This past July, Melaka, celebrated its one-year anniversary as an UNESCO World Heritage City. Once a flourishing fishing village attracting Indian and Chinese settlers, its central location during the spice trade made it a coveted city; centuries of colonial occupation by the Portuguese, Dutch and British followed. Present-day Melaka tells the story of a unique society that has been shaped by the merging cultures of its founders, neighbors and invaders.
The Majestic Malacca // © 2009 YTL Hotels & Properties Sdn. Bhd.
The Majestic Malacca hotel provides an accurate snapshot of that period (its name reflects the English spelling of Melaka). A stay at this neoclassical boutique hotel provides clients with a unique vantage point for exploring the city’s heritage. Built in the 1920’s as the mansion of a wealthy Chinese tycoon, the original structure has been restored to maintain the ambience of its prosperous past and to reflect aspects of the city’s European influences.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by friendly, elegantly dressed staff. The women wore traditional Malaysian kebayas, and the men wore white, mandarin-collared suits. Traditional Portuguese porcelain tiles cover the floors and original British Straits Settlement windows open onto the Melaka River.
My deluxe room retained the character of a classical hotel without neglecting modern conveniences and luxury, with an oversize, vintage, clawfoot bathtub and an inviting four-poster bed covered in cool silk and cotton bedding.
Melaka is easily explored on foot and the hotel offers informative historical walks that are free for guests. Donovan Louis, the hotel’s resident historian, and a native Melakan and ecologist, took us on a two-hour Route to Malacca’s History tour.
A major highlight was the city center, Red Square, formerly known as Dutch Square before the British painted its all-white buildings red in 1911. Stadthuys, the main structure, is one of the oldest Dutch buildings in Asia, dating back to 1660. Next to it is Christ Church, a former Portuguese Catholic church. Underneath the square, is a labyrinth of passages built by Melaka’s first conquerors, the Portuguese.
Before European invaders left their mark, the city was a hub for trade that invited Chinese and Indian settlers. Melaka is home to the distinctive Peranakan, or Baba Nyonya, community, descendants of intermarriage between Chinese traders and Malay locals.
The Majestic incorporates Nyonya-style cooking, a fusion of Chinese methods with Malay spices and salty Indonesian influences, at The Mansion restaurant. Guests can book a Peranakan Culinary Journey cooking class to learn the intricacies and ingredients of this specialty cuisine firsthand.
For those who want to experience Peranakan therapies, the hotel also houses Spa Village Malacca, which embraces the Peranakan culture in its treatments. Modeling the spa experience on the elaborate Peranakan Chinese wedding custom for brides, each session begins with a pre-treatment hair ritual. My traditional Malay massage used oils made from turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, onion and citronella. Soon enough, I realized I could get used to being pampered like a Peranakan bride.
Upon leaving the hotel, I felt as though I were leaving a colonial Asian time capsule. But I left knowing that I only had to walk over to the next block to be reminded of another bygone era of Melaka’s history.