Making our way past the guard dressed in a samfu and backpackers who teem outside of The Blue Mansion for a peek, as an entrance fee for non-hotel guests is required to view this UNESCO world heritage building, we step through the high, intricately decorated wooden doors of The Mansion.
“We were expecting you. You are the last to check in,” says one of the staff. At 1.30pm, we are just in time for the free guided tour of The Blue Mansion (which takes place at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm daily) that allows the public to view the common areas of the Mansion, for a small fee, without disrupting the privacy of guests, although one or two have a strayed we were told.
This gem of a place on George Town’s Leith Street is also known as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, named after its owner — dubbed the ‘J.P. Morgan of China’. The neo-classical-styled Mansion is painted cobalt blue, hidden behind the fences and trees away from the casual glances from the streetdespite its stand-out colour.
While going through the regular check-in procedures, we are served cold nutmeg juice and a cold towel before being shown to our room. We walk through the courtyard, “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the symmetrical water features and tranquil reading nooks at opposite ends, before trodding up an old, dust blue metal spiral staircase.
Wooden panel shutter windows stretch along the corridors, offering a closer view of The Blue Mansion’s decorative elements: organic mosaics, in shapes of plants and animals, made of colourful pieces of broken porcelain bowls.
Instead of the predictable hotel key cards, it was refreshing to have an oversized brass room key, which I later learn is the original (and only) room key. Stepping into the room, with its hardwood floors and minimal styling with bold accents of colour and shape in its room accessories, I was sold on staying here for the night.
After being served Pu Er tea in the room, we rush down to the main entrance to meet a large group of tourists - what a difference half an hour can make from the quiet entry to the cacophony of chatter and shutter clicks.
Although I am not a fan of group tours, I’m glad I stuck through the hour-long tour as it gave me a greater insight into the finer design details of the Mansion that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
Thanks to the tour I can tell you that there are 220 windows in the Hakka-style/Chinese Kek-style house that was designed based on Feng Shui rules, and I can show you the century-old Staffordshire floor tiles where each colour was pressed in piece by piece, the Scottish cast iron pillars in the courtyard and the 24-karat gold leaf panels at the entrance.
Breakfast at The Blue Mansion certainly has its charms. Instead of the typical mad rush for the breakfast buffet spread at large hotels, the Mansion spoils guests for choice with its made-to-order menu featuring eggs Benedict, potato rosti, Malaysian eggs set, smoked salmon and Nutella crepes, just to name a few, as well as freshly squeezed juices and smoothies served at the dining area by the tranquil courtyard. I opt for the eggs Benedict and a watermelon smoothie to nurse as the morning drizzle came down. While waiting, I’m beckoned by the staff to help myself to Hainanese bread to roast over a charcoal burner before generously topping it off with butter and homemade kaya.
The Mansion has been the ultimate getaway as a (luxurious) home away from home for me. If you ever make that trip up to Penang to stay at The Blue Mansion, here are a few tips: don’t miss the morning’s magic moments by having an early breakfast but late enough to avoid the chatter of (extremely) early risers and read a book or continue writing that journal entry as you’re splayed out on the oversized bamboo framed lounge chairs by the water feature, but be sure to do this before 11am — before the first batch of tourists swarm the common areas and break the silence.
Overall, the stay at The Blue Mansion did not disappoint and has converted me to opt for boutique hotels whenever possible. The only hiccup I had during my overnight stay was that the water was turned off at night without any notice and I was only given five-minutes to shower after a long day out by the night staff who switched on the taps momentarily.
“You can always come back, darling,” says the staff as I reluctantly hand over my set of brass keys as I checked out. Oh, I will be back, Blue Mansion.