By: Rachael Wheeler
While I spent Christmas Day in Singapore last year, I was lucky enough to sneak back to the UK in early December and binge on all sorts of wintery British traditions (wrapping up warm, walks through the forest, mulled wine by the fire) before heading back to the tropics for December 25th.
This year, I had no such trip planned and was facing a Singaporean Christmas without any of the festive activities that are normal to me. I talked myself into believing that this would be totally fine – a chance to create new traditions – but as time crept on, my spoiled nine-year-old self started getting really quite sad about missing out on the European holiday that I knew so well.
And then something glorious happened – I was invited to a fabulously festive weekend at Cameron Highlands Resort in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. It was for their grand Christmas Tree Lighting and the activities involved ticked most of my wintery boxes. Not only that, but temperatures in the mountains drop to a nippy 10 degrees! I could wear a coat!
To get to there, it’s a short flight (just over two hours) to Ipoh via FireFly (a propeller plane – what fun!), and then it’s a two and a half hour drive to the resort. We were picked up in a plush mini-bus and I’m ashamed to say that I nodded off as our wheels weaved along the stunning mountain roads, although I did manage to catch a few waterfalls first.
One thing you’ll be struck with when you reach the town of Cameron Highlands is how European it feels – like a quaint skiing village without the snow. The Cameron Highlands Resort itself is on another level – it was like being taken back to Christmas in Britain, but during the glitzy colonial era. Making my way up the grand staircase was a little overwhelming!
The traditionally-styled Cameron Highlands Resort, which is one of YTL’s ‘classic hotels’, would be beautiful at the best of times, but a coat of Christmas razzle dazzle gave the whole place a warm, magical sheen. Christmas trees are dotted around, fireplaces are adorned with tinsel and each room has its own wreath.
Speaking of the rooms, I almost didn’t feel elegant enough for the gorgeous teak furniture and silk finishes in my huge boudoir – although I soon let go of any guilt when I stepped onto my balcony. A far-reaching view of green mountains and unlimited fresh air to gulp down.
With the Cameron Highlands being famous for its strawberries, you’ve simply got to get stuck into the hotel’s English Afternoon Tea in Jim Thompson Tea Room. I promise that you’ve never tried strawbs this good – and you’ll be in a very happy place when you discover they come with chocolate, cream and caramel fondu.
Another of the resort’s signature activities is the Jim Thompson Mystery Trail – with Cameron Highlands being famous for the disappearance of this silk trader in 1967. He left his bungalow for a walk in the woods on Easter Sunday and was never seen again. This sparked a huge search (which, while unsuccessful, uncovered that Thompson was in the CIA!), plus the massive escalation of his silk (and consequently whisky) brand. Captain Mok, the fine chap who leads the cracking Mystery Trail from the hotel, was actually drafted in from the army to become a member of the search party in the sixties. He’s got lots of inside tit bits to offer, plus he’s a trained survival expert and can teach you all about staying alive if you too get lost in the wilderness. Wear comfortable shoes for this one – the beautiful jungle trail is steep in parts!
While it’s impossible not to feel relaxed in the mountains, Spa Village Cameron Highlands is just lovely, in a colonial-style setting with cool, fresh air whipping through while you snuggle into a fluffy gown. They have an unusual, topical array of treatments to offer. While many guests opt for the heavenly-scented strawberry wrap, my other half and I opted for the Camerons Mint experience, This involved soaking in a mint tea bath, scrubbing away any dead skin (and worries!) with sugar and lime, plus enjoying a tea leaf face mask. We were then taken upstairs for a body scrub/wrap and treated to a long, wonderful oil massage (after a rinse, of course). Take me back, please?
The evening at Cameron Highlands Resort is when the festive fairydust really begins to seep out, with crackling fires, flickering string lights and mulled wine at the ready as you leave your room for dinner. We were treated to both the hotel’s Christmas and New Year’s dinners during our stay, both of which were packaged as part of amazing events.
The first was ‘Murder Mystery in the Misty Mountains’, an event that the resort is often asked to organise, thanks to its old Hollywood feel. It’s a well-oiled affair, with brilliantly detailed characters and plot twists galore. In the afternoon, we took part in a ‘clue hunt’ to begin piecing the tale together, before heading back to dress up into posh costumes (I was a famous author whose ‘loose’ sister was killed) and get stuck into the feisty quest over dinner. There was an evidence room, another clue hunt, interviews and all sorts (yet I still didn’t guess that the butler did it!). But the real star of the evening for me was the food – the New Year’s dinner that focuses on hearty, yet light and traditional, yet inventive dishes. From the set menu, I enjoyed the seafood parcel with rock lobster bisque reduction, although my favourite part of the meal was the sensational chocolate mousse.
The second, and most poignant activity we were lucky enough to enjoy, was the Christmas Tree Lighting, a touching ceremony that saw the entire hotel – and most of its trees – being set ablaze in thousands of tiny white bulbs. The switch on was accompanied by a chorus of carols, which continued into the dining room over our Christmas Eve dinner. The traditional dining room was dressed to the nines in festive accessories, with flowers, baubles and candles wherever I glanced. The grub was fantastic, as we’d come to expect, with more interesting twists on well-loved classics. The wellington pot roast with foie gras oil infused mushroom pâté was up there with my top dish of the year, let alone weekend.
It’s safe to say that I was sad, but seasonally satisfied, as I nursed my final mulled wine over the fire on our last evening. If you’re looking to recreate those Christmas traditions from home over here in Asia, Cameron Highlands Resort is certainly the place.
Make it happen
– Firefly runs flights from Changi to Ipoh on a regular basis, or it’s a six – seven hour drive from Singapore.
– A room at Cameron Highlands Resort starts at RM 450++ per night. However, the Residents’ Package is RM 689++ per night and includes daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the option of replacing this daily breakfast with a deluxe 50-minute spa treatment, for every night of the stay (this offer is exclusively for residents and expats of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei).
– Murder Mystery activity: RM 4500 for groups of 20-40, RM 8500 for groups of 41-70
– Christmas Eve Dinner: RM 350++ per person
– New Year Eve Dinner: RM 350++ per person
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