Heritage Hideaway: A luxe staycay at the Barracks Hotel on Sentosa

Suite Life is willingly confined to barracks for a staycation on Sentosa.
The Barracks Hotel was built in 1904 and began life as the Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks.
The Barracks Hotel was built in 1904 and began life as the Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks.ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

SINGAPORE - So many staycays, so little time. What makes this hotel special?

The crown jewel of the three hotels - the other two being Village Hotel and The Outpost Hotel - owned by Far East Hospitality group on Sentosa, The Barracks Hotel has a stately grandeur, thanks to its colonial-era architecture and storied history.

It was built in 1904 and began life as the Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks (Sentosa's old Malay name meaning "the island of death behind") back when the island was a British military outpost.

The six heritage buildings housed not just quarters for military personnel, but also other facilities such as storerooms, a cookhouse and a small cinema. There was even a parade square.

Two of the buildings have now been repurposed into the five-star Barracks Hotel, one into an events centre and the rest into Mess Hall, which houses a convenience store and several restaurants, including Hidemasa by Hide Yamamoto (Japanese), Royal Taj (Indian), Quentin's (Eurasian), Le Faubourg (French) and Lady M, the upscale cake boutique from New York.

The grounds are stunning, with a verdant, beautifully manicured lawn lined with majestic palm trees. At night, skilful mood lighting makes the whole place dreamily romantic.

First impressions?

Sometimes, it's the little things that open the floodgates of memories and longing you don't know you have suppressed.

On a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, it was the politely proffered chilled face towel and the cold welcome drink - a refreshing concoction of iced black tea, grapefruit juice and nutmeg syrup named The Barracks Spritz - that triggered a kaleidoscope of flashbacks.


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

I thought of the hundreds of times I had checked into hotels - posh, pedestrian, squalid - and the different welcome beverages - delicious, putrid, meh - I had imbibed over decades of gallivanting around the world and how much I missed them.

Frankly, there was nothing to suggest I was not on holiday. I was on an island, sipping a nectarous cocktail, sitting on a handsome leather Chesterfield in the lobby of a posh reincarnation of what was once a British artillery base.

Not standard-issue at all. Your low-down on the bunk?


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

My room had a huge bed, state-of-the-art "saluting" Japanese toilet and an inviting roll-top bathtub taking centre stage, like a giant sculpture.

It exuded vintage chic, thanks to the wood panelling and flooring, exposed timber beams, patinated metal fittings and colonial-style furniture fashioned from leather and canvas, including a leather-clad mini-bar trunk.

On the work desk, the hotel staff had thoughtfully placed, among other things, a bottle of Somerton Cabernet Sauvignon, a tube of vitamin C tablets, a small bag of macarons and a teddy bear clad in a safari suit.

The room opened to a patio leading to a small private jacuzzi and one of the hotel's two lap pools.


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

Because occupancy at the property - which has just 40 rooms, including six suites - was capped at 50 per cent, there was no need to book a slot for a swim.

So, what else is there to do at The Barracks?

Deciding to explore what else the place had to offer, I scanned the QR code from a hotel map for a self-guided tour of the property.

Tour done, I headed to The Living Room, the hotel's exclusive dining lounge, flanked by a swimming pool, for tea.


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

The friendly waiter settled me in with a glass of cold Laurent-Perrier bubbly before bringing a three-tier bird cage afternoon-tea snack stand filled with sandwiches, an assortment of cakes, and scones with jam and marmalade.

He then took me through the bespoke tea programme - curated by The Tea Tailor by Pryce, an award- winning Singapore tea company - and helped me pick my tea base (uji sencha) and two fruit pairings (Javanese ginger and Thai lemongrass).


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

Fancy. What is military grub like?

Barely three hours later - after a snooze, during which I dreamt of (god knows why) marshmallows and monitor lizards - I was back, stuffing my face with gargantuan fried wontons, various cheeses and a gin-infused version of The Barracks Spritz.

My stomach protested against the idea of dinner, so I did a bit of work, read a little and had a long soak in the Apaiser bathtub before turning in for the night.

I ordered nasi lemak for breakfast the next day and was told it was one of the most requested items on the menu. It was an elaborate affair - a fried egg crowning a bowl of coconut rice, curry chicken, prawn sambal, sambal tumis, peanut and anchovies - but I was already more than half full when it arrived, because of the appetisers that came before it: a char siew puff, a slice of radish cake and an egg tart.


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

Any other army adventures?

The next day, I was off to One15 Marina for my Breakfast Sail with yacht operator Ximula, owned by married celebrity couple Darren Lim and Evelyn Tan.

It is an optional add-on excursion, which the hotel can arrange in advance. It costs $800++ for up to five people, per current government regulations.

I felt like a towkay because I had Gracefully - a 40ft (12.2m) sailing catamaran with three cabins - to myself.

Filipino skipper Victor Faustino and crew member Wong Mingqi took good care of me and kept me entertained with easy banter as we cruised around the Southern Islands before anchoring at Lazarus Island, where I took a dip in the warm waters and lolled around a floating platform.

"Before Covid, the island was usually empty. Now people go there with tents; it's crazy," Mr Faustino said, referring to news reports about people breaking safe distancing regulations by gathering in groups of more than five. "People are just dying to get out."


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

We spent three hours out at sea, with a leisurely cruise in the Marina Bay area to take in the city skyline as a finale.

Verdict: Bliss or miss?

The price is steep, but if it is not an issue: bliss. History, heritage, luxury digs, attentive service, good food, yummy cocktails, sun, sand and sea - what is there to diss?

THE BARRACKS HOTEL

WHERE: 2 Gunner Lane, Sentosa Island

INFO: The Barracks Hotel website

ROOMS: 40, including six suites

RATES: The Barracks Hotel's premier room with breakfast and The Living Room access package starts at $570++. Afternoon tea is available only for in-house guests and starts at $108++ per set for two people.


ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

HOT TIP: Make good use of The Living Room, which serves all-day refreshments, including snacks and canapes.

• This staycation was hosted by the hotel and is part of a weekly series. For more staycation reviews, go to str.sg/SuiteLife

For more stories on exploring Singapore, go to the SG Go Where page.