Reborn as Amangalla boutique hotel in 2004, the grande dame of Galle Fort once welcomed throngs of travellers from globe-traversing P&O steamers as the New Oriental Hotel. Today, this luxurious retreat continues to attract cultured comfort-seekers with its blend of nostalgic fittings, centuries-old charm and modern flourishes.
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A guided fort tour with one of Amangalla's butlers
Noon, but late check-out up to 6pm is free, subject to availability. Earliest check-in is noon, although early arrivals can be accommodated after 6am on request (and at no extra charge).
Double rooms from £517.35 ($719), including tax at 19.88 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast, afternoon tea and minibar soft drinks.
At Amangalla’s seductive day spa, the Baths, candlelit treatment rooms lead off an arched hallway of low-lit cloisters. After your massage, hop between plunge pools, steam baths and saunas in the heavenly Hydrotherapy Rooms. You can succumb to the ancient indulgences of Ayurveda with three- to 14-day packages.
At the hotel
Gardens, library, yoga pavilion, the Baths day spa with hydrotherapy pools; barber shop, salon, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: minibar, iPod dock, custom-made Link Natural toiletries, after-sun lotion, lemongrass and citronella insect repellent.
Our favourite rooms
For the most mesmerising fort views, bed down in the Church Street Wing. We love Suites 8 and 14, both of which are corner rooms with arched windows overlooking the Dutch Reformed Church, 180-year old Para Mara trees, the ramparts and the sea. For privacy, secluded Suite 20 in the historic Middle Street Wing is the perfect hidey-hole. The three Garden Wing chambers aren’t far behind, and are the only rooms with balconies where you can lounge and dine.
The pool basks in a foliage-fringed courtyard that feels far removed from the centre of the fort. Soak here before lounging in chic <i>ambalamas</i> (traditional villas) decked out with double day-beds and heavenly ceiling fans.
The Baths Spa has five serene treatment rooms and an indulgent treatment menu. Choose from traditional aromatic massages, ayurvedic anointments, classical facials, reflexology, scrubs and wraps. The hotel's ayurvedic doctor is on hand to diagnose your dosha, give lifestyle advice or help heal ailments.
Ditch that Galle guidebook: there are piles of literature, maps and anecdotes on the fort in each room. For even greater insider knowledge, ask your butler to take you on a personalised tour.
The library has a covetable collection of tomes on Sri Lanka. Adjoining it is a teensy museum devoted to the history of the hotel and its previous proprietress, Nesta Brohier. Smoking is allowed outdoors and in some rooms.
Welcome. Baby cots and extra beds for under-12s are free, and there’s also a complimentary babysitting service (let staff know upon booking if you'd like to take advantage of this).
Amangalla happily accommodates kids of all ages. Kids aged up to 12 sleep for free; over 12s cost US$100 a child a night.
From tiny tots to teens, kids of all ages are catered for.
Suites can comfortably fit a couple of extra beds in the living area, making them a top choice for families. For extra space, pick the Garden House, which has a separate upstairs living room where extra beds can easily be added, and a pair of bathrooms.
Kids love wallowing in the swimming pool or delving into the plunge pools of the Hydrotherapy Spa. Cooking lessons are loads of fun, teaching youngsters the art of chocolate brownie making, or how to make a mean toffee ice-cream. Outdoors, smalls can choose between cricket lessons and kite flying on the fort’s grassy ramparts.
There isn’t a separate kids' pool, but the main courtyard swimming pool has a shallow end and there’s a lifeguard on duty from 7am–6pm every day.
With a dedicated kids' menu listing dishes such as bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and fish and chips, children are sure to feel right at home.
Book at least a day in advance for the free hotel babysitting service.
The most romantic dinner spot is by the pool, where candlelit tables are set up on request. For a memorable meal, arrange for a tabla group to serenade you. By day, perch on the Dining Room Veranda and watch the world go by.
Chic, understated attire.
Effortlessly elegant, the Dining Room offers a snapshot of a bygone era, with white-clothed tables and sparkling silverware sitting under gently whirring ceiling fans. Classic Sri Lankan and European cuisine complement the hotel’s nostalgic styling, including superb curries, succulent Australian steaks and old-school lobster thermidor.
The Zaal, or Great Hall, is a colonial crowd-pleaser of a room that spills onto the veranda. Jazz tinkles in the background and accompanies the sipping of in-house tipples. From 5pm–8pm, slurp fresh mango Bellinis at the Sunset Balcony in the Church Street Wing.
Last orders for the Dining Room is 10pm, with nightcaps poured in the Zaal bar until midnight.
You can order from the restaurant menu from 7am–11pm.
Amangalla is immersed in the charming 17th-century fort of Galle, 116 kilometres south of capital Colombo.
After you fly into Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport, jump onto a Sri Lankan Air Taxi bound for Koggala, a 20-minute drive from the hotel. These planes take just 45 minutes and cost around US$200; transfer by car takes around three-and-a-half hours and start at US$234 each way. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
The Galle Railway Station is a five-minute drive from the hotel, and transfers are free. Hop on a train at Colombo’s Fort Station and wind your way merrily down to Galle for less than US$2. The train’s pretty low-key, so lighten your load with easy-to-carry baggage and be prepared to stand if it’s full.
Get a hotel transfer from here to Amanwella from US$50 (one way) in a car.
Charter a chopper through Deccan Aviation Lanka (from around US$2,000) for the quickest transfer trip; it takes just 45 minutes and lands near Galle, with free car transfers offered by the hotel. From November–March, Deccan’s scheduled service to Galle costs a more attractive US$230 a person, although with only four seats up for grabs each day, it pays to book early.
Worth getting out of bed for
Galle Fort walks, either self-guided from the maps provided in each room, or accompanied by your loyal butler, are the best way to familiarise yourself with these breath-snatching surroundings. Make sure your hit-list includes the Dutch Reformed Church, the stained-glass windows of the Anglican Church, the old spice warehouses (now a maritime museum), the lighthouse, Flag Rock and the ramparts where locals play, amble and gossip at sunset. If there’s a cricket match taking place, you only need to wander 100 metres from the hotel to enjoy the game. Tickets to go inside the stadium are cheap as chips, but we recommend you dangle your feet over the front town-view bastion for the most stunning sights. For upmarket boutiques and eateries, scout out the corridors of the restored colonial Dutch Hospital. If you’re taken with the local tucker, sign up for a cookery lesson with Amangalla’s chef (Smith members get a class for two for free). The experience involves a trip to the markets, a cooking demonstration and a delicious lunch.
The fort has some great lunch and dinner options within flip-flopping distance. Try the Galle Fort Hotel (28 Church Street, Galle Fort; +94 (0)91 223 2870) for its lip-smacking Chinese Straits cuisine and stellar cocktail collection, or head a little further down Church Street to the Fort Printers (39 Pedlar Street; +94 (0)91 224 7977) for intimate meals set in a poolside courtyard. Expect Mediterranean- and Asian-infused dishes featuring plenty of fresh fish. For laid-back snacks and a cup of tea, park yourself on the veranda of the Pedlar’s Inn Café (92 Pedlar Street, Galle Fort; +94 (0)77 314 1477). Up in the new town, the three-course set menus at The Sun House (18 Upper Dickson Road, Galle; +94 (0)91 438 0275), a historic nutmeg-merchant’s abode, are delightful and typically feature seafood or tasty curries. Be sure to book dinner before 2pm.
If you’re keen to experience the colonial vibe without heading out of town, scurry up to Dick’s Bar at the Sun House. Here in green-and white pinstriped splendor, you can sip arrack sours and snack on mini British bites and manioc crisps in the picture-clad bar or the frangipani-flanked courtyard. If it’s sunset sipping with a view that takes your fancy, schlep a bit further to the Harbour Bar at the Lady Hill Hotel (Upper Dickson Road; +94 (0)91 224 4322) for lofty port, town and sea views.
I’m practically semi-conscious by the time our car finally pulls up in front of Amangalla. Three hours have passed since we first stumbled into Colombo Airport at sleep o’clock in the morning. Mr Smith and I had shot each other quizzical glances as we passed through the duty-free stores, stocked with a surreal display of household white goods: forget cigarettes and whiskey; here folks score fridges and washing machines when they step off the plane.
Still perplexed, Mr Smith and I had climbed into an air-conditioned car and settled in for the 120-kilometre ride south along a winding coastal road to the 17th-century fort town of Galle. I catch fleeting glimpses of crashing waves along the moonlit shore, brightly lit religious statues, and throngs of devotees attending a temple ceremony at dawn.
An apparition in white appears as we arrive at Amangalla to guide us up endless flights of stairs to the top of the three-storey building. Thankfully, we’re led straight to our Chamber Room. I spirit myself out of my clothes and into a hot shower, then gulp down some hot chocolate (a thoughtful suggestion from our apparition, otherwise known as The Butler) before surrendering myself to the soft, welcoming folds of the four-poster.
A breathtaking panorama of terracotta roofs, green leafy trees and rolling emerald waves greets me when I throw open the doors the next morning. Amangalla feels like a grand old house – the lofty ceilings, graceful archways, milk-white walls, dark wood floors and wood-and-wicker furniture hark back to the days of intrepid colonial expatriates making their mark in the East. We breakfast at the Zaal, or ‘great hall’ in Dutch, which together with the adjoining dining room and veranda forms a particularly nostalgic time-warp zone. Seated at our dining table laden with silverware and starched napkins, I find myself trying to recall where I’ve left my dusty pith helmet.
Accidental time travel is hardly surprising, considering that this elegant building has been woven into the rich tapestry of Galle’s history. Some bedtime reading from a ribbon-bound booklet reveals that the oldest surviving hotel in Sri Lanka began life in the late 17th century as the garrison headquarters of the Dutch, then the British, before it was finally converted into the Oriental Hotel.
Local Burgher businessman Albert Ephramus bought the property in 1899and renamed it the New Oriental Hotel, aka the NOH. Ownership passed down the generations and it was Albert’s granddaughter, the enigmatic Nesta, who on her 90th birthday, passed the baton to Aman Resorts.
Restored to its former glory, the NOH reopened as Amangalla, where the old and new now harmoniously exist side by side. The chef’s take on traditional Sri Lankan dishes might be modern, but they’re often served on vintage ceramic plates emblazoned with the NOH crest. Along a passageway, a rectangular-shaped hole in the smooth plaster frames a portion of the original brick walls. And in the library, pre-loved NOH artifacts sit alongside stacks of contemporary design books and magazines.
With Aman’s purist no-TV-in-room policy, guests are encouraged to get out and about to explore. Sadly, it was not the right time of year to watch whales and dolphins frolic off the coast – they pass through from December to April. Seeking a wildlife fix, Mr Smith and I sign up for a leisurely bicycle ride through villages and rice paddies, where we come across monitor lizards, iguanas, eagles, water buffaloes, geese, monkeys, squirrels and butterflies – all within our two-hour ride.
Afternoons at Amangalla are best spent joining the locals in their daily passeggiata around the heritage-listed fort. As the day softens into night, Mr Smith and I stretch our legs with groups of families and couples strolling along the broad, age-worn ramparts. Looking out over the magnificent Indian Ocean on one side and the town on the other, we pass grassy fields filled with boys playing cricket.
Brimming with character, low-rise colonial buildings line the narrow streets. Some bear patchy weather-worn paintwork, some have grand colannaded verandas, and others feel ever so nautical with their porthole-style windows. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Amangalla is my personal favourite, the Galle Library. Established in 1832, it is the oldest library in Sri Lanka, housed in a modest building fronted by a row of wooden-framed windows that wink in the late afternoon sun.
Hardcore adventurers like us need indulgent treatments at the Aman Spa (aka the Baths) to keep going, we figure, so we nip back to the hotel to continue the ancient practice of ‘taking the waters’. Our visit during the low season means we have the whole hydrotherapy room to ourselves, so we take our time flitting from the steam room to the sauna, and from the heated hydro pool to the icy plunge pool. Hydro heaven!
The Baths menu whispers its wellbeing secrets of massage, beauty and Ayurvedic treatments. Mr Smith and I both settle for the Amangalla Massage, which is carried out in absolute silence – a refreshing change from the usual frog-meets-whale music. We emerge from our hour of deep-muscle kneading into a breezy night, with the haunting strains of flute and drums in the air. Our newly nimble limbs glide past a pair of male musicians responsible for this sonic magic.
For indulgence of a culinary nature, that night we head to family-run Mama’s Guest House nearby, and dine on the modest rooftop as waves roar in the distance. We devour a Sri Lankan-style curry banquet, made up of a plethora of curries (including an intriguing mango version), condiments, pappadums and fluffy rice.
Rosy-faced from washing down our dinner with the local Lion beer, we adjourn for nightcaps at Amangalla Dining Room. In the dim light, the soft clinking of ice cubes in glasses mingles with the murmur of chatter from guests winding down for the day. Big-band tunes pour softly out from a stereo. I tap my feet to the infectious beats while Mr Smith puffs thoughtfully on his Montecristo as we savour the last moments of The Colonial Adventures of this Mr and Mrs Smith.