So so extravagant at new Singapore hotel

Sofitel So is in the heart of Singapore's CBD. Picture: Jorg Sundermann

"Hello Lisa, we’ve been waiting for you," says assistant So guest guru Rowell Dimaapi.

The greeting is music to my ears at 1.30am as, after a delayed flight and lack of sleep, I reach my home for the next two nights — the newly opened Sofitel So luxury hotel.

The hotel, on Robinson Road in the heart of Singapore’s CBD, is in a neo-classical heritage building, first built in 1927 as the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, which was given conservation status in 2000.

The hotel lobby is a visual feast — my tired eyes are soon the last thing on my mind as I take in its colours, sounds and extravagance.

Floral arrangements of orchids are everywhere, intermingled with striking hexagonal light displays, mirrors, lavish custom-designed furniture and artwork which is the perfect showcase for the Paris-meets-Singapore flair of this 134-room hotel.

The striking fusion of East meets West makes sense when I learn the hotel’s interior design was the brainchild of Miaja Design Group, led by French interior designer Isabelle Miaja with assistance from legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel.

Sofitel So’s lion seal emblem, for example, was exclusively designed by Lagerfeld, inspired by a 14th century folktale in which Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama found a feline identified as a mystical creature — a lion.

The prince believed this was an omen, and hence named this sandy island Singa Pura — the “Lion City” — establishing what is today known as Singapore.

The Lion’s Seal emblem is prominent throughout Sofitel So, from doorknobs to bathrobes.

Old meets new is a prevailing theme throughout the hotel, with each guest room, including nine suites, featuring 19th century French elegance combined with 21st century touches.

My So Club room is an Aladdin’s cave of luxury and high-tech features, including a minibar tucked behind an ornate wooden cabinet which opens to reveal an Illy(ok) coffee machine, an array of free snacks and shelving with books to read.

Windows, lights, curtains and all other room functions are controlled by an iPad Mini and guests are given an iPhone for use within the hotel.

Three-metre-high ceilings enhance the room’s spaciousness, while panelled walls reflect the European links. The bed’s headboard has an interpretation of Singapore’s national flower, the orchid.

After a restful sleep in my Sofitel MyBed, I am ready to explore Singapore. The hotel’s location, minutes from many landmarks, makes this easy.

One I’m particularly keen to see is Gardens by the Bay. Friends and family have recommended visiting this garden spectacular, and in real life it is even more magical than I’d imagined.

Set across 101ha, the horticultural masterpiece features an array of plant life from across the world among three bays titled east, central and south.

Not wanting to miss the nightly Garden Rhapsody Light and Sound Show, which begins at 7.45pm, our group opts to visit the Cloud Forest — a cool forest conservatory with a 12,000sqm surface area and a 35m-high mountain cascaded in lush plant life.

On entry we are overcome not only by the stunning flora but the escape from the humidity outside. It really is like stepping into a tropical oasis.

At the entrance, we are greeted by what is said to be the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, which at 35m makes for some stunning photography.

As we meander through the conservatory to ascend to the “mountain top” of the Cloud Forest, it’s hard to not stop constantly along the way to marvel at the detail of the design and the different species of flora including ferns, orchids and pitcher plants, to name a few.

A lift leads to the peak of the Cloud Forest, which takes us to two walkways for a bird’s eye view of the conservatory and mountainside. My fear of heights is put to the test as I make my way along the pathways but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience where I force myself to pretend I have no such phobia.

Nonetheless, I’m relieved when I reach the end of the trail and know we have the light show awaiting us.

Magical seems the most fitting description of the show — an array of colours, sounds and lights in the midst of the 16-storey-high Supertrees. They have an almost mythical presence and the show is a great way to finish the night.

Next, it is back to Sofitel So for dinner at its signature restaurant, Xperience.

Designed as a “stylish gastro-bar” dining concept, the restaurant’s resident chef, Anne-Cecile Degenne, is Singapore’s first female hotel executive chef and recently made the final six in France’s Top Chef competition.

Xperience’s menu is customised into different culinary experiences — including crunchy, smoky, creamy and zesty — so diners can customise to their personal tastes.

Degenne greets us on arrival and caters the menu to suit our likes and dislikes. For my zero tolerance to anything super hot and spicy, she happily tweaks the beef wagyu hanger steak with tomatillo salsa and makes me a delicious entree of Iberico ham, aged parmesan and rocket.

From the ‘zesty’ menu category I ordered a tomato, mozzarella, mango and olive oil side.

Another point of difference with the menu is its sizing, with selections broken down into XS, XM and XL — the “X” being a play on the restaurant’s name.

At the heart of the restaurant is a plush “bed table” where diners can climb in and enjoy dinner in comfort.

Lisa Calautti was a guest of Scoot airlines and the Singapore Tourism Board.


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