Last March, I enjoyed a sublime holiday in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Lufthansa A330 Business Class Frankfurt to Male
- Review: Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway
- Review: Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most amazing resort
- Review: Shangri-La Colombo Hotel (Sri Lanka)
- Review: Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amangalla (today)
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amanwella
- Review: Austrian Airlines B777 Business Class Colombo to Vienna
Today (June 13, 2018): Review of Amangalla (Fort Galle, Sri Lanka).
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Amangalla
- Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
Occupying a 17th-century Dutch colonial building within the ramparts of Galle’s historic fort, Amangalla is woven unmistakably into the rich tapestry of this enthralling city. With its original polished teak floors, antique furniture and 19th-century artefacts dating from the building’s former life as the New Oriental Hotel, a bygone era is kept elegantly intact, allowing guests an atmospheric insight into the many chapters of the storied citadel on Amangalla’s doorstep. Restored with care and brought to life by antique furnishings and decorations, the 28 rooms and suites enjoy kingsize fourposter antique beds, freestanding baths, and a living area with a writing desk and dining table. Amangalla is managed by Aman, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand.
Amangalla features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in Sri Lanka.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Amangalla provides the perfect base for exploring the historic town of Galle as it is located within the ramparts of the fort, a Unesco world heritage site. Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle reached the height of its development as a trade port in the 18th century under Dutch reign. The importance of the fort declined after the British took over the fort in 1796 and developed Colombo as their capital and main port. Built on a small rocky peninsula, Fort Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South-East Asia, combining an exceptionally attractive blend of European architectural styles and South Asian traditions. The old buildings are impeccably restored into stylish cafés and quirky shops.
- Sitting on a quiet cobblestone street, the hotel neighbours the picturesque Dutch Reformed Church (built in 1755) and the library (established in 1832), both the oldest of their kind in Sri Lanka. All of Fort Galle’s other attractions are just minutes away on foot, including an old spice warehouse, historic light house, former hospital, maritime archelogical museum, mosque and a maze of streets. Tuk-tuks can take you to the busier center of Galle town. And you can even venture further away to explore idyllic beaches, verdant tea plantations, famous temples, and even whale watching. But no matter where you wander, Amangalla always feels like a return to a tranquil home.
- The hotel is housed in a magnificent two storey mansion with an imposing white façade. The property was originally built in 1684 as the headquarters of the Dutch commanders and their staff. During the British rule, the complex was used as the quarters for their soldiers. In 1865 it was converted into the New Orient Hotel, catering to 1st-class P&O passengers travelling between Europe and Galle port in the 19th century. During much of the 20th century, it was in a decades-long slow decline and was run by the legendary Nesta Brohier, a grand lady who was actually born in room 25. In 2004, the property was completely restored to its full splendor and became the legendary Amangalla hotel. Amangalla derives its name from aman, or “peace” in Sanskrit, and galla, the Sinhalese name for the “town of Galle”.
- Trying to preserve the historical character of this landmark building while providing the highest standards of luxury and comfort by installing modern period fittings is a delicate matter that requires a love for traditions and hospitality, but Amangalla nails it. The hotel’s elegant and historic interiors are filled with antiques, chandeliers, and flower displays, giving the hotel a sense of time and place and throwing you back to the 19th century when Amangalla was the famed New Orient Hotel. But although Amanwella’s decor is somewhat different from Aman’s usual minimalist, sleek and spartan design philosophy, the property remains true to the brand’s signature ambience of understated luxury.
- The property is quite small, featuring a smart layout. Entry to the hotel is through the Great Hall, called “Zaal” by the Dutch, which has a wonderful colonial feel with overhead fans, teak floors, and a grand piano. One end of the Zaal features a dining room where tablescapes are decorated with traditional antique silverware, while the other end features an antique bar with a Bloody Marry coctail station. Two arched doorways in the Zaal’s center lead to the open-sided, high-ceilinged reception area and an elegant library, which is decorated with memorabilia from the archives of the New Oriental Hotel. The Zaal is fronted by a shuttered, street-side verandah that is the best spot in Fort Galle for lattes and people watching.
- Amangalla features 28 rooms and suites. Accommodations are either located adjacent to Amangalla’s reception area (facing the street), on the 1st or 2nd floor of the main building (also facing the street), or in a secluded, two-storey house set within the resort gardens. During my visit, I stayed in a ‘chamber veranda’ corner room, which came with a kingsize fourposter antique bed, a freestanding bathtub in the bathroom, and a living area with a writing desk and dining table. Period furniture in dark wood contrasted with the bright white walls, while pettagama chests and planter’s chairs added to the colonial ambience. Shuttered French windows gave way to a small balcony that offered a nice view of the courtyard garden.
- Like all Aman hotels, soft drinks in the minibar are complimentary.
- Amangalla’s tropical courtyard garden provides a serene retreat for relaxing after a day of exploring the town and its surrounding sights. The hotel’s jade-tiled swimming pool is centered within the resort’s gardens and measures 21 m (70 ft) by 10,5 m (35 ft). Bordering the swimming pool is a terrace containing five shaded and subtly styled cabanas and a series of sun lounges. Poolside service is provided and a variety of light meals and snacks are available. There are also some tables next to the pool on an elevated terrace under a large tree, where you can enjoy a peaceful breakfast or lunch. Also located within the courtyard garden is pavilion hosting daily yoga and meditation.
- Amangalla’s spa is known as ‘The Baths‘ and recaptures a bygone era of taking the waters as a restoration for body and mind. The facility is set along a small alley in the courtyard garden, within the lower level of the Middle Street wing. Entry is to a reception hall that is flanked on one side by a long ascending arched corridor leading to five treatment rooms. On the other side of the reception hall are the female and male locker rooms and bath areas. Each contains a small number of lockers and a dressing area leading to a hydrotherapy and water massage pool, sauna, steam and cold plunge pool. Therapies can be personalised by the spa’s Ayurvedic doctor to include massages, anointments, reflexology and scrubs.
- Amangalla’s only restaurant has an excellent reputation, and is very popular with both tourists and the local expat community. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all meals are served à la carte, either in the chic dining room of the Zaal or in the veranda. Food is excellent. Try the mouth-watering beetroot and quinoa salad or Indian Ocean clay pot. Or go for the traditional Sri Lankan curry, the hotel’s signature dish. Weather permitting, there is also a poolside dining room for breakfast and dinner. You also have the opportunity to join the hotel’s chef as he searches for the day’s ingredients at the local markets, before returning to the kitchen for a lesson in Sri Lankan cuisine.
- Located on the main building’s second floor, and overlooking the old tiled roofs of the fort, the indoor ‘sunset balcony’ is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail as the sun dips below the ocean horizon.
- Not to be missed is Amangalla’s afternoon tea, which is made with the finest Ceylon varieties and can be taken poolside, in the Zaal, on the balcony or library veranda. Tuck into delectable finger sandwiches, cakes, tarts – all accompanied by rooibos yala, Handunugoda white and other teas and infusions.
- Amangalla is a self-contained historic luxury oasis, representing everything that its mother brand Aman tries to achieve: tranquility, exclusivity, and a sense of place. Aman is the world’s most exclusive hotel brand and the company manages a fabulous collection of intimate properties across the globe. The brand is known for the understated elegance of its resorts, exquisite attention to detail, minimalist design, heartfelt service, and otherworldly locations.
- Among Aman’s habitués is a group of passionate repeat customers who call themselves ‘Aman junkies’ (count me in) and whose travel plans are determined by Aman locations. It’s a misconception that Aman junkies are always incredibly wealthy people: I prefer to spend my money on two nights at an Aman resort than two weeks at any other resort, as you pay for a unique and life-long memory. In all honesty and without exaggeration, an Aman resort makes some Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton resorts look like a mediocre Holiday Inn hotel.
- While a stay at Amangalla doesn’t come cheap, it won’t cost you a fortune as this is one of the least expensive Aman hotels (entry rates around $500 USD per night). So if you want to live the Aman experience ‘on a budget’, this may be the place to do so.
- A stay at Amangalla on the island’s southwest coast can be easily combined with a stay at its sister property, Amanwella. Both properties offer a totally different experience. While Amangalla provides a historic, romantic ambience in a UNESCO world heritage site, Amanwella offers a secluded holiday in a resort with full-on, contemporary minimalist style fronting a magnificent wild beach near the sleepy fishing town of Tangalle.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Located within walking distance from all the historic sights of Fort Galle as well as all cafés, restaurants and shops, the iconic Amangalla embodies the epitome of tropical elegance and colonial charm with a wonderful collection of antiquities, beautifully appointed rooms, a brilliant spa, delicious food, and a tranquil courtyard garden with pool. The property does not have any real cons but you may want to know the following nonetheless when considering a stay here:
- The property is housed in one of Fort Galle’s most historic and famous buildings, and some public areas are open to daytrippers (e.g. veranda, the zaal, and reception area). However, non-guests can not venture beyond the reception area, so the library, accommodation wings and courtyard garden with spa and pool all feel very private.
- The property does not have an elevator. Although most rooms and facilities are located on the ground floor, this may be an issue for the finer suites and the sundowner terrace which are located on the main building’s first and second floor and can only reached by a steep staircase. When you have difficulties walking, make sure to book a room on the ground floor.
- In line with the property’s ambience of a bygone era, the rooms do not feature a TV, although one can be provided upon request and there’s also a TV available in the library.
- If you are a light sleeper, then you should know that due to architectural restrictions and teak timber flooring you can occasionally hear the steps of other guests and staff. But let that not put you off since it’s part of the grandeur and charm of this incredible hotel. In addition, when staying in a street-front room, there might be some light noise disturbance from passing traffic during the day (nothing too bad though). Therefore, it may be best to get a room on the hotel’s top most floor or in the courtyard garden wing to avoid this.
- Be prepared to become an Aman junkie as Amangalla will raise the bar for your future trips.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 8/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 9/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Amangalla (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one complimentary à la carte lunch for two).
- Room tip: book or request a room on the hotel’s top most floor or in the courtyard garden wing when you are a light sleeper to avoid any noise disturbance.
- Room tip: book or request a room on the hotel’s ground floor when you have difficulties walking since Amangalla does not have an elevator.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Its equatorial position means that temperatures in Sri Lanka are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C (77 -86°F) and the highlands around 15-18°C (59-65°F). The tropical climate in Sri Lanka is complex as it is dictated by two monsoon seasons:
- The south-western monsoon brings rain to the Sri Lanka southern and western regions between May and September, while the dry season in this region runs from December to March. These regions are Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist areas (e.g. Colombo, resort towns, and Yala National Park).
- The north-eastern monsoon brings wind and rain to Sri Lanka’s north and eastern coastal regions between mid-November and January, and drier weather between May and September.
- There’s also an inter-monsoonal season in October and the first half of November, which sees fine weather for most of the island interspersed with sudden thunderstorms.
All in all, the drier transition months of April and September are the best to see the whole country. As with many South-East Asian destinations, the period from December to mid-April is considered the peak season for overall weather and therefore overall visitor numbers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Amangalla is a 90 minutes drive from the capital Colombo and Sri Lanka’s main airport, Bandaranaike International Airport. You could hire a car in Colombo and drive to the hotel itself (the capital and Galle are connected by highway), but you might want to consider enlisting a driver instead.