Turning off a leafy avenue on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, you enter a long driveway that winds past manicured lawns and a muster of peacocks, before arriving at what looks like a great white ship floating atop a sea of green: ‘The Knolls’ to locals. The 1880s colonial mansion that makes up the main part of Capella Singapore was originally home to the British Army, who used the red-roofed building as a venue for gala dinners, where posh soirées for the who’s who of 19th-century Singapore society lit up Sentosa Island.
When the British moved out, the building was abandoned for years, until the property was bought by Millenia Hotel Private Limited (an associate company of Pontiac Land Group), which invested US$260 million into refurbishing and regenerating the stunning setting. Today, the original building is home to the reception area, the Andre Fu (Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore and Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong)-designed fine dining Cassia restaurant and The Library, where guests can borrow books or DVDs from the hotel’s collection, as well as enjoy coffee, tea and snacks served around the clock. It’s a great spot to steep yourself in the history of the building and the island as you look out across the 30 acres of tropical gardens from the white-columned balcony.
Step outside the main building and you’re confronted with a baffling and incongruous shape. Commissioned in 2004 to redevelop the property for Capella, Lord Norman Foster created a modern addition that imitates the colours of the mansion, using the same terracotta colour as the roof tiles and a similar louvre effect on the sides of the new building, which embraces the resort like two huge arms.
In the middle of this wood and steel envelope, the terraces of Bob’s Bar and The Knolls restaurant look down onto three cascading swimming pools which tumble down the hillside, almost all the way to the beachfront promenade that runs the length of the south shore of Sentosa Island.
We checked into Garden Villa number 51 on the west side of the property, tucked away down a narrow path just wide enough for a golf buggy, its banks spilling over with lush greenery and orchids. The Jaya Ibrahim-designed suites are a showcase of minimal perfection, with rattans and woods in beige and dark brown, and wide open spaces that create a light and airy feel.
Outside the 133 square metre suite, a private plunge pool and sun loungers are shaded from the long-stay apartments behind the main property by a thick wall of greenery, so no one can see in.
An open-air shower and bathtub offer guests the chance for a truly liberating experience, but even though you’re entirely shielded from view, the occasional passing golf buggy or gardener can have you reaching for your towel.
Lighting, air conditioning, blinds and shutters are all controlled by a rather fantastic and easy-to-use digital control box beside the bed, which matches the sleek black telephones and Bose sound systems (one for the bedroom and one for the living room). But there’s more to get excited about than man-made marvels.
Look beyond the manicured lawns that line the drive leading up to the resort and you’ll find that the entire property is literally overflowing with immaculate greenery, which is carefully sculpted by the hotel’s small army of landscapers and gardeners.
The 30-acre site is home to five ‘heritage trees’, carefully preserved during the construction of the new property, as well as more than 5,000 trees from 60 different species, plus 2,000 palms, 700 bamboo plants, 40,000 ferns, 125,000 shrubs, and nearly 250,000 other plants.
The air is thick with the scent of vegetation, and it’s easy to get lost in the winding walkways that separate the main hotel buildings from the villas, which spread out like a fan.
The resort also features more than 400 pieces of art – paintings, sculptures and other works including 100 metal fish that line the wall to the Auriga Spa – which were collected by a curator or commissioned specifically for the resort.
Although the hotel’s policy means the staff were tight-lipped about the famous faces who have graced The Capella with their presence, I did discover that Martha Stewart had stayed in one of the hotel’s 436 square metre colonial mansions (apparently she wrote about it on her blog, so it’s no secret) and the private dining room in Cassia has played host to at least one high-profile political delegation.
The important bit
What: Capella Singapore
Location: The Knolls, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Cost: Garden Villas start from US$1,350 per night