Amangalla – a luxury hotel built in an ancient fort

In the historic town of Galle on Sri Lanka’s south coast, lies Amangalla – one of the most unique hotels on the island. Built within an ancient 17th-century fort that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Amangalla has a rich legacy that dates back to the Dutch and British colonial eras.

It started as the New Orient Hotel in 1865 during the heyday of steamship travel, where it became famous for welcoming throngs of European passengers from P&O steamers. In 2005, the property was acquired by the Aman hotel brand where it was reborn as Amangalla. Aman means ‘peace’ in Sanskrit, and galla is the Sinhalese name for Galle. Today, the luxurious resort attracts travellers who are drawn to its century-old charm and its ultra-premium service.

For those not familiar with the Aman hotel brand, they are without exaggeration, one of the most exclusive hotel brands in the world. With 32 destinations in 20 countries, each resort has a small number of rooms and a ratio of around four staff to one guest. While each resort offers a boutique feel and next level service, what I love most about the Aman concept, is that no two Aman resorts are alike. The properties are meticulously designed to frame their natural settings and are renowned for offering space and privacy. This gives each resort less of a hotel vibe and more of a private (yet luxurious) home vibe.

The hotel really does feel like you’re staying at an uber rich friend’s house who has impeccable taste and style. Nothing is too over the top or showy, the luxury is understated and reflective of the destination and surrounds. The only downside, is that the resort is so good, it will be hard to tear yourself away from the properties to explore life outside of the fort. But with Amangalla as your base, you’ve got easy access to the town of Galle and the palm-fringed beaches on the south coast of the island so you won’t need to venture too far.

THE ACCOMMODATION

Amangalla is home to 31 rooms and suites that are connected by a two-story Garden House. The rooms feature polished teak floors, shuttered windows and antique or reproduction furniture. You can choose from twin beds or an epic king-sized four-poster bed that’s complimented by incredibly Instagrammable furniture including a free-standing bathtub, writing desk, dining table, pettagama chest and a planter’s chair that I almost became the owner of. I mentioned to my butler that I loved the chair, and he immediately set off to get me a price and organise a visit to the furniture maker. But Jason had to curb my enthusiasm for the chair, reminding me that this dream chair was definitely out of my budget.

We stayed in a beautiful Chamber suite, with balconies that overlooked the lush 200-year-old gardens and idyllic swimming pool. There are also rooms with mesmerising views of the fort and the Dutch Reformed Church if that’s more your vibe.

THE POOL

Aman hotels are known for having fabulous pools, and Amangalla in no exception. The 21 metre swimming pool is surrounded by palm trees and wooded sun loungers. It provides the ultimate oasis for when you need a cool respite from exploring. If you want to really settle in, there are chic ambalamas (traditional villas) decked out with over-sized day beds and heavenly ceiling fans.

THE SPA

Amangalla is home to an Ayurveda spa complex known as ‘The Baths’. Made up of five serene treatment rooms, guests can choose from a treatment menu that includes traditional aromatic massages, ayurvedic anointments, classical facials, reflexology, scrubs and wraps. There’s even an ayurvedic doctor on hand to diagnose your dosha, give lifestyle advice or help heal ailments.

THE RESTAURANT

My biggest regret while staying at Amangalla, was not making the time to have a meal in the Dining Room. With such an epic suite and a butler there to take care of everything (and snap a few photos!), we ordered our breakfast to our chambers. We managed to squeeze in one afternoon tea (which is included in your nightly rate) on the stunning veranda that faces the street. It’s the perfect place for people watching and taking in life in the fort. But I wish we’d had time to visit the Dining Room for lunch or dinner. The kitchen serves up classic Sri Lankan and European cuisine, including traditional curries, succulent Australian steaks and old-school lobster thermidor.

THE BAR

Pay a visit to The Zaal (or Great Hall) from 5-8pm and sip on fresh mango Bellinis while enjoying the balmy Sri Lankan weather. The colonial-style bar features a balcony with accompanying jazz tunes.

AMAN EXPEDITIONS

Aman hotels and resorts have a cult-like following of loyal fans, or ‘Aman junkies’. Aman junkies base trips and itineraries around Aman destinations, as once hooked, no other hotel will do. To cater to these fans even further, Aman offer round-the-world expeditions, travelling by private jet and staying exclusively in Aman properties. This year’s expedition is a 22-day trip that takes Aman Junkies with unlimited budgets to Japan (Aman Tokyo), China (Amanyangyun), Vietnam (Amanoi), Thailand (Amanpuri), Bhutan (Amankora), India (Amanbagh), Greece (Amanzoe), Montenegro (Aman Sveti Stefan), and Italy (Aman Venice).

HOW TO GET TO AMANGALLA:

Plane – you can fly from Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport to Koggala, a smaller airport that’s a 20-minute drive from the hotel. These planes (also referred to as Sri Lankan Air Taxis) take just 45 minutes and cost around US$200.

Car – if you’re flying into Colombo and renting your own car or one with a driver, expect the journey to Amangalla to take approximately two hours. We spent just over a week on the island and rented a driver with a car for the entire trip. We made our way to Amangalla from Yala where we spend an exciting few days at Chena Huts – a luxury safari resort in Yala National Park.

Train – the Galle Railway Station is a five-minute drive from the hotel, and transfers are free. For a more local experience, hop on a train at Colombo’s Fort Station and make your way to Galle for less than US$2.