As the centre of the 15th-century sultanate founded by Parameswara, a Sumatran prince, the city of Melaka is considered to be a wellspring of Malay culture and customs. Malacca (to use the old British spelling) was awarded Unesco World Heritage status earlier this year – a point that the Malaysian hotel chain YTL has made the most of in the latest addition to its upmarket group.
As a port, Melaka was superseded first by Penang and then by Singapore. But it remained emblematic enough of Malay history for it to be the place chosen to announce Merdeka (independence) from Britain in 1956.
Prints from colonial times line the walls of the Majestic's main building, a white and pastel-green villa from the 1920s, in which the ground floor is given over to an elegant bar and reading rooms, while a stately dark wooden staircase curves its way up to the airy, shuttered dining rooms on the first floor.
Impeccable and attentive service is the order of the day, from an a la carte breakfast to extensive lunch and dinner menus. Don't miss the local special of kuih pie tee, or "top hats", crisp batter casings filled with a julienne of fried vegetables and prawns, or the delicious seabass and aubergine coconut curry.
The key attraction, however, is the spa. YTL has made its name with these – most famously at its award-winning Pangkor Laut resort further up the coast. In Melaka it has drawn on the "Peranakan" culture of the Straits Chinese, who intermingled with the Malays over the centuries. Treatments include an egg-rolling body therapy, and birds nest facial with head massage. During the latter you are invited to view video screens set in the ceilings above while you lean back; at first I took the song-and-dance routines to be by Nat King Cole; but the suave, moustachioed performer turned out to be Malaysia's legendary film star of the 50s and 60s, P Ramlee.
The Majestic Malacca is across the road from the Melaka River at 188 Jalan Bunga Raya, Melaka, Malaysia (00 606 289 8000; majesticmalacca.com). The Majestic offers complimentary walking tours past many of the city's historical landmarks. These include the Dutch Stadhuys (governor's residence) and the ruins of the Portuguese A' Famosa fort as well as the antiques markets of Jonkers Street. In addition, you see the mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples and churches of the many religions to make Melaka their home.
Time from international airport: Kuala Lumpur International Airport is 120 km north west – around 90 minutes' drive away. A taxi costs RM 180 (£30) one-way.
Large, dark wooden four posters stand near floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Melaka River. The mustard walls continue into the black-marble floored bathrooms, featuring huge, over-sized tubs and rain showers, which can be enclosed or fully opened up to the room via screen partitions. The 52 rooms and two suites are all in the new building, but the decor is sympathetic to the style of the older mansion.
Freebies: Own-brand toiletries, bottles of mineral water, fruit basket and tea and coffee-making facilities.
Keeping in touch: Cards can be bought to connect to the internet in the room.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A "Unesco World Heritage package" is available until June 2009 and costs US$219 (£146). It includes one night in a Deluxe room, breakfast, lunch and dinner (but not drinks) and a guided tour around the city. Standard doubles start at $288 (£192), room only.
I'm not paying that: The centrally-located Kancil Guest House (00 60 6 281 4044; machinta.com.sg/kancil) offers clean, basic doubles from RM38 (£7), room only.