Seamless service and a strong sense of history at Sri Lanka's Amangalla — Hotel Insider

This former Dutch military building, now a luxury hotel, remains a standard bearer for hospitality in this enticing corner of Galle

Spa corridor at Amangalla hotel in Galle, Sri Lanka. Photo: Aman
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Sri Lanka’s historic Galle Fort is not short of remarkable colonial-era buildings — but the one at 10 Church Street is particularly noteworthy.

Built in 1684 as a Dutch military office, the building was converted into the New Oriental Hotel in 1863, making it one of the oldest hotels in the country.

For much of the 20th century, it was run by Nesta Brohier, a formidable Dutch woman who rescued the hotel from closure and managed it with legendary flair. Pictures of her, flanked by her two Dalmatians, can still be seen in the hotel’s library, along with souvenirs charting the property’s history.

The hotel was taken over by Aman in 2005 and, nearly 150 years since it started welcoming paying guests, is still the premier place to stay in Galle. Aman prides itself on creating hotels that are a few evolutionary points beyond luxury, but that are also sensitive to the locations in which they sit. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at Amangalla.

The building has been painstakingly restored to maintain its colonial-era aesthetic, including colourful floor tiles that date back to the 1600s and authentic antique furniture that has been carefully revived.

The welcome

The statuesque 17th-century building sits on one of Galle’s primary thoroughfares, near the entrance to the fort, so is easy to locate.

Service is exceptional from the moment I step up onto the hotel’s outer veranda. Staff are clearly expecting me and smoothly guide me to an inconspicuous reception desk, located on the other side of the lobby lounge. Check-in formalities are over quickly and I am promptly shown to my room.

The neighbourhood

The whitewashed, red-roofed, three-storey property sits within Galle’s ramparts, on a wide, leafy road. Its closest neighbours include The Dutch Reformed Church or Groote Kerk, which was consecrated in 1755, and the Galle Library, which proudly proclaims via a sign above its door that it was established in 1832.

Covering just under 17 square kilometres, the Unesco-listed Galle Fort is famously easy to navigate. Amangalla is an ideal spot from which to start guided walking tours or aimless wanderings that take in the area's minuscule restaurants, quirky shops, gemstone dealers and street-side markets.

The room

In keeping with the rest of the hotel, my room serves as a stunning homage to the hotel’s historic roots.

An elongated open-plan rectangle divided into three distinct parts, it is dominated at one end by an oversized arched sash window with wooden batten shutters, offering views out over Church Street. The leafy branches of ancient rubber trees can be seen at eye level, bringing a hint of green to an otherwise pared-back space.

Unusually, the open-plan bathroom sits closest to the door, meaning the oversized, freestanding bathtub and twin sinks are among the first things you see when you enter. Beyond that, there is a king-sized four-poster bed and then a sitting area with a chaise longue, charming writing desk and glass table. With its high ceilings, spacious dimensions and restrained decorative features, the aesthetic borders on monastic, but in the best possible way.

With Aman, the distinction always lies in the details — from the pretty postcards provided in a box on the desk, to the perfectly polished antique jackwood floors, the beautifully carved headboard of the bed and the overhead fans that reiterate the space’s colonial vibe.

Running along each floor, adjacent to the rooms, is an airy conservatory-like space flanked by enormous windows that look out over Galle Fort and the sea beyond. Comfortable lounge chairs and enormous potted plants have been lined up in front of the windows, to help guests fully appreciate the spectacular views.

The service

Service is flawless at every touchpoint. When I mention in passing that I will be heading out surfing early one morning, the chef ensures I have a packed breakfast to take with me. Shashi serves as my guide for a walking tour of the fort and proves to be a font of knowledge (as well as a patient shopping companion when I stop to try on every piece of jewellery in one of Galle’s many gem shops). Management checks in to ensure everything is running smoothly over the course of my stay.

Aman has mastered the art of personalised service that is discreet and never overbearing, and this is perfectly executed by the Amangalla team.

The scene

The hotel has a 21-metre swimming pool and a yoga pavilion, but any spare time should be spent in the spa and hydrotherapy suites, which feature hot and cold plunge pools, steam rooms and saunas. At the spa, a calming combination of candlelit recesses, lofty ceilings and dramatic archways, treatments centre on Ayurvedic principles, and therapist Gayani gives me one of the best massages I’ve ever had, anywhere in the world.

The food

Running along the length of the hotel on Church Street, Veranda (set, fittingly, on a wide veranda that is open to the elements on one side, in signature colonial architectural style) is the property’s all-day dining restaurant.

I stop here for mid-morning ice coffees and people watching; use it as a refuge when a tropical storm rolls in and drenches the streets of Galle; and dine here one evening. The menu includes a thoughtful and concise selection of international dishes, including a grilled prawn banana blossom salad, pasta and risotto options, dishes from the sea, including an aromatic, spice-crusted yellowfin tuna, and from the land, including a harissa-marinated rack of lamb.

Highs and lows

The building’s architecture is both a high and a low. For me, the pared-back design is a stunning homage to the building’s storied past and is so evocative, I sometimes feel like I have travelled back in time. The minimalist approach may not be for everyone, though — only those with an appreciation for architecture, history and understated luxury.

The insider tip

Spend some time in the library, a cosy out-of-the-way space that will make you feel like you have travelled back to Galle’s very beginnings.

The verdict

Galle Fort is endlessly charming in its own right and this hotel makes it even more so. It remains a standard bearer for hospitality in this enticing corner of Sri Lanka.

The bottom line

Prices start from $850 per night for a standard room, excluding taxes;

Updated: March 31, 2023, 6:02 PM