Penang Hill(formerly known as Flagstaff Hill) was founded by Captain Francis Light who was also the founder of Penang Island. Penang Hill started as a strategic place to build a base as it is a good lookout point and a cold place for a retreat. Thus, later in time, it has gone on to become a good place for convalescent by high position official of the British East India Company to recover from malaria(a very common and fatal tropical disease in the 1820s) and influenza. The earliest and oldest convalescent bungalow on the Hill will be Bel Retiro, Fern Hill, Convalescent (yes, it is the name of the bungalow on Mt. Hygeia), Strawberry (currently David Brown Restaurant) and Bellevue.
Penang Hill consist of more than 10 hills but 7 of the more common and easier to access and are normally explored by travellers.
The 7 Hills are:
1. Strawberry Hill
The first flat land founded in Penang hill and the first “atap” hut was built here. It was said that strawberry plants found in Malaysia today started from this hill as Captain Francis Light brought it from the garden in his hometown in UK to this place when he came. Later, John Macalister(assistant collector of customs and land revenues at Malacca) erected a 2 storey building called Strawberry House on the hill and was sold in 1830, to C. Galastawn esq. The 2nd
storey of building was burn down later and it was restored as a single storey tea kiosk. More than half a century later, it was refurbished and rebrand as the David Brown Restaurant. Today, it is famous for its scone which comes from a recipe that was passed down since 1930s.
2. Government Hill
The highest point of government hill stood Bel Retiro. It is the second flat land founded on a higher ground by East India Company officials. They built the Government Bungalow Bel Retiro here. Bel Retiro is the grandest bungalow on the Hill with two bungalows connected with a walkway, a big compound and had two colonial style terraces as the guard house. This is also a place where a huge flag staff was built to notify the defenders on the ground about any vessels that approach the Penang Island. Today, Bel Retiro is still a Penang government bungalow and it is still reserve for high government official and very important guest of the state. But the two colonial style terrace guard house is open for public.
On the other side of Government Hill lies a hidden gem of Penang Hill, the Monkeycup garden and its café Kopi Hutan which means ‘Coffee in the Jungle’ in Malay. Not many people knew about the garden but it offers a great eco-friendly environment to relax to mind extracting you away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
3. Gun Hill
The Gun hill is named after the event where the soldiers on the hill will blast a cannon to notify the defender units on the ground to look at the flag on the flagstaff. On top of Gun hill also lies an Indian Temple where it was used as a place of worship for the coolies from India who were brought into the island by the British East India Company. The coolies were brought in to carry building materials and British high position official up the hill, to built the Penang Hill railway, and to help cultivating the spice garden. The mosque on the Hill was later built after the independence day of Malaysia.
4. Halliburton Hill
It was a hill developed by Mr.Halliburton who was the first sheriff in Penang. He built a bungalow on the top of the hill and named it Belle Vue which means beautiful view in French. Throughout the years the Halliburton’s former bungalow had transformed to a hotel and later transformed into a group of businesses where it consists of a hotel, restaurant with ‘Belle Vue’, an award winning garden(a private collection of rare native plant of the owner),etc. But travellers are still able to walk through the ‘time travelling alley’ of Bellevue Hotel to the back and enjoy the scenic view of Penang island from Bellevue Restaurant.
5. Around Mt. Hygeia
All the bungalows around Mt. Hygeia were the 3rd batch of bungalows built for private use on the Hill starting in 1925. Mt.Hygeia is named after Greece’s Goddess of healing – Hygeia. It resemble people staying in the here would be blessed by God Hygeia and recover faster.
There are 5 Roads to explore the unique ‘rich people’ bungalow in the 1920s.
1) Summit Road
2) Upper Tunnel Road
3) Lower Tunnel Road
4) Viaduct Road
5) Moniot Road (the first horse track used by Francis Light)
Travellers normally would only explore Summit Road to part of the ‘rich people’ bungalow. But those adventurous travellers who like hiking are able to explore more unique bungalows by walking along the 5 routes (who knows you might discover some hidden gems during exploration)
6. Fern Hill
The Fern Hill on the right side of Summit Road. It has a very close connection with the convalescent bungalows on the Hill. Fern Hill is the place where all the nurses used to stay. Every morning, nurses would go down Fern Hill and visit all the convalescent officials of the British East India Company. The Bungalow where all the nurses stayed has been deserted but visitors are able to have an idea of how it looks like. However, visitors must be aware that some of the floors are rotten and not as strong as it used to be.
7. Lomond Hill
The first hotel on Penang Hill was built here. Initially was built by Mr.Bright in 1850s as a sanitarium. Later, sold it to a group of Dutch Planters and operate purely as a hotel named ‘The Crag’ was built here. It was taken over by Sarkies Brothers(who also operate the well known E&O Hotel-Penang and Raffles Hotel-Singapore). After World War II it was converted into ‘Upland School’ until 1992. The Craig was abandon after the school move out from the hill.