By Jeremy Khalil on February 20, 2019
Literally means “Home by the River”, Casa del Rio embodies Melaka’s historical cosmopolitanism. Located just outside of Melaka’s UNESCO heritage area, this Mediterranean-inspired 66-room property alludes to the destination’s coloured history of being colonised by European powers like the Portuguese, Dutch and then the British, while at the same time maintaining its distinct identity by taking in various Asian influences like the Malay, Chinese, Indian and Arabic due to Melaka’s position as an ancient trading post.
Gaya Travel team loves Casa del Rio for the property’s intimate feel. The hotel feels grand yet homely, comfortably lived-in and well-grounded. It is also urbane and cosmopolitan – just like Melaka during its heyday as a renowned international trading post – yet personal and resort-like at the same time. Being only a five-minute jaunt to the popular Jonker Street, this homely deluxe bolthole is inextricably linked to the location and complements Melaka’s status as a UNESCO Heritage Site through its architecture, service offerings and access.
Throughout Casa del Rio, the masculine character that is expressed via the property’s solid wood furnishing, wrought iron, and earthen ochre-terracotta-yellow-magenta colour scheme covering the stucco-finished walls is softened by dashes of vibrant colours from the ubiquitous tiles, upholstery and bursts of bougainvillea on the property’s patios. Gracing the walls of the hotel are the iconic paintings that aptly depict quintessential Melaka society, heritage and identity by the critically acclaimed local artiste Haron Mokhtar, further injecting a strong sense of place to the property.
The large solid wooden furniture like the huge drawers and wardrobe used in the rooms, including the embroidered emblematic floral motifs on the upholstery, are reminiscent of the stately look that can be found in historical Mediterranean manors and palaces, cleverly matched with delicate Peranakan touches present in the tiles and lighting features. All of the rooms have balconies facing the courtyard lago or the much-touted Melaka River. The hotel’s impeccable customary turndown service in the evenings help to turn these rooms into a cosy and lulling slumber sanctuary, especially after a long, exhausting day out.
The bathrooms are spacious with sliding screens that open up to the rooms and view the balcony. The bathtubs are also unusually large that we thought it could even fit up to two persons at one time. It feels like that the hotel is as much about generous space as it is about Melaka’s historical identity. As a matter of fact, each room in Casa del Rio is at least 50 square feet, among the largest in the city of Melaka. For those who prefer more space, they are welcome to check into the Melaka Suite, which is essentially a two-bedroom apartment complete with jacuzzi, ideal for travelling families. This luxurious accommodation is part of Casa del Rio’s family package that includes fun trishaw and river cruise rides.
Upon stepping into our rooms, members of the Gaya Travel team were greeted by a small transparent container filled with the local delicacy onde-onde (balls made from rice flour stuffed with liquefied palm sugar and rolled in grated coconut), which we considered a lovely touch.
One more item the team loved was the presence of My Personal Melaka journal, a book made available in each room that allows guests to scribble what they exactly feel about the hotel onto its blank pages. In the first few pages of this book, guests would be able to find the personally handwritten welcoming jottings by the staff of Casa del Rio, which left us impressed because at this day and age, penmanship is indeed rare and time-consuming. The hotel’s laborious effort in communicating to its guests through such an exercise sends the message that the hotel’s employees take pains to ensure that their guests’ stay will be memorable. We also found this to be true because we noticed that the staff are highly accommodating and willing to go the distance in meeting their guests’ requests.
There is also the specially printed the nostalgic “555” notebook that is surely much appreciated by Malaysian Baby Boomers and Generation X, normally used to jot down notes and phone numbers before the advent of smartphones, resting on the side table next to the bed. It was more popularly used by peddlers and shopkeepers back then in jotting down how much money customers owe them, hence called buku hutang (book of debt). We were informed by the Marketing Communications Executive K. Jena that the book is specially printed by the hotel and not anymore available in similar form, rendering it special and worth keeping for posterity.
Though the hotel is replete with old world charm, that does not mean it lacks in modernity. As a matter of fact, there is Wi-Fi connectivity conveniently available throughout the resort. The rooms also come with flat screen television sets, CD and DVD players, including iPod docking stations, much to the delight of tech-savvies and entertainment enthusiasts
The hotel is also known for its gastronomic offerings. The River Cafe, which operates from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and can be easily accessed from the side of the hotel, offers delicious home-cooked traditional Peranakan wholesome meal presented in the form of the wistful Peranakan tiffin set at RM37++ per person – definitely great value for money – from 12:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. The restaurant is also popular for its steamboat offerings served in the evenings, alongside well-loved Melaka staples like the comforting yet spicy asam pedas dish (sour and spicy stew that is often cooked with either seafood or meat).
The River Grill, the other dining outlet that melds seamlessly with River Cafe, is the place where guests enjoy their semi-buffet type ala carte breakfast from 6:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. It is then converted into the venue for fine dining from 6:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m., with the call for last order at 10:30 p.m. Guests who intend to experience Portuguese and Spice Route cuisines will be able to do so at the restaurant on Saturday nights from 6:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
Though much of Casa del Rio’s appeal might seem to exclusively cater for the leisure market, the property also efficiently meets the demands of the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) market since it possesses facilities such as various-sized theatres, rooms for seminars and open air reception areas for large scale corporate functions, especially the atmospheric Piazza fronting the lago where Gaya Travel team dreamt of holding a memorable event to entertain our clients one day. A little walk out of the Piazza towards the Melaka River will bring you to the hotel’s jetty, the point where only guests of Casa del Rio are allowed to embark on the Melaka River Cruise vessel after arranging with the hotel’s reception.
Those who seek to destress should head to the hotel’s Satkara Spa, which has four local therapists who dispense various treatments such as the signature Satkara massage, which is a fusion of different massages like Shiatsu, Lomi, Swedish and Thai rolled into one, including signature relaxing facials aptly named Nyonya and Gentleman’s. All massage treatments at Satkara – which means reverence or honoured or respect in Sanskrit – begin with a cinnamon bark and sea salt foot ritual. Guests are recommended to make advance reservation for the experience and come ten minutes early.
Another way to unwind at the hotel is by dipping into Casa del Rio’s infinity pool, located at the rooftop, allowing guests to savour the view of the Melaka River, parts of the UNESCO area all the way to the sea, when being in the water. Such mesmerising experience at the pool – as at the other parts of the hotel – makes it all too easy for guests to lose track of their time. We suspect that guests staying at Casa del Rio – us included – must have secretly wished that they never have to leave this Mediterranean-inspired bolthole by the Melaka River…