Enriched with elegance and brilliance, the Cheong Fatt Tze – Blue Mansion in Penang is a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the early 20th century both as an architectural landmark and a luxury boutique hotel. Like the Taj Mahal, the Blue Mansion was also a testament of a man’s love for a woman, as Cheong Fatt Tze built the mansion for his favoured seventh wife, and to reflect his standing as the ‘Rockefeller of the East’. Awarded the UNESCO’s Most Excellent Project in the Asia Pacific Heritage Awards, the elaborately restored building is noted for its indigo hue extracted from indigofera arrecta, a highly prized colour at the time of its construction, as well as the English Art Nouveau stained glass and Chinese calligraphy against trompe l’oeil timber beams within where various cultures and aesthetics integrate seamlessly.
At the height of its glory in the past, the Blue Mansion was the pivotal heart of the city. Since its restoration, the boutique hotel has constantly reinvented itself with new dining offerings and experiences. In recent years, it has embarked on a journey to make itself a hub for the arts, hosting events such as ‘Mahjong at the Mansion’––this offered players the chance to recreate the scene where Eleanor Young (played by Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh) went head-to-head with Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) in a pivotal mahjong match in the film Crazy Rich Asians, where the mansion notably acted as a backdrop.
Last year, it hosted a highly successful ‘Mozart at the Mansion’ performance when the Austrian maestro’s most popular music was performed by the Kuala Lumpur City Opera (KLCO). Then, in late April this year for two days only, guests were treated to a night of the greatest verismo arias and duets from Italian pillars of the opera, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. Dr Bernard Tan from KLCO returned to display his piano prowess alongside two other talents from the company, soprano Jane Soong and tenor Yap Jin Hin.
Although most operas tend to be considerably lengthy, this one was trimmed down to a delightful 70-minute performance of endlessly wonderful music. Despite the fact that the performance did not feature any bells and whistles in the form of backdrops and costumes, the sheer talent of the trio was enough to carry the whole performance. Impressively, their voices resonated throughout the mansion as they held the stage from the Central Courtyard even without microphones.
Yap delivered the high notes with strength and burnished lyric clarity as he belted out Che gelida manina from the first act of Puccini’s opera La bohème. Soong was resplendent in a bright blue dress, an obvious nod to the location, and her mellifluous voice expressed the tender emotions of the song Caro nome che il mio cor from Rigoletto perfectly. I even felt goosebumps when the real-life couple serenaded each other during Un di, felice, eterea from La traviata. The show fittingly ended with Soong and Yap raising their glasses and belting out Libiamo ne’ lieti calici, a lively song that encourages the drinking of wine, which drew an uproarious applause and calls for an encore from the audience.
The Cheong Fatt Tze – Blue Mansion is located right in the heart of George Town within a stone’s throw of other heritage, cultural, and gastronomic offerings, but guests can also spend a night at the hotel without ever leaving its extensive grounds. To fully replicate the experience of living like a 19th century business magnate, we checked into the Yantai room of the Han Suites, one of 18 exclusive rooms and suites fringing the tranquil inner courtyards of the mansion. This was named after the city where he started the Chang Yu winery, which is currently still China’s largest winery.
Designed to evoke an immersive experience of grandeur, it was fitted with antique wood furnishings such as a vanity table inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a King-sized bed. It was also equipped with a wide array of modern amenities such as an espresso machine and a Bluetooth speaker. The grand and lavish chamber also came with an elegant sitting room, a poster daybed, and an en-suite black-and-white tiled bathroom equipped with a claw bathtub and a rain shower. But what made the experience complete were the small touches of hospitality added by the hotel, such as the dainty bites of Nyonya Kuih delivered to the room with a personalised message during tea time, as well as batik sarongs provided, which can be donned to truly feel like a local.
These can be worn to the Oriental Garden, a Chinese-style landscaped water garden, which Cheong Fatt Tze envisioned but could not be completed due to his death. This was completed a century later by its current owners and is only accessible to hotel guests. Within the garden is the private swimming pool (open from 8am to 8pm), which offers a welcome respite from the heat of George Town.
Under the old mango tree on the grounds of the Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion is a casual and laid back cafe, Mangga, to while away the hours while you tuck into classic and contemporary comfort food such as Lemon Butter Pancakes with mango compôte, shredded coconut, and gula melaka. At The Bar, sip on a Mojito or two and drink your blues away at this cosy spot filled with eclectic art pieces, bottles of liquid in various shades of blue lining the walls, British geometric tiles, and plush navy couches. Drinks from The Bar, tea time, and breakfast can be enjoyed at The Courtyard, where guzheng performances are held on Friday and Saturday evenings. Upstairs, Indigo, a fine dining restaurant helmed by Chef Jack Yeap, has already made a name for itself amongst food connoisseurs, serving French and Japanese inspired cuisine with accents from local Penang recipes.
The legacy of Cheong Fatt Tze lives through this resplendent mansion, and it is truly a place to be inspired through an unforgettable stay.