Sri Lanka’s enduring appeal for visitors stems from a seductive combination of superb beaches, tropical sunshine, a very warm welcome and a quite unique puzzle of cultures epitomised by the extraordinary relics and temples recalling the power and dignity of their ancient, lost empires. Despite the turbulence and tragic recent history of 30 years of civil strife, this bustling island has now dusted itself down and got back on its feet, making it a truly desirable holiday destination.
Sharing both close ties to India’s oldest cultures, and a colonial history of European occupation, it is an island with a legacy of millennia of interactions with Europe, and it has been known as many names during its history: to the ancient Greeks it was Taprobane, to the Arabs, Serendip, to the later European conquerors, Ceilao, Zeylan or Ceylon, and to the locals, Sri Lanka – ‘Lanka the Blessed.’
A first stop to the heart of Ceylon, Galle Fort, is therefore an appropriate beginning to get a sense of all the travel and trade which the town of Galle Fort saw over the centuries. From the immense sea-facing ramparts of this fort, you can capture the sense of flux and history which pervades the senses.
Amangalla – Grandeur And Traditions
Nothing can quite prepare you for the reality and bustle of life in Sri Lanka. As you career through the most incredibly dicey streets which approach Galle Fort, you find yourself clutching the guardrails on the TukTuk as it swerves past policemen, cows on roundabouts, cars, vans and hand-painted lorries…it is a quick introduction to how we are going to get about in the next 10 days, weaving in and out of traffic in the iconic, smartie-coloured TukTuks.
Dizzy from the chaos in town, we reach the top of the hill-rise in Galle Fort and are driven up a newly cobbled road (just finished this year) and dropped off outside an elegant staircase, marked by two huge potted papyrus plants and there is it, very discreetly languishing in the heart of the 17th fort: The Amangalla. Set in the heart of one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the hotel exudes an air of grandeur married with the traditions of by-gone days, amidst Dutch heritage, pillared verandahs and Victoriana tiles originally from Wandsworth….
As Olivia Richli, the General Manager of the Amangalla, tells me over breakfast, she took on the Aman project nearly 20 years ago, and the hotel, originally the private home of Nesta Brohier, had all the ingredients Adrian Zecha was after. In his twenties, he was living between Delhi, where he worked for TIME magazine, and Sri Lanka. It was during this era of prohibition in India that he first met Nesta as he became a regular guest at the house as a young man, who saw himself frequently invited to the most lavish parties and dinners, which Nesta threw for Indian and British high society.
The elegance of this private home, the location and the views from the top floor rooms out to the Indian Ocean were never forgotten and when a most exceptional circumstance came up to be able to keep the house and its heritage, there was no stopping Adrian Zecha creating another most exquisite Ãman hotel!
The charm of Amangalla is seen every day through its valued heritage. When you wake, the soft morning sunlight pours through the louvered shutters onto the rich, polished, timber floors, much like it did years and years ago. Outside, you hear the gentle sweeping of the terraces surrounding the green-tiled swimming pool, where fallen frangipani flowers are collected after the night winds. Olivia’s voice can then be overheard as she talks to her immaculately sarong-ed staff for morning briefings around the property, checking the table cloths are laid straight, the floor-polisher’s brushes are well-waxed, and the personal butlers are well-versed on all their guests’ requirements. Next on her list is a call to her silversmith in London, who has an order to complete in time for the New Year. The dining tables need more of the signature blue glass and silver salt & pepper sets; they too are a cast-back to an original salt seller found in the renovation of the home. This is how the house would have been run, and these are the details which make the atmosphere and give the continuity in the Ãman properties.
Amanwella – Space and Balance
The town of Tangalla is once again an explosion of traffic, stalls, colours, markets, banana bundles, fresh coconuts and the toots of TukTuks and scooters trying to avoid each other. If you have traveled this far south, take a small dusty track off the main drag, and trust your driver! The end of a fresh, leafy path brings you to the most spectacular out-look you can possibly expect. Once again, nothing can prepare you! A beautiful green grassy glade rolls down towards the golden beachfront, flanked by the Amanwella, which sits proud and majestic overlooking the bay. Unlike the surfing of the rolling waves along this horizon, this hotel and its Ocean Suites are about pure ease and indolence. Trekking up the freshly hosed-down path under the palm tree shade, following the butlers’ breezy sarong, we reach the top of the hill with relief and only wish we could have the key to the Ocean Suite.
A handsome wood door slides open onto the Ocean Suite, which boasts a view again second to none. This can naturally also be said for the elegance and simplicity of the interiors. Designed and created to work the clever Aman space and balance code, each suite has a private pool outside, a huge deluxe double bedroom, a wood-fitted bathroom and dressing area, always using indigenous supplies of timber and stone in the paneling, shutters, stone bath and flooring.
The beach resort below the Ocean Suites (if you can refer to this palm tree garden in this way), stretches along the beach front and 10 widely spaced-out wooden loungers, with pristine white toweling covers, await guests to come and breathe in the ozone…nothing could be further removed from what we would call a resort in Rimini!! A large black yoga platform built on the sea front is prepped with yoga mats and water bottles for sun salutations at 6pm. Heaven? Sorted!
The future for Sri Lanka, despite all the troubled times which now seem safely behind it, looks very dynamic. The new Expressway connects Colombo to the heritage stop of Galle and continues down to Matara, leaving Tangalla just 20 minutes away. Soon enough, the half-built bridges, unmanned motorway exits and mounds of earth you drive past, seemingly abandoned sites in the vast green expanses, will all connect, taking Sri Lanka’s transportation to a new level all the way to Hambantota International Airport, the newly built airbase which saw its first test commercial flight landings just last week! They are really and truly connecting their dots in Sri Lanka.
In-room private check-in
Full Spa facilities, baths & treatments
Yoga and Ayruvedic sessions
Outdoor pool and garden seating
Room choices: Bedrooms, Chambers, Suites, the Amangalla Suite and the Garden House
Transportation to Amangalla by car or air from Bandaranaike airport
In-room private check-in
Full Spa facilities & treatments
Yoga platform on the beach under the palm trees
Beach resort and dining
Outdoor infinity pool and terraced seating overlooking the sandy bay
Room choices: Bedrooms, Suites, Ocean View Suites each with private pool
Transportation to Amanwella by car or air