Singapore is made up of one main island and about 60 smaller ones, including its most well-known weekend getaway, Sentosa, just a 10-minute drive from the central business district. Once a jungle-like outpost used by the British military, today Sentosa is being rapidly developed like the rest of the country, though a few pockets of tranquility remain.
There are plenty of things to do there, from a visit to Underwater World to see sharks and other sea creatures to the Images of Singapore museums and the panoramic sky ride and luge (don't bother with the beaches, they're not great). But the best option for weary travelers is a day or two spent at the Sentosa Resort and Spa (tel. 65/6275-0331; www.thesentosa.com). Formerly called the Beufort Hotel, the 215-room hotel is tucked away on a hilltop amidst 27 acres of tropical foliage and gardens. Peacocks wander around the grounds (there are reportedly some 200 of the birds on the island) and there are views of the South China Sea from certain parts of the property. Sentosa Resort and Spa is quiet and unassuming, with low-rise hotel wings rising no more than five stories and with views of tropical foliage and the hotel's landscaped ponds and decorative pools. The recently refurbished rooms have warm color schemes and clean lines, with plush bedding, tiled bathrooms and high-tech touches from 42-inch flat screen televisions to DVD/CD players and high-speed internet access.
But it's the hotel's spa and Cliff restaurant that are its two biggest assets. Sure, these days every respectable hotel has a spa, but this one is on steroids. Called a destination spa for good reason, you can choose from the typical array of wonderful massages, facials and exotic treatments (from a Sumatran coffee scrub to a papaya-infused clay body wrap) that promise to leave you renewed and relaxed, but you can also spends hours hanging out in the attached outdoor spa gardens. Landscaped to offer privacy and divided into two discreet sections -- ladies only and co-ed -- in one corner of each, help yourself to scoops of nourishing volcanic mud from Rotorua, New Zealand. Apply the mud to your face and body, and recline on the stone bench while your mask bakes under the hot Singapore sun. When it has dried and your skin feels firmed up and wonderfully refreshed, soak in the special mud pool or rinse off in one of the outdoor rain showers nearby.
Both spa gardens also have a float pool with cascading waterfalls (that can offer a great pressure-point shoulder massage) and for meditative walking, there are two separate grassy labyrinths. A large full-sized swimming pool has lovely pearlescent midnight blue tiles and indoors, there's a steam bath, plus hot and cold soaking pools in a serene part of each changing room.
Set around the edges of the gardens are six outdoor treatment pavilions, each with a private plunge pool based on a different theme, from a Roman bath in the Orchid Pavilion to the Japanese Tub in the Water Lily Pavilion. Indoors, the eight treatment rooms cater to couples and singles and include the Spa Botanica suite that comes with a private outdoor deck and hot tub, and the Royal Suite, whose focal point is a 1,000-pound hand-tooled solid bronze bathtub. It effectively retains the warmth of the milk, floral, herbal and other bath treatments offered.
Spa packages aren't a bargain in local terms, but when you do the conversion to US dollars, they're not a bad deal. Since the spa is popular with locals on weekends, weekday rates are less expensive. Consider making your appointments ahead of time to make sure you get your first choice.
The Simply Spa Package I is US$385 per couple for one weekday night in a deluxe room (the hotel's standard accommodation). Included in the price is buffet breakfast at The Terrace restaurant plus use of the spa garden's facilities and a two-hour spa combination treatment per person -- for example, a 60-minute wrap and a 60-minute massage, or a half-hour facial with a 90-minute wrap. Additional treatments can be booked at 15% off the listed rates for weekday stays.
Adjacent to the spa is a new wellness center with an excellent state-of-the-art gym, which is complimentary for guests, plus a juice bar and movement studio offering pilates, yoga, tai chi and various aerobics classes for an additional charge. Optional services also include traditional Chinese medicine consultation, such as acupuncture.
When and if you can tear yourself away from Spa Botanica, bicycles can be borrowed from the reception desk for a tour of the island or there are two 18-hole golf courses on Sentosa as well. Still, the best option maybe lounging around the hotel's styling and sprawling central pool, covered in those shimmering dark blue tiles. It stretches between The Terrace, for more casual dining, and the stunning Cliff restaurant, one of the most romantic spots in Singapore.
Japanese architect Yasuhiro Koichi built the open-air, split level modern structure on a platform above the jungle. The dimly-lit space is defined by a long low-slung bar facing the South China Sea. At sunset and into the evening, the silhouette of the foliage against the twinkling lights of the ships offshore is quite magical. There is coveted sea-view seating (request these tables as early as possible) as well as tables set adjacent to decorative water features and near the show kitchen.
Cliff specializes in seafood with a modern French twist, along with an impressive wine list, dishes include the likes of shelled mangrove crab with Dijon-curry crème and asparagus gazpacho; pan roasted barramundi in an emulsion of mussels with chorizo and garlic chips; and a char-grilled yellow fin tuna with wild mushroom and ratte potato ragout and bordelaise sauce.
If you don't want to spring for dinner here -- prices for main dishes range from about $23 to $50 per person -- definitely have cocktails at the bar to drink up the super sensual ambience.
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