Calm and colonial Capella
Capella Singapore Hotel swimming pools. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

The taxi turns into a driveway which bends up a hill and there it is. The hotel Capella Singapore stands over lawns on The Knolls; white, with verandas and shutters, calm and colonial, overlooking the South China Sea and Singapore's geographically crucial harbour.

Guide to Singapore:
RAPIDLY CHANGING
BOLD AND FUN
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And it is in dramatic contrast to theme-park Sentosa Island, which surrounds it. Universal World, Shrek in 4-D, the Transformer ride, automated dancing cranes and brightly lit fountain shows.

Capella Singapore is the calm after the funfair storm.

It was built as two bungalows in the 1880s to accommodate the British Officers of the Royal Artillery, Coastal Defence Command, who were based here on Sentosa. And it was in this officers' mess that they and their families dined, danced and had tennis parties. One might hear the excited distant clattering echo of a game of mahjong, which the British soldiers picked up from island locals.

Imagine the farewell parties thrown when an officer's tour of duty finished, or when the visiting wives of commanding officers returned to England.

The front of the building, which was given conservation status in 2000, is dramatic, and I feel instantly unruffled.

A doorman shows me into a lobby that looks more like a living room. I am immediately transformed by one of the great hotel experiences.

And then I am shown to a buggy and driven to my garden villa, through lush landscaping that makes up 70 per cent of the 4.8ha of this tropical Elysium.

We pass seven peacocks which, I am told, live here naturally, wild and from choice. And who wouldn't?

My one-bedroom villa has a big living room with a double day-bed, two chairs, a long sideboard and desk, and a round table and two chairs.

On through to the bedroom, which has a king-size bed, armchair and another big fold-out TV screen. And then into the big bathroom, with its shower room and twin basins. There is a separate walk-in robe with his-and-her sides, each with hanging space and drawers.

And outside there is a bath and another shower. Oh, and a private pool that is almost 4m square, with lounges.

The lighting is clever, the Bose sound system creamy. The lights, air-conditioning, blinds and curtains are all run from a touch screen beside the bed.

Now I am less than unruffled. Serene, in fact.

The villa is one of 38 in these grounds and covers 133sqm.

But the Capella Singapore has what is said to be the biggest lead-in (least expensive) five-star hotel room in Singapore - each of these 57 rooms covers 77sqm.

Some have garden views but the one I am in now looks over the South China Sea.

And here is the twist in this tale. Behind the colonial front, there is a big curving addition by architect Sir Norman Foster. It follows the line of the scarp and mimics the colour of the front building's roof. They are bonded by the greenery around and between.

Considering the two styles of building are so different, it is interesting that they sit so harmoniously together.

It has rightly been described as a masterpiece, uniting colonial heritage and contemporary arcs.

Capella Singapore is five-star, bespoke and one of the Leading Hotels of the World. On its website for the end of July, a premier garden room might start from $420 a night and a one-bedroom garden villa from $685.

This is for two people and includes the services of a personal assistant, flexible check-in and check-out, light snacks in the library throughout the day, five pieces of pressing on arrival, free non-alcoholic mini bar and complimentary wi-fi.

But it is absolute quality - something extraordinary.

(If you really want to push the boat out, at the top of the room range are two colonial manors, each of 436sqm and $11,660 a night, or the five contemporary manors, each at 398sqm, at up to $5050 a night.)

I have just lunched at Cassia, Capella Singapore's Cantonese fine-dining restaurant designed by Hong Kong's famous Andru Fu, with the hotel's marketing and communications manager Leanne Sim.

I have walked back past the hotel's infinity swimming pools, set in the tropical forest and overlooking the South China Sea and somehow - perhaps because of that curve of the building behind me - connected to it.

And the only problem I have now is that I don't want to leave my garden villa again.

When I eventually leave, I look back across the lawns at this beautiful white building and hear again the echoes of stories past.

Perhaps the stroke of midnight, when officers and their families would hear the new year welcomed in by the loud ships' horns from the harbour.

Or that of the treasures said to be buried by British officers in the last days before Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. Legend has it that the regimental silver was hidden in front of what was then the officers' mess.

Some was recovered in Malaysia in 1950, but the rest is still unfound, and possibly still lying there, under that very lawn, which vanishes from by view through the back window.


FACT FILE

• For Capella Singapore bookings, visit capellahotels.com/Singapore or call +65 6591 5000. There are also packages and deals through travel agents and online booking websites.
• Singapore Airlines has a package including return economy airfares and taxes, four nights at the five-star Capella in a one-bedroom Garden Pool Villa (includes one free night), daily breakfast, return coach transfers. From $2295 per person, twin-share. Phone SIA Holidays on 1300 666 722, visit siaholidays.com.au or see travel agents.
• Singapore Airlines flies direct from Perth to Singapore three times a day, increasing to four from October 28 until March 30. singaporeair.com.

The West Australian

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