Amangalla

Galle & South Coast, Sri Lanka Book from US$600

Reviewed by Meg Baber
An immaculately restored, impeccably managed 150-year-old landmark hotel, presiding over Galle’s historic fort
The Amangalla - with its resonant sense of history, sweeping entrance, magnificent Dutch imperial ‘Great Hall’, grand Dining Room, enormous chandeliers, physics-defying flower displays, highbrow library and elegant bedrooms - really is Asia’s last word in colonial splendour. Set on an elevated cobbled street, this 28-room hotel, formerly The New Oriental, overlooks majestic para trees, high rampart walls, Galle Harbour and the Indian Ocean. It's buoyed-up on the other 3 sides by church spires, minarets and a wave of terracotta tiled roofs, and feels a world away from its contemporary sister hotel the Amanwella further along the coast.

Erudite adventurers seeking a refined retreat will be in heaven. There is something remarkably reassuring about vast 300-year-old polished teak floors, starched white tablecloths, eggs Benedict and traditional afternoon tea, served upon gleaming antique silverware by discreet staff. The restaurant's constantly abuzz with local expats, and the front of the Amangalla has become a national institution - a buzzing rendezvous point for movers and shakers. Yet somehow all this energy complements rather than detracts from the exclusivity and quiet serenity of the spa, pool and garden to the rear. If David Niven or Noel Coward had visited Sri Lanka, this is where they would have stayed.

Highs

  • We fell in love with the giant leather cigar and card table on the terrace: the best spot in the fort for lattes and people watching
  • Spectacular, spacious rooms with antique furniture, teak flooring and deep soaking tubs
  • The Baths - offering a comprehensive list of Balinese, Thai and Ayurvedic indulgences, plus hydrotherapy, this is the only serious spa in the Southern province
  • The gorgeous jade-tiled pool, sunk into a verdant high-walled garden and surrounded by white-towelled teak loungers
  • Wonderful service, and the British management’s attention to detail, from seamless choreography of guests, staff and hotel events down to beautifully presented packed lunches, and a bespoke booklet detailing the history of the hotel

Lows

  • It's expensive - but you really do have every single wish taken care of
  • Regular daytrippers
  • The Great Hall cries out for a cocktail bar to liven the atmosphere
  • The steep staircase up to the finest suites and upper sundowner terrace
  • Being disappointed by the lower standards of service elsewhere after the Amangalla - save this hotel for last!

Best time to go

November through April is peak season, when the sea is calmest and the rains least intense. The Amangalla is extremely popular during these months so you will need to book ahead. December, January and February are the finest months of all weather-wise. Christmas is celebrated in style at the hotel. May and June are traditionally the wettest months but they can be surprisingly pleasant. July and August are drier but the Indian Ocean remains rough. September and October have many sunny spells although heavy rains, intense humidity and high seas can often persist.

Our top tips

  • The well-read manageress recommends Michael Ondaatje’s autobiographical Running in the Family and Galle: As Quiet as Asleep by Norah Roberts as excellent literary accompaniments to a stay at Amangalla.

  • If you need a tuk-tuk, seek the management’s advice as to which of the tuk-tuk drivers lurking on the grass are OK. Some have better social and English language skills than others.
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Spa
    Wedding
    Family
    Foodie
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Heritage Hotel
    • 28
    • Restaurant (open daily)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    • Bicycles Available
    Room:

    Rooms

    The graceful interior design of the sleeping quarters takes the Raj nostalgia trip to giddy heights. There are 5 categories of room, but all have highest-thread-count sheets and top quality mattresses on antique four-poster beds, free-standing bathtubs and excellent power showers. And the 28 rooms share 7 butlers, who act as concierges.

    During the day, the light and airy design, polished wood floors, elegant French windows, planter's chairs and writing desks inspire book reading and letter writing. Elsewhere in your room you'll find a fruit-adorned dining table and antique pettegama chests (treasure chests). The only feature that is overtly incongruous to the bygone era is a Bose iPod dock.

    We slept well in one of the garden-facing bedrooms. If you are not bothered about having much space or unforgettable views then these ground-floor economy-class rooms are beautifully finished and perfectly adequate. Next biggest are the first-floor chamber rooms - slightly bigger, with a separate sitting area.

    However, if money is no object, go for a vast suite; 2 are on the ground floor, the rest on the top floor. Our favourite was #8, with its unrivalled views through the 200-year-old para trees, over the harbour and southwest over the church, the fort and out to sea. The Amangalla suite is bigger still (125 sq.m) with 2 kingsize beds and 1 single bed, plus the space to fit 1 extra bed and 2 baby cots, so it's ideal for a family.

    Top of the range is the unique 2-storey Garden House. For honeymooners, the excessive amount of space, proximity to the pool, absolute privacy and 24/7 butler service are ideal.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Butler service
    • Cd player
    • Cots Available
    • DVD player (on request)
    • Extra beds
    • Fan
    • Hairdryer
    • Internet access
    • Internet access
    • Ipod dock
    • Mosquito net (on request)
    • Phone
    • Radio
    • Safe box
    • WiFi

    Eating

    The Amangalla restaurant has an excellent reputation, and is very popular with the local expat community. Open for lunch and dinner, as well as afternoon tea on the veranda, there's a constantly buzzy atmosphere, and guests tend to dress up for their meals.

    What the opulent and formal Dining Room lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in quality of cuisine. Try the mouthwatering smoked salmon terrine, the fillet steak and the chocolate mousse. Or go for the traditional Sri Lankan curry, the Amangalla’s signature dish - it was the most delectable we encountered on the island. Everything is beautifully presented, and all bread, croissants, cakes, scones and jams are homemade.

    Weather permitting, there is also a poolside dining room for breakfast and dinner. And if you would prefer a private, celebratory setting for an evening meal, the staff can arrange a romantic poolside table in a flash. We noted the waiters know exactly the right distance to keep in respect of your privacy.

    Breakfasts stretch from traditional Ayurvedic (mixed fruit salad with spices and porridge plus hibiscus tea) through to classic fry-ups. The snack menu takes no prisoners either; we loved the eggs Benedict and chicken-avocado baguettes.

    Within the walls of the fort are a growing number of options for eating out. For a simple lime juice or full-blown curry, Mama's Rooftop Café is Number 1 on our list because it offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the fort and environs. Pedlar's Inn is another good casual option, offering above average coffees, sandwiches, salads and free WiFi. The Fort Printers and Galle Fort Hotel are more upmarket alternatives; advance bookings recommended.

    Further afield, but never more than a 25 minute tuk-tuk ride, we recommend the following: The Sun House, The Dutch House, Kahanda Kanda, Nico’s and Why Beach for glamorous dining; Kingfisher and Wijaya Beach for laid-back beach-side seafood, pizzas and curries. Strip is the hotspot for sundowners on the beach.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Cooking classes
    • Organic produce
    • Restaurant
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Bliss out in the spa: The Baths has a sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy pools, and a number of decadent treatments on offer, from Ayurvedic massage, Balinese and Thai treatments, to the 'Foot and Facial' package. Gentlemen can enjoy a traditional shave in the Barber Shop

    • Galle Fort is a World Heritage site. A rampart walk at sunset to the sound of calls to prayer from the minarets is one of the most magical experiences Sri Lanka has to offer. You will see the old Dutch and English churches, the Governor’s residence, the tree-lined square of court, the Portuguese black fort, the lighthouse, the granite clock tower and the fort’s white-sand beach

    • Take a scenic day trip by helicopter. Ride up over the lush green hills of Kandy and on to the World Heritage site citadel of Sigiriya (Lion Rock), which was the medieval capital of Ceylon and rises 200m sheer out of the plains

    • Embark on a gentle 15km or invigorating 30km scenic mountain bike ride with Idle Tours, starting at Wijaya Beach and culminating at either the enchanted Leopard Rock hillside (think mini Machu Picchu) or with lunch at Kahanda Kanda

    • Visit the Handungoda Tea Estate

    • Go whale watching. Between December and March when the seas are calmest, blue whale spotting is ‘95% guaranteed’ and spinner dolphin spotting is ‘100% guaranteed’

    • The Amangalla provides guests with a patiently researched list of excursions, shops, antiques vendors and jewellers to chose from, most of which are within an easy 50km radius of the hotel. They also have a concierge service who can arrange almost any activity you fancy - boat trips, surfing, fishing, cooking classes, scuba diving, bird watching...

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Boat trips
    • Cooking classes
    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Museums / galleries
    • Private guided tours
    • Scuba diving
    • Swimming
    • Well being
    • Whalewatching
    • Wildlife

    Kids

    Children and babies are welcomed with genuine smiles. Baby cots, extra beds and highchairs are available, babysitting is free, and there is no charge for children aged 12 or under. However, the hotel is not designed with young kids in mind - there are antiques and lots of steps, and the pool is not walled off. Moreover, other guests are often - quite understandably - the type that would prefer children are seen and not heard. This makes it a slightly trying place in which to have a toddler or a crawler. Bringing a newborn babe would be less of a handful, and kids over 8 would enjoy the local activities and staff can arrange excursions.

    Best for:

    Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Chamber Rooms can fit 1 extra bed and 2 baby cots; Suites and The Garden House can all fit 2 extra beds and 2 baby cots

    Babysitting:

    Free babysitting on offer

    Baby equipment:

    Baby cots, highchairs

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Kids Activities on site:

    Board games, children's books, free cricket lessons

    Kids Activities nearby:

    Visits to a local wildlife sanctuary

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    8/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    9/
    Overall

    {{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},
    Feedback is only from guests who have booked and stayed through i-escape

    Rates for Amangalla