Casa del Rio’s azure pool appears to magically float into the Melaka River which in turn rushes into the eponymous Straits, once a vital link in the spice trade chain between China, India and the Western world. Through colonial expansion, this once sleepy hollow transformed over centuries into a harmonious cultural, architectural and culinary fusion of Portuguese, Dutch, English, Arabic and Baba-Nyonya or Straits Chinese fused with Malay making it one of South-East Asia’s uniquely magical travel experiences.
I GO TO RIO!
Our temporary home by the river, Casa del Rio, embodies all of Melaka’s cultural differences and more. The imposing terracotta entry wall gives a Mediterranean air while a spacious lobby opening onto a rectangular water oasis set in a vast central courtyard oozes Moorish sensibility that’s framed by vaulted stone archways and colonnaded walkways.
This boutique hotel of just 66 spacious rooms and suites, all with private balconies overlooking the central courtyard or the Melaka River, is decorated in sun-warmed Mediterranean hues of magenta, ochre and terracotta accented with touches of traditional Peranakan or local Baba-Nyonya decor that includes dream-inducing king-sized timber beds, window sofas or plush chairs and candle-lit balconies. There’s a boutique gym for early morning workouts while on level 4, the stunning infinity pool and Bar Sol is the place for a sun-downer while watching the sun go down.
WHAT’S ON THE SPA MENU?
In Melaka, they don’t restrict their spices to the food menu particularly in Casa del Rio’s Satkara Spa, a world of subdued lighting and subtle aromas. Seated in a grandly carved chair, I’m offered a chilled peppermint-infused towel and hot ginger tea as my feet, tired from walking Melaka’s historic streets, sink gratefully into a copper bowl of warm water infused with cinnamon. Scrubbed with lemon to stimulate circulation and a spritz of lavender I’m soon walking on air.
Facials take a top to toe approach as a collagen cleanser, aloe vera toner and sweet turnip scrub leaves skin feeling tight, refreshed and ready for the Hibiscus mask and chilled eye pads. As the mask works its magic, legs and feet receive a booster massage before a final moisturising leaves dewy-smooth skin.
Satkara Spa’s treatments utilise handcrafted products made with pure, natural ingredients and their signature massage fuses Shiatsu, Lomi, Swedish, Thai and Balinese techniques. Other treatments reinforce the fabled Spice Route particularly the Melaka Palm Sugar Polish and Ginger and Kaffir Body Scrub followed by a nourishing Coconut Cream and Vanilla bath. Yumm…
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE KITCHEN…
Food is never far from Malakans’ thoughts and we ask Casa del Rio’s chef Ronny – himself a Baba or Straits Chinese man – for some spicy instructions. We’re about to produce a tiffin lunch and surrounded by small bowls of powdered spices and pastes, Ronny’s clearly in his element. First dish out of the gate is Udang Masak Lemas Nanas or prawns with pineapple cooked in coconut milk. There’s a sizzle as the chilli paste hits the oil and pungent smoke rises from the combination of ginger, galangal, garlic, lemongrass and shallots.
Twenty years of hotel cheffing coupled with acquiring his Baba-Nyonya cooking chops at his mother’s and grandmother’s knees has made Ronny an expert and in no time we’ve prepared a spicy array of dishes, including Cincalok Egg, a popular family supper omelette dish and bowls of Cendol for a sweet finish.
FIVE MAGICAL WAYS to discover Melaka
WALK THE WALK Avoid garlanded trishaws and stroll the well signposted heritage trail of UNESCO World Heritage-listed streets including Heerin Street with its colourfully restored 17th century Dutch houses, Jonker Street where more modest homes now house cafes, galleries and boutiques and Harmony Street where a mosque, Chinese and Hindu temples harmoniously co-exist within metres of each other.
GET WELL SHOD Have a Cindarella moment and step into Colour Beads on Heerin Street for a pair of fabulous, jewel-coloured, hand-embroidered Nyonya slippers. Highly prized, one cobbler makes just five pairs a day, the more expensive selling for around AUD400 but most at around AUD150.
LIVING MUSEUM Four generations of the Chan family lived in this beautiful house before it became the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum in 1985. A splendid example of grand designs Straits Chinese style, you can feel and touch the past at one of Melaka’s main attractions.
SLICE AND DICE Ducks and chickens tan in the window at Formosa Chicken Rice Ball restaurant, one of the places for Melakan specialty chicken rice balls. You can eat authentic spicy Baba-Nyonya cuisine in a Straits Chinese house at the Puri cafe or take your pick along Jalan Tukang Besi, a narrow street full of atmospheric cafes.
NIGHT CRUISING Enormously popular with locals and visitors, around AUD3.50 buys you 45 minutes of river cruising. Under velvety night skies, lights dance on the river creating a magical wonderland for flotillas of tourist craft that have replaced fishing and cargo ships of the past.
Getting There: Malaysia Airlines fly to Kuala Lumpur and Melaka is located on the west coast 120km south-east of KL. You can drive, book a taxi or go by bus. www.malaysiaairlines.com
Staying There: Casa del Rio is perfectly positioned on the river on the edge of the old town at 88 Jalan Kota Laksamana, Melaka www.casadelrio-melaka.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Baba Nyonya cuisine, Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, Casa del Rio Melaka, Colour Beads, Formosa Chicken Rice Ball restaurant, Harmony Street, Heerin Street, Jonker Street, Malacca, malaysia airlines, Melaka River, Melaka Tourism, Nyonya Shoes, Puri Cafe, Satkara Spa, Spice Route, Straits Chinese, Tourism Malaysia, UNESCO World Heritage Melaka