sugar Palm Club is a bespoke service, a children’s club primed to nurture the spirit of adventure in the next generation. Here, future movers and shakers can take historical tours, sleep inside special teepee tents, and enjoy the company of their peers while discovering new worlds, wonders, and whimsy. Thankfully fun at the hotel isn’t confined to youngsters — worldly adults can sate their wanderlust and embark on their own voyages of endless discovery, for starters through their taste buds. With Executive Chef Angela Brown at its helm, the hotel will offer exclusive new dining concepts. Named after the year that Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor first opened, 1932 is the hotel’s new signature restaurant, serving-up Chef Brown’s take on Cambodian cuisine with an innovative interplay of traditional ingredients and progressive cooking methods.
A quintessential Raffles experience is presented in the all-new and vibrant 1932, which is currently the only destination in Cambodia offering authentic Royal Khmer cuisine originating from ancient Khmer recipes gifted to Raffles by Royal Decree. For those wanting to relax over a drink, there are plenty of opportunities to savour a warm brew or cool tipple. The romantic Conservatory, with whirring ceiling fans, Venetian blinds, deep armchairs, and views of the pool, is the setting for a discreet, divine afternoon tea; the Elephant Bar offers the Singapore Sling (invented at the Raffles Singapore in 1915) or the signature Airavata, a blend of rum, coconut passion, lime juice, crème de banana and pineapple and coconut juice.
A journey of exploration also awaits at the spa, a pampering refuge that melds local and international disciplines and uses natural, sensitive products by Dermalogica and Tropicalife. Even spa aficionados are sure to find relaxation here. Highlights include a traditional herbal wrap, with a compress filled with galangal, ginger, cinnamon and lemongrass applied to the body to boost energy, detoxify the body, and alleviate stress. The traditional Khmer therapeutic massage, known as chad ta shai is a lively, firm pressure-point therapy full of kneading and twisting of the muscles, encouraging internal energy flow, restoring balance and conveying a renewed feeling of vitality.
The grounds, a generous expanse of 15 acres, provide guests additional space to decompress. They include lush French gardens ideal for a tranquil wander and areas that play host to Singapore Sling masterclasses, botanical and culinary tours, and monk blessings. Early next year, of particular interest to groups, will be the unveiling of the Raffles Marquee, a fully air-conditioned marquee that will be a spacious venue for events and functions. Alternatively, groups can create an exclusive private event offsite, at the temples of Angkor. Picture an evening of local delicacies, a beguiling performance of traditional dance, and the ancient, mystical, lit temples serving as the backdrop.
The shrines and ruins of Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, situated a mere 20-minute drive from the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, are of course a key feature of a stay here. The hotel appreciates travellers’ desires to explore the region, and offers an exciting series of Raffles Curated Journeys aimed at supplying even the most well-travelled guests with world-class local delights. Imagine being one of the first people of the day to enter the temples before exploring Angkor Archaeological Park on a Vespa. Art-enthusiasts can embark on a tuk-tuk tour of Cambodia’s most iconic artworks, or journey along the Silk Road of Angkor, visiting the beautiful BantaeySrei Temple and Golden Silk farm.
Gourmands can eat their way through the gustatory riches of Siem Reap on an exclusive Khmer Culinary Discovery, while shopaholics can stroll around Siem Reap’s trendy secret neighbourhoods on a Siem Reap Insider shopping excursion. And at the end of a rewarding, sight-and-sound filled day, guests can look forward to the unrivalled comfort, warmth, gentility and inimitable service of their home away from home, the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor.
That combination of effortless, intuitive, gracious luxury is also a hallmark of the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, a 90-year-old property in Phnom Penh that counts Somerset Maugham and the French novelist/statesman André Malraux among its past guests. This grand dame is in the throes of a restoration that will wind up in April 2020, but what will remain at the elegant French colonial manse are the colonnaded entrance, black-and-white tiled floors, a central teak staircase, high ceilings, louvered shutters, overhead fans, and a heady scent of lemongrass permeating public spaces. Rooms combine French and Khmer touches and will feature an updated, brighter palette, while bathrooms dazzle with claw-foot tubs. Diners can sample Royal Khmer cuisine at Restaurant Le Royal.
To stay at any Raffles, a carefully curated list of distinguished addresses, havens for royalty, film stars, writers and artists, is to immerse in a discreet and charming hotel experience. These select properties promise meaningful moments and service that is genuine, perceptive, as soft and gentle as a breeze. More than standalone hotels and resorts, these are special places where travellers arrive as guests, leave as friends, and return as family. And, buoyed by new openings and loving restorations, they remain as relevant today as when the first Raffles opened more than a century ago.
© This article was first published in Oct-Nov 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.