For many centuries, history has recorded that the Orient has consistently been among the most opulent parts of the world. From palaces to artisan works, the Oriental world continues this tradition in a way which is still relevant in the modern day. Over the last 10 months, I have been travelling to the ancient city of Byzantium (now is Istanbul), all the way up to 3,000 meter above sea level to another ancient city of Lijiang, down to the shore of the Lhaviyani Atolls in the Maldives, and finally to Singapore to find eight luxury hotels that still keep the spirit of Oriental world opulence.
Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul:
The Novel Royal
The tale of this grand palace situated by the famous Bosphorus strait started nearly 400 years ago at the beginning of the 17th century when Damat Ibrahim Pasha of Neveshir built a summer mansion here for his wife. However, it was not until 1857 when Sultan Abdulmecid decided to build a new palace and demolished the existing structure. The palace was finally completed in 1871 by Sultan Abdulaziz and given its name “Ciragan” that means ‘light spreading’ in Persian.
Ciragan Palace has witnessed everything from lavish parties, historic love affairs, and even hosted a great ceremony for the Ottoman parliament after the announcement of the Constitutional Monarchy II, following the reign of Sultan Abdulhamit II. In 1910, the palace was badly damaged by fire and although, in 1930, there was a notion to turn the palace into a hotel, this never happened and the building remained abandoned. The hotel that we now know finally came to being in 1992 when a complete restoration and construction was undertaken to bring the palace back to its former glory. Further renovation was also done in 2007 to further enhance its character and elegant style.
Ciragan Palace is now a complex where the existing building has been augmented with additional modern buildings in order to increase the number of rooms. As a result, the entire establishment has 313 rooms, including 20 suites in the hotel and 11 suites in the historical palace. Design aficionados will find much to appreciate in this heritage hotel, as there are so many fine elements from the original architecture to the modern design that has been done with obvious respect to the history of the palace.
We can admire the Sultan Suite on the second ﬂoor of the historical palace that spans over 400 sqm and overlooks the Bosphorus. It is one of the largest suites in the world and comes equipped with state-of the-art technology and features a lavish living room, a dining room for 12 people, two large guestrooms, a kitchenette, and an outstanding master bedroom that would be perfect for a real-life king. Inside this master bedroom, for example, there is a marble hammam (Turkish bath) with a private steam room and rain shower. Everything in this suite is colossal, including the imperial style furniture with Ottoman motifs and accessories that date back to the 19th century. The palace itself boasts beautiful details and one gigantic feature known as the Grand Chandelier, dubbed the biggest Viennese Baroque example in the world. Designed by Mehmet Sevsevil and his company LUMEX between 1989 and 1991, this 2.7-tonne chandelier has 232 lamps featuring all hand cut and polished pieces. Prepare to have a genuine royal life when you stay at Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul.
Four Seasons Sultanahmet:
The Sophisticated History
Have you ever stayed in a jail and loved it? Well, I have and it was a luxurious experience Sultanahmet Cezaevi was constructed in 1918 and it was the first jail of its kind in Istanbul. Located within the vicinity of the Topkapi Palace and two other world-renowned landmarks - the Hagia Sophia Museum and the Blue Mosque - this jail was the address for famous artists and political figures including Mihri Belli, a communist leader and novelist Orhan Kemal, poet Nazim Hikmet, and Aziz Nesin, a controversial humourist who published over 100 books.
The building itself is a prime example of Turkish neoclassical architecture with an emphasis on pointed arches, ornate tiles, dramatic domes and towers. This unique architectural example came from Mimar Kemaleddin Bey, a prominent architect from the late period of the Ottoman Empire and the early years of the newly established republic. Known as a designer who was open to learning and experimentation, Kemaleddin was a self-reliant architect and among the pioneers of the First Turkish National Architectural Movement.
The prison was closed in 1969 and The Four Seasons hotel group took over the property in the 1990s. They assigned Metex, a prominent local design firm, to renovate the historical building and transform it into one of the region’s top luxury hotels. After six years of renovation, the hotel was finally re-opened in 1996 with 65 guest rooms and suites, including a beautiful glass pavilion restaurant in the courtyard, a lounge, meeting rooms and a ballroom, spa, and even a rooftop lounge. Each room features ochre-tinted stonework, faience tiles, archways, artwork and Ottoman antiques, as well as tapestries and kilims. They have a living room and marble bathrooms that are oozing with subtle luxury.
Without a doubt, The Four Seasons Sultanahmet has successfully combined the unique design of its historical past with the sophistication of modern comfort. Staying inside a jail has never been this stylish and luxurious.
Hurawalhi Island Resort:
The Unique Nautical
Among the thousands of atolls in the Maldives lies a beautiful and newly open eco-conscious establishment called Hurawalhi Island Resort. Located in one of the Lhaviyanni atolls, Hurawalhi is an exotic private island surrounded by a beautiful lagoon with an amazing underwater reef and a white sandy beach that stretches as far the eye can see. As the seaplane is approaching to land on the water, we can already see the magnificent view of the island and its contemporary ocean villas bounded by the crystal blue sea. As one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, the Maldives is known for its many luxury resorts that let you get close to nature at its most beautiful. The architecture and design are two important elements that can be the game changer in this highly competitive market. Crown and Champa Resorts, as the parent company of this resort, understand the situation and appointed the award-winning designer Yuji Yamazaki of YYA New York to collaborate in creating a unique and original design for Hurawalhi Island Resort.
Moving from the main lobby to the restaurants (the all-day dining Canneli Restaurant, over the water dining at the Aquarium Restaurant, and the spectacular 5,8 Undersea Restaurant), Yuji Yamazaki created a special ambiance with an inviting colour scheme using natural wood materials, including Indonesian balau and Canadian cedar wood. He also stylishly designed an array of solar panels on the arrival jetty rooftop in collaboration with T&D, a water technologies and development company from Italy, to increase the electricity supply. Yuji Yamazaki’s design approach is simplistic yet contemporary with a tropical design and an eco-conscious focus.
Hurawalhi Island Resort has over 90 villas, including 60 over-the water ocean villas and 30 beach villas spread around this 6,5 hectares island, featuring a contemporary tropical chic design with clean lines, earth tone colours and wood elements. Each villa (ranging from 105sqm to 132sqm) is equipped with state-of-the-art modern comfort including private sundeck, chaise longues, and some villas also have an infinity pool.
One of the biggest highlights at this resort is the 5,8 Undersea Restaurant that is literally located 5.8 metres down under the sea. The 415-tonne structure restaurant was built by Fitzroy Engineering in New Plymouth and is the biggest of its type in the world. It was shipped all the way to Hurawalhi and sunk on top of piles that go eight metres below the surface. Water depth and clarity, seaﬂoor condition, the power of the tides, and height of the waves and keeping the surrounding coral reefs intact were just some of the challenges in making what is now known as the world’s largest undersea restaurant. Hurawalhi Island Resort is definitely not your ordinary kind of resort.
The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan:
The Bespoke Luxury
It is not easy to be the new kids on the block, especially if your block is part of a city that is known for its history, heritage, and luxury hotels. For a century, Shanghai has been known as the playground of luxury hotels from various international and local brands. Surely, it won’t be easy to be the new contender. However, this year, The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan decided to take part in the competition and I have to say that it is very impressive!
Situated on West Beijing Road in the heart of the Jingan District that is known as Shanghai’s cultural and business centre, the newly opened St. Regis Shanghai Jingan really brings us its own version of a modern classic palatial style by combining traditional east-meets west elements. The essence of Shanghai is successfully captured, for example, in the dramatic combination of finishes and rich detailing in the grand entrance hall.
Designed and conceptualised by G.A Design, based in London, they developed a bespoke signature experience for the hotel by creating a joined lobby lounge and drawing room that features a double height space with a dramatic tailor-made crystal chandelier hovering down from the ceiling. The hotel also commissioned the world-renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly to create five glass sculptures to be displayed in the hotel’s public space.
The hotel offers 436 exquisitely styled guest rooms, including 66 suites, and 55 residences with stunning city views. The opulent three bedroom, three-story Presidential Suite is spread over 650 sq meters and is located on the top of the building, featuring a glass ceiling, a spacious living room, fabulous outdoor terraces with panoramic skyline views, a full kitchen with a glamorous dining room, and a lounge area. Luxury in this hotel is created in a very subtle manner through the use of various special materials from white onyx, statuario and grey marquin marble, stingray skin, silk wallpaper, and corrugated glass laid over on a gold mirror.
The final touches and details of the magnificent interior design in this hotel were done by a local agency called ‘Exclusive Design Inc’ (EXDI), who further enhanced the bespoke and uncompromising experience for St. Regis Shanghai guests through luxuriously crafted and sophisticated finishes. As new kids on the block, this hotel is definitely ready to lead the competition in Shanghai’s luxury hotel industry.
The Majestic Heritage
In order to create a contemporary design in the remote 800-year-old town of Lijiang that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one needs to first respect the surrounding traditional culture and architecture. Situated in China’s renowned Yunnan Province in the south, the popularity of Lijiang and the indigenous Naxi people has been known for centuries. The peaceful Amandayan, perched beautifully on top of Lion Hill, is one of the few luxurious brands in this city that fully embrace the culture and history of Lijiang by re-creating their own version of majestic dwellings from the ancient past.
Designed by the late Jaya Ibrahim, Amandayan architecture follows the historical classic type of Chinese residence known as Siheyuan or of the South China’s style. Each guest room features a joint living room, bedroom, and working space, with a spacious bathroom and a large terrace. Accents like Jin clay tiles, pine wood, intricate wooden screens, geometric Tibetan style wool silk rugs, poppy ﬂower inspired table lamps and bed runners based on a 18th-century batik pattern add a unique quality to the overall ambiance. Lijiang marks the beginning and the end of the ancient southern Silk Road, and Amandayan, through Jaya Ibrahim, draws on this fact in its architecture and interior design approach. The end result establishes Amandayan as part of Lijiang’s current and future history. courtyard houses that are surrounded by buildings on all four sides.
This type of house in Lijiang was inherited from the Qing dynasty and is constructed with a wooden frame with an overhanging roof. Several small and exquisite windows are opened on the south wall for ventilation and for natural light. Jaya Ibrahim recycled these principals to build Amandayan and created a contemporary version by using intricate wood carvings, embroidered Naxi textiles, and furnishings crafted from local pine and elm. Set on four acres of land, Amandayan’s 34 rooms and the two bedroom Amandayan suite incorporate a similar design approach. Furnishings are subtle yet sophisticated, featuring the design aesthetic.
The Iconic Landmark
A building can have various roles in human life from merely a place to shelter to a mute witness of history. In human civilisation, we have seen many buildings that stand the test of time and become part of history. The Fullerton Building that was founded in 1928 in Singapore is a great example of an architectural marvel that has become one of the country’s most famous landmarks as a result of its historical journey.
Built as the main post office, the Fullerton Building was designed by Major Percy Keys, a government architect from the Public Works Department, and his assistant, Frank Dowdeswell. The building was opened in 1928 by Sir Hugh Clifford (Governor of the Straits Settlements, 1927 – 1929) and named the “Fullerton Building”, as a tribute to Sir Robert Fullerton, the first governor. The building was designed with a neoclassical façade made of reinforced concrete.
The building possesses five frontages with a colossal two-storey Doric colonnade, creating a visually impressive façade. The façade includes ornate classical decorations created by Swiss sculptor Rudolf Wening and Italian sculptor Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli. The building was designed to be multi-purpose, housing the General Post Office, Singapore Club, Chamber of Commerce, Marine Office and other government departments. It was not until 1996 that the Singapore government decided to turn this building into a hotel and it was fnally opened to its frst guests on 1 January 2001.
The hotel today is a perfect amalgamation of its glorious past with modern sophistication that oozes peace and tranquility. The hotel’s interior designers, Hirsch Bedner and Associates created a décor that is contemporary and stylish, while James Park Associates is currently undertaking a renovation of the 400 guestrooms and suites to elevate the guest experience to the utmost in luxury and comfort, while still keeping the neoclassical character. The interior of the newly renovated rooms draws from the opulent history of classical style with book matched rosewood veneers featured on the bespoke cabinets alongside Italian marble countertops, while elegant plaster moldings reinforce the narrative.
The colour theme here is inspired by the varying shades of celadon found in classical Chinese porcelains, while the artwork showcases both established and up-and-coming local artists. Subtle vernacular accents appear in the rich embroidery and velvets of the soft furnishings, while traditional patterns are abstracted into decorative motifs, reinforcing the theme in a delicate, understated manner.
The Fullerton Hotel represents the height of Palladian architecture in Singapore and has witnessed many political rallies, including the one where Lee Kuan Yew was representing striking postal workers and led him to become the founding Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959. The Fullerton Building has seen it all and is still standing – ready to be part of the future history of Singapore.
The Contemporary Opulence
The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore that was opened on 8 July 2010 is the embodiment of the Fullerton Heritage in its contemporary form. Inspired by the same soul as The Fullerton Hotel across the street, the Fullerton Bay Hotel is completely built over water like a beautiful jewel perched on the Marina Bay waterfront. The hotel is ensconced between two iconic buildings, Clifford Pier and the Custom House, and is completely covered by a glass façade that was designed by Singapore based DP Architects.
The hotel features cutting-edge design from the design wunderkind Andre Fu and leading leisure and hospitality architecture firm LCL Architects. Fu, who was in charge of tailoring the public areas of the hotel has created a modern colonial style that pays homage to a bygone era by conjuring a sense of refinement throughout the overall design.
A palette of rich marble in varying tones of mineral greys is combined with bespoke furnishings in lush olive greens, burnt orange, and deep aubergine shades. This combination ensures that The Fullerton Bay Hotel retains its historical links to The Fullerton Heritage site and its surroundings, yet remains contemporary and international in style. Andre Fu incorporated vintage nautical maps and commissioned contemporary art throughout the public areas reﬂecting the celebration of heritage and modernity of Singapore’s vibrant history.
LCL Architects was responsible for the creation of the hotel’s 100 rooms, five individually-themed suites, and the luxurious Presidential Suite in an elegant and refined atmosphere with two generic themes which have been applied to the décor of the rooms. The first employs an ‘Asian ambiance’ with polished rosewood predominantly used for the furniture and featuring latticed screens, with leather and chrome embellishments. The second theme employs a ‘western ambiance’ with polished burlwood, fabric panelled walls, and gold embellishments. Ivory limestone and heavily veined yellow marble reminiscent of Van Gogh’s style complete the design whilst soft furnishings are in golden creamy tones.
Aside from its great design, the hotel also features many great art pieces that were specifically sourced internationally or commissioned for the hotel. There are several notable works: Paul-Alexandre Bourieau’s monumental sculpture on the central pillar wall of the hotel, measuring 22 metres in height, depicting the iconic façade of The Fullerton Hotel: bronze statues by Marie-Madeleine Gautier: James Wong sketches and many other works can be found around the hotel. From the way this hotel has been done, it is quite obvious that The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore is set to become one of the modern iconic landmarks of the country.
The Extraordinary Fusion
Hidden in the tranquil area of Sentosa Island is one of Singapore’s best resorts known as Capella Singapore. Being the first establishment bearing Capella’s brand, Capella Singapore was opened in March 2009. It has achieved respect as an amazing example of global collaboration, featuring the works of famous designers of our era from the hotel’s architecture to the landscape.
Capella Singapore follows the popular design recipe of combining the old and the new. A beautiful and fully restored 1880s British colonial building called Tanah Merah, part of the hotel’s glorious past, is not only preserved but is also used as the main reception area. The building also hosts a library lounge and the gorgeous looking Chinese fine dining restaurant called Cassia that was designed by the renowned Andre Fu of AFSO. A colour palette of lilac, mineral grey, dark Chinese lacquer, and bronze are woven, to great effect, throughout the restaurant. An open staircase features a large scale installation by a Japanese artist, Tomoko Sawada that leads, in turn, to an alluring water feature and the long architectural wall becomes the accent of this restaurant.
Curved, modern buildings gently intermingle with both of the colonial buildings and the verdant, vibrant rainforest which is spread over 30 acres of land and features the South China Sea as the background view. Award-winning architects Foster + Partners ingeniously integrated traditional Asian design with contemporary Western inﬂuences into Sentosa Island’s natural topography, allowing new structures to follow the contours of the terrain to ensure a balance with nature.
They also designed the resort’s 112 guestrooms, though the interior design was led by the late Jaya Ibrahim. Utilizing a neutral colour palate, Ibrahim brings the local Singaporean culture to life with his great vision. The interior design has been crafted as a backdrop for visitors to sit, move, lie down with ease and with the constant awareness of this tropical setting, highlighting the contrast of old and new.
Another design marvel in this resort can be found at The Knolls, Capella Singapore’s all-day dining restaurant and bar lounge that was designed by Yasuhiro Koichi, the co-founder of Tokyo based Design Studio, SPIN. Inspired by the fusion of Capella Singapore’s classic and modern design, Koichi has given this restaurant an Asian-colonial ﬂavour, integrating antique and contemporary elements to create an intimate oasis.
Capella Singapore also has one of the most dramatic landscape designs as a juxtaposition to the hotel’s clean-lined, contemporary architecture. Various indigenous plants from bamboo, beetle nut and Livistona palms have been used to complement the region’s historic colonial architecture. Alan Kerton of Belt Collins International who designed the landscape also created a combination of plants inspired by rice terrace landscapes within the main hotel courtyard. Being the first Capella hotel of its kind, Capella Singapore is such a great melting pot of design that it sets a standard for luxury resorts in Singapore