Tour operators and travel agents have until recently tended to omit Colombo from their itineraries. But not including the burgeoning Sri Lankan capital in your plans, aside from all else, would mean missing some outstanding colonial-era architecture, some of which, including the Dutch Hospital, now a tasteful restaurant and retail complex, has been restored by the army following the end of the three-decade-long civil war. Maniumpathy, by contrast, is a 19th-century mansion-cum-boutique hotel that has belonged to no fewer than five generations of the Hallock family from Jaffna in Sri Lanka's Tamil-majority far north.
Guests are in the best hands at this delightful establishment, named after a town called Manipay, since it is managed by the British-owned Manor House Concepts, a collection of restored accommodation-based villas, most of which date to the 19th-century British colonial period, across the teardrop-shaped island. After such a long history, Maniumpathy only recently was transformed into a boutique hotel in a well-to-do area of Colombo. The hotel is built around a tranquil courtyard garden and pool.
Each of the eight rooms, of which there are four types, are named after a woman from various generations of the family. I've scored the 52-square-metre Annapuranie Suite, an elegant, antique-festooned ground-level room that runs directly off the garden and pool. It features a four-poster bed and a large separate bathroom. Though the room is a little dark, there is an inviting small private garden terrace running off the bedroom. Meals are served under the nearby verandah of the majestic main house but you can also opt for room service.
One of the pleasures of a visit to Sri Lanka is its traditional breakfasts, replete with local egg and string hoppers and curries. One of the best is served here at The Nandi, the hotel's low-key terrace restaurant overlooking the courtyard. Elsewhere, for larger groups, there is the opportunity to dine in the Grand Ebony Room, named after Maniumpathy's 16-seat ebony table. If you fancy heading out for lunch, don't miss the courtyard cafe at charming Barefoot Gallery on Galle Road. It doubles as the headquarters of the renowned textiles design house with branches throughout Sri Lanka.
Despite what you may read and hear, there is much to do and enjoy in Colombo with its British, Dutch and Portuguese influences. A visit to the Galle Face Hotel, the Raffles of Colombo and one of the oldest surviving colonial-era hotels in Asia, for a drink or a bite is essential as is an evening stroll along the seafront of Galle Face Green, Colombo's premier, and oft-crowded, public park. Elsewhere, don't miss frenetic Pettah markets, one of the nearest India-like experiences you'll encounter in Sri Lanka.
Maniumpathy is magnificent. It's a fine, rewarding alternative to a stay in a larger hotel and an opportunity to experience a taste of Sri Lanka's colonial history and architecture when the British referred to the island as Ceylon. The breakfasts alone are worthy of a return visit.
Doubles from $US200, low season. 129 Kynsey Road, Colombo. Ph +94 (01) 1269 6988. Maniumpathy can be booked as part of a Classic Safari Company itinerary. See classicsafaricompany.com.au; manorhouseconcepts.com; maniumpathy.com
A languid Sri Lankan breakfast taken under the eaves of the mansion overlooking the beautiful courtyard, gardens and pool.
The hotel is a little removed from the main action in Colombo but transport is plentiful and easily arranged.
Anthony Dennis visited Sri Lanka as a guest of the Classic Safari Company and Manor House Concepts.