Malacca (or ‘Melaka’ in Malay) is a state with a capital city of the same name situated about a two-hour drive south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Often called the ‘historic state’ of Malaysia, Malacca can trace its history back to the 15th century when Parameswara, a prince from Temasek (present-day Singapore) settled in the area and founded a settlement. Located strategically at the narrowest point of the Straits of Malacca (till this day, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes), Malacca grew rapidly into a regional powerhouse with merchants from all across Asia arriving at its port. Through the centuries, it was conquered, first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and was finally handed over to the British in 1824. Remnants of these trading and colonial influences are still visible in Malacca.
On my recent visit to Malaysia, I decided to spend a weekend in Malacca with my Mum and sister. It had been more than 20 years since my last visit and I’d heard so many great things about Malacca, especially since it received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. What I found was a lively place with gorgeous architecture, amazing food and an infectious vibe.
A weekend in Malacca at Casa del Rio
We arrived in Malacca after a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and quickly found our hotel: Casa del Rio. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of the historic city centre fronting the Melaka River.
The Mediterranean character of the hotel was unmistakable, with its large central courtyard featuring a reflective pool and fountain, and beautiful tiles. We were welcomed with a refreshing drink and a delicious lemongrass/ginger sorbet before being shown to our room: the Presidential Suite!
The suite was massive, with separate dining and living areas, a study, and an equally massive bedroom and bathroom. There was a large terrace outside with beautiful views of the Melaka River. In the distance, I could see the Straits of Malacca. The suite had a stately feel, with elegant furnishings and subdued tones.
One special touch that quickly caught my attention was the “My Personal Melaka” guest book in which guests could share their favourite Malacca experiences with future guests. I was later told that this book could be found in every room. There was also a book shelf with various books on the history and culture of Malacca – one book I browsed through was ‘Kebaya Tales’ which brought back several childhood memories of my own.
In the next two days, we explored the historic centre of Malacca; strolling around Jonker and Heeren Streets (around the corner from the hotel); visiting the famous A Famosa fort (built by the Portuguese in the 16th century), Christ Church and Stadhuys (buildings from the Dutch colonial era) and wandering around the markets, art galleries and shops.
We stopped at roadside stalls to taste some of the local food like cendol (rice flour jelly in coconut milk with palm sugar and shaved ice), dodol (sticky coconut toffee) and durian cake.
On our last evening we hopped on a Melaka River cruise (from the hotel’s private jetty). I recommend going just before sunset as this allows you to see the colourful waterfront before the sunset, and the riverfront lit up on the return trip.
Indulgence at Casa del Rio
Wherever we went, the Casa del Rio hotel was never more than a short distance away. One blistering afternoon, we returned to the hotel after a wander and indulged ourselves in a delicious Nyonya lunch, served in a traditional tiffin carrier.
The hotel’s main restaurant, The River Grill, faces the Melaka River and this is where we had our breakfasts every morning. One evening, we stuffed ourselves with fresh seafood and terrific satay. The prawns were simply delicious!
The staff made us feel right at home. We celebrated my Mum’s birthday with a dinner at The River Grill – the Western-themed dinner featured roast beef, grilled tuna, a tasty lamb rack and a gorgeous chocolate dessert. The staff surprised us with a second dessert: a birthday cake for my Mum and a hilarious rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’! Needless to say, it was a memorable birthday!
On our last day, I headed to the hotel’s Satkara Spa for a massage. I was welcomed by the friendly masseuse Nora, who led me into a spacious room. There were two massage tables, a bath-tub and a shower cubicle. The massage was superb! Mixing traditional Malay and deep-tissue techniques, Nora effortlessly found and kneaded away all the tension in my back and shoulders. I left the spa feeling totally rejuvenated!
Casa del Rio certainly excelled in the little touches that make a stay memorable; from the welcome sorbet and unique guest book to lightly-scented pillows with the turn-down service (accompanied by a note describing the scent). As we stepped into our car to leave the hotel, I noticed a little card tucked under the windscreen wiper:
We had a terrific time in Malacca. It sure was a treat to stay at Casa del Rio and stroll around this gorgeous city. If you’re visiting Malaysia, don’t miss Malacca! I highly recommend spending a few days to truly appreciate the city and Casa del Rio is the perfect base.
Note: A big thank you goes to the staff of Casa del Rio for their wonderful hospitality. All views expressed above are mine, and mine only.