A lit candle was gently placed in our hands, beckoning us to move forward and meet the life-sized pahana, a traditional Sri Lankan oil lamp, to set a waiting wick alight. “We have our guests do this as a sign of new beginnings,” explained the general manager at Amangalla. The gesture was accompanied by a soft chorus of “welcome to Amangalla, your home in Sri Lanka,” from the resort staff, beatific smiles all around.
Many hotels claim to offers its guests a home away from home, because being able to cultivate a sense of familiarity in a foreign land is what differentiates the average from the excellent when it comes to accommodation. All too often though, the promise deflates when faced with luxurious rooms and facilities that ultimately lack personability.
By greeting us with our first names upon arrival, Amangalla’s team implicitly assured us that they intended to deliver on their promise time again throughout our stay and that they did, in a manner that has left an indelible impression upon us — a new beginning, if you will, a fresh benchmark for how we would regard all other hotels and resorts from our stay forward.
Amangalla is one of two Sri Lankan properties owned by the luxury hotel group, Aman. Situated in the historic Galle Fort, the hotel is 100 kilometres away from Colombo’s airport, totalling about a two and a half-hour drive, with good traffic.
Every Aman hotel tries to ingrain itself into a destination as seamlessly as possible, and often, the group purchases existing properties for its ventures. In the case of Amangalla, a 17th-century Dutch colonial compound formerly known as the New Oriental Hotel has its integrity maintained, merely refurbished and updated to accommodate Amangalla’s establishment in 2005.
The colonial complex’s whitewashed walls are framed by a number of attractions in the Galle Fort, which also has the reputation of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Peeks out any of the windows in Amangalla will reveal a number of sights easily explored by foot, from the Indian Ocean that laps against the Galle Port, to the 18th-century Groote Kerk church next door, built by Dutch settlers.
There are 29 rooms, spanning the following categories — rooms, chambers, suites and one garden house, a villa-style lodging to accommodate families.
We stayed in the suite during our time at Amangalla, one of the eight available on the property. Keeping in theme with the rest of the complex, our jackwood-floored room was decorated in charming colonial furniture, with a kingsized-four poster bed and freestanding bath. A stately living room space stands adjacent to the bed and bathroom area, bearing the same design DNA. Spanning 861 square feet, the suite is as generous as the experience Amangalla guarantees.
Every guest is attached to a personal butler who is there to cater to your needs, be it booking spa appointments, arranging transport or tours, or whatever else you may require. Though most hotels these days have concierge services, the touch of personalization here adds to the homeliness Amangalla strives to convey.
The main option for all-day dining within Amangalla is at The Dining Room, which takes up half of the main hall known as The Zaal.
A continental menu is available with bites ranging from pasta to fish and chips, but the real star is the Sri Lankan menu, which changes its offering from breakfast to lunch and dinner.
Pillowy appam, known as hoppers, comes served with a piquant shredded coconut sambal, is a must for breakfast, while the daily rice and curry platter never tires as a lunch option. The latter features seven different curries signature to the country, typically dry curries made with anything from jackfruit to beetroot, winged beans and lentils, all circling a bed of local rice. It’s the taste of the rainbow, Sri Lankan style.
Where Amangalla truly excels is its capacity to create mealtime experiences unique to your stay, and the compound has various nooks that can be transformed into dining areas upon request.
The library lounge was remade into a private dining room, complete with a kitchen team cooking a wide spread of Sri Lankan roti dishes outside, all to the rhythm of a live band. On another night, a similar set-up was reinvented to host us having a traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry dinner al fresco. We were served nine different local curries to enjoy — needless to say, you’ll be well fed throughout your stay.
Amenities and activities
A tranquil pool is one of the highlights of a stay at Amangalla. Palm fronds offer shade to sunbathers, and those keen for a dip can luxuriate in the 21-metre-long emerald pool to their heart’s content.
The Baths is the on-site spa, where Ayurvedic and classical treatments, alongside manicures, pedicures, and even grooming treatments for the men. The signature Amangalla massage is particularly soothing, where your pressure points are all carefully tended to with enriching massage oils.
If too much rest and relaxation is getting you sluggish (because life is so hard), then ask your butler to take you on a walking tour around the Galle Fort, or arrange for a trip to a nearby cinnamon or tea plantation, where you can get a broader purview of Galle, Sri Lanka, and its cultural wealth.
“Welcome” would be the best way to distil how the experience made us feel throughout, what with our needs always catered to with even the most whispered of requests. From packing us small bags with fans and water for our walking tour, to small gifts and notes left by our bedside during the turn-down, closed with the chipper goodbyes and bags of snacks placed in our hands to tide us over a long drive to Tangelle — Amangalla truly made us feel at home, and that is magic, in its own way.