Amangalla, Galle, Sri Lanka
There is nowhere else in Sri Lanka quite like Galle Fort, a centuries-old fortified enclave that is now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Surrounded on three sides by ocean, this surprisingly spacious enclave now has an enticing collection of boutiques, restaurants and cafes tucked into its warren of narrow streets and laneways. It is not just overseas visitors who fall for Galle Fort; local couples often come here for their wedding photos, adding to the area's colourful vibe. The most endearing thing about Galle Fort, however, is that it remains a functioning neighbourhood, complete with schools, hospitals, and residents that have lived here for generations. You may even encounter the odd donkey cart.
Perched the perfect distance from the heart of the hubbub – you can stroll there easily, but won't be disturbed by hordes of tourists milling around – the building that houses Amangalla dates back more than 300 years. It has been through various incarnations in that time, starting out as the headquarters for Dutch officers. It has been a hotel since the 1860s, and opened as an Aman hotel in 2005. Many of the building's original features, including the stonework and the polished teak floors, have been retained, making this a classic example of colonial chic.
Aman Hotels famously favours sleek contemporary stylings, but here they have let the heritage buildings set the tone. In my airy room with its white-painted wooden ceiling, the furniture – including an imposing four-poster bed, planters' chairs and an old-school writing desk – is made of rich tropical wood and rattan. The spacious bathroom has a freestanding bath and a separate shower. My favourite feature is the verandah that stretches the length of the room and overlooks one of the many pockets of green space that stud the property.
Located on a shady verandah cooled by slowly spinning fans, Amangalla's restaurant offers diners plenty of choice, with Sri Lankan and western options on every menu. For breakfast, try the egg hoppers or the pittu (steamed coconut and rice flour). Dinner choices include light bites such as beetroot and quinoa salad as well as a range of Sri Lankan curries. Don't miss the sumptuous afternoon tea, which is served with a range of local teas. Top tip: if you are in the mood for a late-afternoon cocktail, head to the hotel's Sunset Balcony.
For a small property, Amangalla has quite a few surprises hidden away. Follow the ancient stone corridors and you may discover a number of small but verdant pocket gardens, as well as an inviting jade-tiled pool. The shaded cabanas are a pleasant place to while away an afternoon; the attentive attendants will ensure that a cool towel and a cold drink are never too far away. Also worth a visit is the atmospheric spa. If you are interested in learning more about the area's history, the hotel library has plenty of rich resources to explore. Don't spend all your time on the property however, as there is much to discover elsewhere in the fort, whether you are in the mood for a shopping trip or up for exploring some of the area's historic monuments, which include the marine archaeology museum and the Dutch Reformed Church.
THE ESSENTIALS 10 Church Street, Galle, aman.com Rates from $US550 including breakfast, afternoon tea and mini-bar.
HIGHLIGHT: This luxury retreat offers a quiet haven in one of Sri Lanka's buzziest destinations.
LOWLIGHT: Need-to-know for TV fans: there are no televisions in the room.
Ute Junker travelled courtesy of Sri Lankan Airlines, Amangalla and World Expeditions.