Penang has fast gained popular attention. Since its inscription in 2008 as one of five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, local and foreign entrepreneurs have rushed in to painstakingly restore and preserve the untouched inner city bringing back a vibrant heartbeat to George Town, a once-almost-forgotten heart of Penang.
I’ve featured a number of hotels in Penang with the same vision of preservation but my recent stay at the Seven Terraces topped it all. Located on Stewart Lane adjacent to the Goddess of Mercy Temple, this hidden jewel is a celebration of the Peranakan culture, a mix of Chinese and Malay heritage, one that is unique to island city.
Backstory of Seven Terraces
A row of seven shophouses built by wealthy Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s was once a business hub for traders and merchants. Unfortunately calamity struck and a raging fire engulfed the structure leaving it in shambles. The building was forgotten and forsaken as nature took over allowing creepers and tree roots to hold anchor. A glimmer of hope struck in 2009 when award-winning conservators and designers, Karl Steinberg and Penang-born Christopher Ong took on the mammoth task of restoring and re-building the dilapidated shophouses.
During the reconstruction period, the original features of the building have been retained where possible and salvaged timber have been used to reduce the footprint and antique granite blocks from China were used for the central courtyard.
A celebration of the finest Peranakan living
Seven Terraces sets itself apart from other heritage boutique hotels in Penang because of its exclusivity and authenticity. The floor-to-ceiling gilded doors at its entrance opens up to the hotel’s lobby, an airy space with three mother-of-pearl Chinese opium beds, ornate antiques and blackwood furniture.
The lobby is the only public space before guests step into the private open courtyard with the highly acclaimed Kebaya restaurant and Baba Bar running the length of the shophouse on one side and a lap pool, lounge and library on the other side of the ground floor. Walking along the open courtyard, I begin to take in the grandeur and wealth of the rich Peranakan culture. Gilded doors, intricate wooden carvings, elaborate furnishings and polished reflected the wealth of that era. I climb up the wooden spiral staircase at the end of the courtyard into the sunlit verandahs leading to the hotel suites.
Arriving at Argus 5, the doors to my terraced duplex suite swung open as I entered into a tastefully curated contemporary-heritage suite with a homely living space on the ground floor and the bedroom on the mezzanine floor. The living space featured two plush arm chairs, a blackwood bench, rustic gilded cupboards, delicate antiques and framed embroidered costumes.
At the end of the living room, a floor-to-ceiling wooden partition folds back to reveal the large bathroom and toilet with chic black-and-white mosaic tiles, a seamless rain shower lodged in the ceiling, marble basin and wooden shuttered windows opening to the street below.
Above the living space is an intimate bedroom with a king-size four poster bed decked with fluffy feather pillows and a set of framed baba nyonya embroidered costumes as wall decor. Beyond the bed, a couple of wooden shuttered doors open to a small toilet for convenience and a private balcony that overlooks St. George’s church.
The suite lacked nothing in terms of modern amenities, with a flat screen tv, powerful air-conditioning for the entire suite, dainty teapot and cups set on colourful tiled trays for coffee and tea and free internet access.
At every turn of the hotel, a piece of antique beckons, from jade vases to wooden carvings, from blackwood furniture to memorable collectibles. The hotel’s Antiques shop, conveniently tucked at the corner of the ground floor is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir item or piece of furniture on the way out. The shop also features some of Ong’s personal collection that are now up for sale.
Still, a trip to Penang is incomplete without a rave on the city’s food. Lauded as food haven by local Malaysians, Penang is bursting from it seams with an endless array of country’s tastiest dishes. The hotel’s award-winning Kebaya restaurant offers a delectable menu of traditional Peranakan flavours using modern and French dining techniques. If you choose to explore some of the favourite local joints on foot, grab a copy of Christopher Ong’s personal food guide from the reception, with a list of recommended coffee shops and cafes.