Clove Hall, George Town, Penang, review: Treasure chest of elegance

Our rating

4 out of 5

THE PLACE

Clove Hall, George Town, Penang, Malaysia.

THE LOCATION

George Town, the capital of the Malaysian island state of Penang, is a glory box of Malaysia's glorious, and inglorious, man-made past dating from the late 18th century. Once a major south-east Asian trading post, the city, along with Malacca in Malaysia's south, was granted coveted UNESCO World Heritage status seven years ago in recognition of the cache of traditional south-east Asian shophouses that line its network of guild streets. Many of these shophouses have been transformed into fine boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes and art galleries. But there are many other important buildings, including the handsome, white-washed Clove Hall, which sit outside the World Heritage zone.

THE SPACE

Clove Hall is an elegant, six-bedroom Edwardian era Anglo-Malay mansion built on the site of a former coconut and  clove plantation. There's a swimming pool set in tropical gardens while inside the airy main hall is furnished with colonial and local décor and bold, black-and-white floor tiles. The property boasts an Australian connection in its more recent past. It was restored as upscale homestay accommodation six years ago by Christopher Ong, a visionary ex-banker and expatriate Australian-Malaysian,  who later sold the building to its present British-Malaysian owners to concentrate on his other boutique hotel interests in the George Town World Heritage core.

THE ROOM

In keeping with the style of the house, our comfortable and reasonably spacious upstairs room oozes its location, featuring a four-poster king-size bed with a mozzie net, an antique roll-top writing desk, polished wooden floorboards and french windows that open to an outside balcony with planters, chairs and views of the neighbourhood. There's also a TV, all-important airconditioning and complimentary Wi-Fi.

FOOD

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Breakfast is included in Clove Hall's nightly rate but there is no restaurant. However, a complimentary light afternoon tea is served to guests. But never fear, you certainly won't go hungry – George Town, and Penang as a whole, is a Malaysian food capital with a vast array of affordable restaurants and cafes. Aside from a range of casual, inexpensive Peranakan (a fusion of Malay, Chinese and other influences) restaurants, don't miss ChinaHouse. It's a funky cafe, bar, art, theatre and shopping complex located inside a series of rambling shophouses. It's the creation of Narelle McMurtrie, another expatriate Australian who, along with Ong, has been at the forefront of George Town's revival. It's the place to go in George Town for an Australian-style breakfast or lunch, served by a bevy of cool young Malaysians, as well as that all-important cafe latte or flat white.

STEPPING OUT

The World Heritage zone  is large enough to devote a day to wandering its labyrinth of streets, each of them still largely  plying a particular trade. There are plenty of places to cool off in the oft oppressive heat, and look out for the series of famous, and much photographed murals, by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, on the weathered concrete walls of shophouses. One of the most popular murals depicts a young Malaysian boy and girl riding a bicycle, the latter being a real specimen attached to the wall. George Town is also the location of the Eastern  and Oriental, one of south-east Asia's notable colonial-era  hotels, a worthy stop for high-tea, a drink or two or just a look-see.

THE VERDICT

Clove Hall is a charmer, an atmospheric and tranquil alternative to the plethora of boutique hotels inside George Town's World Heritage area.  It hasn't been over-restored, or overly modernised, so provides an authentic flavour of the city's treasure trove of local and colonial architecture.

ESSENTIALS

Doubles from $200. 11 Clove Hall Road, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Phone +604 229 0818. See clovehall.com

The writer stayed as a guest of Clove Hall and Tourism Malaysia.

HIGHLIGHT

The beautifully though not overly refurbished Edwardian-era mansion that effortlessly manages to transport guests to George Town's colonial past.

LOWLIGHT

Clove Hall's location is outside George Town's appealing UNESCO World Heritage zone, though the historic centre is an inexpensive and easy taxi ride or walk away.