Where to stay in Galle, Sri Lanka: Reviewing Amangalla, a luxury resort within a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Decay to decadence
"Aman will ruin you for life," someone once told me. I didn't have to stay in one to know that to be true. No other hotel group has inspired such devotional — religious, even — reverence from its moneyed fans, who call themselves "Amanjunkies". These deep-pocketed hedonists are addicted to the privacy, service, and design of the brand, so much so that they see its covetable properties as destinations in themselves.
Though Aman has a legacy of ultra-minimalist, sometimes Brutalist, aesthetic (see Aman Kyoto, Aman Tokyo, Amansara in Cambodia, Amanruya in Turkey), not all resorts in its 34-strong-and-growing portfolio follow that blueprint. Amangalla is a case in point. Occupying a 17th-century colonial gem within the ramparts of Galle's historic fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Sri Lanka's southern coast, the 28-room Amangalla is a sepia-tinted vision of the building's former life as the New Oriental Hotel. (In fact, the library houses several old family photographs of Nesta Ephramus Bohier, the hotel's last owner, alongside historical artefacts.) Time seems to stand still here: the high-ceilinged, white-washed interiors feature gleaming teak floors and tiled floors reclaimed from the original, as well as antique furnishing dating back to the 19th century. There's not a screen in sight, too. Sure, it's a world away from the calming austerity that Amanjunkies are used to, but the magic of Aman has always been its ability to build intimate sanctuaries that are meticulously designed to frame their natural landscapes — and this heritage-rich property most certainly kept to the ethos.
The rooms, accessible by traditional lock and key, continue to pay an elegant homage to the past, with grand four-poster beds, planter's chairs, ancient writing desks, Pettagana chests, arched windows, freestanding tubs, and — ahem — no TVs. Power sockets are also few and mostly hidden, so charging your devices may prove to a bit of an inconvenience. There's no slick all-in-one bedside controls, either. You want authenticity? Aman serves it well. But don't freak out just yet, urbanites, there's still Wi-Fi (complimentary), air-conditioning and hairdryers in the airy, light-filled two-sink bathroom.
An appointment at the Baths is almost essential to complete your retreat in a charming, storied town. Decidedly pared-down but no less visually arresting, Amangalla's seductive spa will greet you with its softly lit arched cloisters that lead to tranquil, candlelit treatment rooms. Book one of the hydrotherapy chambers before your session to "take the waters", a bygone phrase associated with the age-old practice of using water to treat or cure ailments. Each room comes with a sauna, a steam room, a cold plunge pool, and a heated Jacuzzi pool big enough to fit five comfortably.
To further restore your soul, Amangalla has put together an impressive food and drink menu that fully embraces its location, with (colonially) continental options like salads, pasta, and sandwiches, as well as authentic Sri Lankan plates, which the kitchen does brilliantly. Start your day with hoppers — or appam — traditional pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk or steamed rice noodles accompanied by pol sambol (a spicy shredded coconut side dish) and curry. For lunch, there's the daily-changing rice and curry plate that consists of an assortment of curries, pickled vegetables, chutney and papadom. The real highlight, though, is the explosive roti dinner, in which the Indian flatbread is done multiple ways — stir-fried, shredded with meat and vegetables.
All of Galle Fort's main attractions are minutes away from Amangalla, though you shouldn't go exploring on your own. Ask your butler to take you on a tour around town — you'll learn much more about what you're seeing when you're wandering alongside an insider. If you'll like to venture out a little bit more, the concierge can also arrange trips to nearby temples including Yatagala and Unawatuna, a tea plantation, a cinnamon estate, and more.
The utterly attentive staff look out for guests around the clock, so every time we step back into the hotel's premises, we're proffered refreshingly cold towels and cool bottles of water — a thoughtful gesture in the Sri Lankan heat. It's details like these that will live in your consciousness for some time — a memory of a vacation well-spent. And you'll want to be back (to an Aman) for more.
Amangalla is located at 10 Church St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka. For more information, visit Aman Resorts.