The building and the grounds the Hotel Fort Canning stands on are firmly grounded in Singapore’s history. The hotel structure (built in the 1920s) used to be the central command for the British forces in the Far East, and the hill it stands on has an even older provenance: formerly known as Bukit Larangan (“forbidden hill”), this spot served as royal grounds for ancient Singapore’s Malay royalty and a center of governance for early colonial Singapore.
The Hotel Fort Canning cannily leverages this storied past, integrating the old-world charm of the building and its history into the whole guest experience. Not that you’re forced to relive the days of rotary-dial phones and electric fans, far from it: Singapore visitors staying at the Hotel get their nostalgia fix and their WiFi, interactive flatscreen TV and in-room espresso machines too.
Reaching the Hotel Fort Canning
Checking into the Hotel Fort Canning feels like entering a bubble in time and space - you step through the glass doors separating the hotel lobby from the rest of Singapore, and the island-state's hustle-and-bustle blink out. You check into one of their comfortable guestrooms on an upper floor, and from one of the large windows overlooking the Fort Canning Park, Singapore's high-rises stand faintly beyond the treeline, as if from very far away.
The bubble of separation is partly due to the Hotel Fort Canning's location in the Fort Canning Park, a nature reserve set on a hill overlooking the Singapore River. The park now lives an easy retirement as an occasional events venue and historical site of interest, a far cry from its days as the home of the British empire's military presence on the island.
- Visit the official site for the Fort Canning Park - National Parks Board, Singapore (offsite)
Reaching the Hotel Fort Canning, then, takes a little more effort if you're walking in from the MRT.
- From Dhoby Ghaut Station, take Exit "B" to climb up to street level in front of Penang Road. Cross the road to reach Park Mall. Total: 100 yards.
- Take the lift up to level 4. Walk to the car park on that level and exit on the other side of the Mall into Fort Canning Park. Walk southwest until you reach the Hotel Fort Canning's car park. Take the lift up to the lobby level of the Hotel Fort Canning. Total: 120 yards.
You can skip all this by taking a taxi, which can drop you off right at the Hotel Fort Canning's front entry facing the Battle Box. You're out a few dollars, but you're spared the long walk.
The History Behind the Hotel Fort Canning Building
The building used to be a military administration center. The British Far East Command made it their HQ after its construction in 1926. During their occupation of Singapore in World War II, the Japanese invading forces took over the building, and turned it over to the British after V-J Day.
The building changed hands several times over the years – to the Singapore Armed Forces, then the Singapore Command & Staff College, then the Fort Canning Country Club, before the present owners, the Legends at Fort Canning, took over and opened the Hotel Fort Canning on the premises in 2010.
The current management have seen fit to work with the grain of history, not against it. The colonnaded exterior has been kept pretty much as is. The building’s central staircase has been retained in its entirety, despite the rather low banisters. Carpeting and tasteful lighting accentuate the old-world feel of the hallways and the interiors. Electronically-operated glass doors stand guard at entrances, combining function with a form that does justice to the vintage structures around them.
Through the front entry’s glass door you go: you’ll find yourself at the lobby level. A large squarish staircase dominates the center space. The end facing southwest leads into a private lounge area (where check-in and check-out also take place); the northeast end leads into Gattopardo restaurant, while the side opposite of the main entrance is occupied by the Tisettanta lounge. A smaller glass door opposite the main entryway leads to the Glass House or to the Park Mall and the MRT beyond it.
The private lounge marks the starting point of the guest experience, and the space is dressed for the part. Avant-garde furniture by Italian designer Poltrona Frau surrounds a glass-topped “Archaeological Pit” set into the floor; the pit contains 14th and 19th century historical artifacts dug up from the nearby Fort Canning hill. In the evenings, guests can mingle in the lounge over champagne and canapés; a daily cocktail hour takes place here from 6pm to 8pm.
The Hotel Fort Canning’s Deluxe Room
From the lounge, the guest relations officer who checks you in will personally take you to your room; your guide first ascended to the third floor via an elevator set outside the main lobby area (demolishing any part of the building’s interior would have been unthinkable). The keycard-secured elevator connects the building’s three storeys.
Your guide was checked into a deluxe room on the 3rd floor. The room was about 375 square feet in area, and was an exercise in understated luxury. Poltrona Frau furniture underpins a number of nifty room amenities – a Nespresso machine, specialty teas from TWG, crisp bedlinens, a Zeppelin Mini iPod docking system by Bowers & Wilkins, and a large LED TV connected to a smart content platform that can play satellite channels, pay movies, and a diverse music library.
Air conditioning, light intensity and curtains are controlled by an interactive panel at the bedside. Broadband internet access is made possible by hotel-wide WiFi. The Hotel Fort Canning’s connection is relatively speedy – check out this WiFi connection speed reading by Speedtest.net (offsite).
The Bathroom Overlooking Fort Canning Park
The deluxe room’s marble-floored bathroom is particularly entrancing; it’s an ingenious re-adaptation of what used to be part of an open-air corridor spanning the length of the building.
The corridor has been sectioned off, bathroom fittings by Toto added, and a glass curtain wall installed. A wood frame-and-glass partition separates the bathroom from the rest of the living space.
The result is one of the airiest bathrooms your guide has had the good fortune to shower in; the glass curtain wall lets in plenty of natural light into the bathroom and the rest of the room. An electronic wall panel controls lighting and curtains, so bathing after dark need not provide the neighbors with a show.
In daytime, with the curtains up and the sunlight streaming in, the curtain wall permits excellent views of the heritage park in the immediate vicinity, and the rest of Singapore beyond the tops of the trees.
The bathroom layout makes use of a separate shower stall and bathtub, with the washbasin directly facing the window and the view beyond. The bathroom’s toiletries are supplied by THANN of Thailand, adding another touch of luxury to a living space quite saturated in it.
For more on the Hotel Fort Canning's amenities and other details, go to the next page.