Above: The heritage wing, the beachfront lawn, and a glimpse of the casuarinas.
Today it’s hard to imagine Batu Ferringhi, the touristy beach area on Penang’s north coast, as having only one hotel. But in 1948 when it opened for business, the 10-room Lone Pine Hotel had no competition. It welcomed British planters and colonial civil servants to its leafy seafront idyll. Over the decades, Lone Pine was increasingly eclipsed by bigger, fancier properties. Watching the hotel’s slow decline, one might have thought, ‘If only Penang had a property developer with both deep pockets and an appreciation for heritage properties.’
Luckily, Penang does have just such a developer: Eastern & Oriental Berhad. And it’s no wonder this particular company sees the value in heritage properties: It’s done very well with its flagship property on Penang, the E&O Hotel, which was fully booked on our recent visit despite the steep room rates.
In late 2010 E&O reopened the Lone Pine Hotel after a one-and-a-half-year refurbishment, and it’s been steadily improving the property ever since. Last year the hotel opened Matsu, which became the only Japanese restaurant in Batu Ferringhi. (Try the charcoal-grilled yakimono.)
“Matsu” in Japanese means “pine,” and the interiors accordingly feature pine wood. But the name “Lone Pine” actually started with a mistake. Back in 1948 there was a solitary casuarina tree on the property, and that was mistaken for a pine. Hence the charmingly misguided name.
Speaking of trees, today the hotel’s beachfront lawn is graced with a series of towering casuarina trees, some with hammocks strung between them. The trees create a magical atmosphere, especially when the setting sun slants through their towering trunks. It’s a popular place for weddings, which were commonly held here even before the hotel was restored.
On our recent trip to the hotel we encountered a French couple who had been staying in the hotel’s heritage wing, in a Premier Garden unit facing the beachfront lawn, for several weeks on end. They seemed unwilling to leave the special ambiance created by those beautiful trees, combined perhaps with the cheerful charm of the heritage-wing rooms.
Of course E&O added facilities, too. A new block behind the heritage wing features more modern rooms (with DVD players and 32-inch flat-screen TVs), a fitness center, a “boardroom” for corporate meetings, and even a spa with “meditation cabanas.” Speedy, free Wi-Fi is now available throughout the property — we’re fairly certain they didn’t offer that in 1948.
Also new since 1948 is the chic tapas-serving lounge bar batubar, where an in-house DJ spins soothing lounge music spiced with trance, techno, and house elements. batubar, which apparently is too sexy to capitalize the first “b” in its name, has unexpectedly become a nightlife hotspot on Penang, and international DJs can be found spinning there on weekends.
Not new but spruced up is the Bungalow, a restaurant still serving up its signature Hainanese specialties. Many a household photo album in Penang features shots of the family sitting around the outdoor tables here, the setting sun casting beautiful warm light upon the faces of loved ones.
Nightly rates at the hotel range from about US$200 for a deluxe to $800 for a two-bedroom suite. www.lonepinehotel.com