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Amangalla: a stay at Sri Lanka's best hotel

Amangalla  (Aman)
Amangalla (Aman)

Where?

Amangalla is located on Sri Lanka’s south coast in the 17th century Dutch fort town of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Galle is like nothing else in Sri Lanka, a small peninsula surrounded by thick rampart walls, containing neat winding streets lined with gabled Dutch colonial houses and churches. Among them is the whitewashed Grande Dame Amangalla, which was originally built as a private residence by the Dutch East India company way back in 1684.

In 1863, it opened as the Oriental Hotel, later renamed the New Oriental, becoming a legendary stop off for steamboat passengers passing Sri Lanka. In 2004 it opened as Amangalla after a two-year renovation; the hotel celebrates its 20th anniversary this year in good stead, with Sri Lankan tourism booming once again and the hotel having recently placed 38th on the inaugural World’s 50 Best Hotel Awards – the only hotel in Sri Lanka to make the list.

Galle (Amangalla)
Galle (Amangalla)

Style

Colonial grandeur is very much the vibe here and Aman took the sensible decision to let the building do most of the talking when it came to the interior design. Making the most of its 340-year history, the hotel is packed with original features like the veranda’s patterned tiles and polished teak floorboards found throughout the property. The Great Hall and dining room is teeming with antique tables, wooden chests, sofas, chandeliers, and large mirrors, with most of the pieces being originals from the New Oriental, or careful reproductions. Despite the old-school feel, it’s all still totally glamourous and full of life, and guests are actively encouraged to explore and interact with the space so you won’t be ticked off if you prise open the 19th century safe (made in London’s Cannon Street no less).

Which room?

Amangalla has six categories across its 27 bedrooms and suites, plus a standalone two storey house hidden in the garden grounds – the ideal choice for total seclusion. Views and layouts vary, but each room offers an ensuite bathroom with freestanding tub as well as a four-poster king-size bed, writing desk, dining table, planter’s chair, wardrobe and Pettagama chest. The main difference between the rooms is the space and the views on offer, with ‘Verandah Chambers’ looking out over the lush gardens, and the spacious upper level ‘Amangalla Suites’ featuring a dedicated living room and direct views to the 17th century Dutch church next door. As you’d expect of a hotel of this stature, there are no bad rooms, and the entry level bedrooms should keep couples more than happy, while families may value more space in the suites.

A suite at Amangalla (Amangalla)
A suite at Amangalla (Amangalla)

Facilities

Although the hotel sits on a fairly busy street, its large rear garden is an almost sound-proofed haven. Here, you’ll find a beautiful 21 metre outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees and creeping tropical plants, plus sun loungers and five shaded ambalamas (double bed sized cabanas). There are a handful of tables set on a sunny platform too and our top tip is to take breakfast here in the morning instead of the main dining room or veranda – it’s so peaceful and you’ll likely have it to yourself.

Elsewhere in the gardens, there’s a yoga pavilion which hosts a free class each morning with Amangalla’s brilliant resident yoga instructor – the Aman-branded mats and blocks are a classy touch too. The hotel’s tranquil spa facility offers five softly lit treatment rooms and hydrotherapy pools, which guests can book for 30 minute sessions. Massage therapies focus on Ayurvedic healing traditions and personalised Ayurvedic programmes can be arranged with the resident doctor. There’s also a Barbershop if you fancy a traditional shave, and the Salon offers manicures and pedicures.

Food & Drink

Amangalla offers a broad menu of international classics, but it’s the superb Sri Lankan dishes that standout. For breakfast there’s egg hoppers and string hoppers served alongside an array of curries and pol sambol (coconut and chilli relish). For dinner, we feasted on Jaffna crab curry (which the chef made for us after mentioning that we hadn’t found it so far on our trip – now that’s service), fish cutlets, okra curry, dahl, beetroot, and yellow rice. It’s worth straying from the local cuisine daily around 3pm, however, for afternoon tea, which is included in the room rate. The scones are genuinely phenomenal and served with a locally made strawberry jam and a strong selection of Sri Lankan teas.

In the evenings, the upper-level sunset terrace is the place to relax in a reclining armchair and watch the sunset with a gin and tonic or Arrack Sour in hand. It’s also worth mentioning that the restaurant is open to outside guests too, so it’s possible to pop by for a meal even if you’re visiting Galle for the day.

There is free yoga each morning (Amangalla)
There is free yoga each morning (Amangalla)

Extracurricular

A one hour guided tour of Galle is included with each stay, exploring the local streets, churches, and historical buildings on foot with an Amangalla guide. There’s more than enough within Galle and the hotel itself to keep you entertained for a few days, but there are plenty of excursions further afield too, from tea and cinnamon plantations to local beaches, safaris and whale watching. Sri Lanka’s small size means that there’s always a huge amount within easy reach. And if you do want to go a little further, say up north to the famed Sigiriya, Amangalla can arrange a helicopter trip in just an hour and twenty mins.

Best for…

A true Grand Dame, Amangalla is well worthy of its place amongst the world’s best hotels and will suit honeymooning couples just as well as adventuring families and hotel history buffs.

Details

Stays at Amangalla start from 700 USD per room per night, based on double occupancy, excluding taxes, daily breakfast for two and afternoon tea. aman.com