What is it?Located in downtown Surabaya, Java’s second city, the Majapahit is an extraordinarily graceful, low-rise structure. Originally part of the legendary Sarkies brothers’ hospitality empire in Southeast Asia, the property was designed by British architect R.A.J. Bidwell, who was also responsible for Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.
Opened in 1910, Hotel Majapahit has a history more chequered than a chessboard: its name has frequently been changed; it served as a headquarters for the Japanese military during the second world war; and it acted as the flashpoint for Indonesia’s battle for independence in 1945, when activists tore down the Dutch flag, ripping off the blue section to create their fledgling country’s red-and-white emblem.
The hotel was extensively renovated in the 1990s but remains one of the few Sarkies hotels (the other being The Strand Yangon, in Myanmar) to have escaped being abandoned or overly tarted-up.
What news on the rooms? Before the days of air-conditioning, grand hotel rooms were built with high ceilings, to allow breezes to circulate, and floored with the best timber at hand, which, in Hotel Majapahit’s case, came from a teak plantation.
All of the property’s 143 rooms are dubbed suites, and non-presidential guests will find themselves choosing between (getting progressively larger) Garden, Executive and Majapahit varieties. None could be described as poky, and all discreetly divert attention from the mod cons with thick carpets, antique furniture and sumptuous curtains and bedlinen.
The plumbing’s utterly 21st century but the relaxed atmosphere belongs to five-score years ago, right down to the demi window shutters, which close at about neck height, allowing guests to gaze outside whatever their state of undress. Many rooms overlook the hotel’s grassy interior courtyards.
The Presidential Suite, which,at 806 square metres, is claimed to be the largest in the region, will be outside the budget of many travellers, but its mere presence is one more ace in the Majapahit’s luxe deck of cards.
And the refreshments? Wander where you will in the Majapahit, it’s not long before you stumble across somewhere to re-victual.
Quite the most lively restaurant is Indigo, a fusion haven where breakfast, lunch and dinner are enlivened by an unbroken, day-long cavalcade of traffic and pedestrians along the road immediately outside. Sarkies offers a raft of Asian specialities while The Maj Pub is less about Bintang beer and finger food and more about the nightly live band; a DJ spins on Sunday evenings.
Hotel lobby lounges are all too often devoid of charm but the Majapahit’s rejoices in the art-deco makeover it was given in the mid-30s. And as icing atop the cake, the roof garden is usually reserved for parties and business get-togethers but there’s nothing to stop regular guests popping up to relish the feeling of having penetrated an inner sanctum.
What lies beyond? The hotel’s trump card is its 25-metre-long outdoor pool, set at the back of the property and shaded by palms. Settled here, guests can safely ignore the blandishments of the artfully stated health centre and peruse the spa menu, devised by wellness guru Martha Tilaar; the two-hour Bali Garden Bliss is one of her classics. Yoga classes and a tennis court round out the physical fitness offerings.
To explore the city, board a becak (cycle rickshaw with a forward-facing seat) or catch the Surabaya Heritage Track, a free bus tour that takes in the major sights.
What’s the bottom line? Room rates start at an eminently reasonable HK$850 per night, including breakfast. For more details, go to hotel-majapahit.com.
How to get there
Cathay Pacific flies direct to Surabaya from Hong Kong. Various airlines connect the two cities via Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore or Brunei.