- Detailed Review
- Facts & Amenities
The Aman hotel group’s penchant for picking run-down properties of diamond standards in unfashionable spots, fixing them up and then soliciting a strong and loyal following is unsurpassed in the industry—and that’s exactly what happened here in Galle.
The New Oriental Hotel had an illustrious career as the grand dame of southern Sri Lanka but it fell into disrepair, as so many dames do, and became a shadow of its former self…until Aman rode up and restored it within an inch of its life to its former glory.
And today, Amangalla is one of the most elegant addresses in the world. The attention to detail and history stands out in the décor, the service and the ambiance. It has not succumbed to temptation to modernise and remains an exquisite, cultivated and immaculately dressed gentleman’s gentleman, dedicated to the comfort of visitors.
Travel back in time to an age of grace, where you can live in the tranquil heart of a still bustling and ancient fort city. From the outside, the colonial architecture with its white walls and huge shutters is reminiscent of a French town hall. A lovely terrace with beautiful baked floor tiles adorns the entrance and walking up the steps to the hotel is like stepping back in time. The navy blue, cream and rattan of the atrium is too elegant for words, complemented by the smiles and pressed uniforms of the staff. Even in the hottest months, high ceilings and wafting fans offer a cool retreat.
A slow staircase leads to most of the rooms on the lower floors, while others situated towards the rear of the building overlook the gardens. Being an Aman property, a huge pool is foremost in the layout of the land, of which, more later.
Rarely have I wanted a cold towel as much as when I arrived at Amangalla. Flanked by a couple of vintage cars, I was welcomed on the steps of the hotel by the general manager who asked after my journey while offering me a refreshing lime juice. Check-in is at reception but it was quick, their having noted my passport in advance. I was lead to my room and my luggage was waiting.
Rooms and suites
Décor in the rooms is a variation on an understated but luxurious and elegant theme. My generously proportioned chamber had a four poster bed with the finest crisp linen; high ceilings; a writing desk; a rattan ottoman; and lovely views away and yonder from the fort.
Amangalla embraces the antithesis of mod cons. The light switches are old school, the desk offers writing paper and black and white post cards; shutters are used in place of blinds or curtains; and the blissful absence of a television means no temptation to watch some inconsequential nonsense in favour of a good old fashioned book (some of which are thoughtfully provided).
My room commanded a fort view of terracotta roofs and in the distance, the sea. Other rooms look out over the gardens. One is not better than the other but if you sleep lightly you might like to request a top floor room. This is an old building and in spite of a stunning refurbishment, a nod to the original fixtures and fittings results in the odd creaking floorboard. A small price to pay.
The bathroom offers a deep, roll-top bath, beautiful twin vanities and a gorgeous, dark wardrobe in the bathroom. It’s not an enormous amount of storage space but enough if you are clever with your packing.
Plenty of soft towels and divine products were provided although, as with all Amans, they are in refillable containers so no taking anything home with you to remind you of the scent of Amangalla. Helpfully, mosquito repellent is provided and also refilled frequently. The bathroom is not technically separated from the bedroom but the WC is at least behind closed doors.
Almost all dining takes place in the main atrium or the adjoining terrace. It’s a lovely place to watch the world stroll by, especially during the divine, à la carte, breakfast. Although there is plenty of choice for a Western palate, I think their strongest point is the Sri Lankan breakfast of egg hoppers and sambal, which I could eat all day. Coffee is, thankfully, excellent and strong.
While the menu is varied, lunch and dinner was less impressive. I like a poolside lunchtime burger from time to time and while mine was good, it wasn’t extraordinary and the meat somewhat overcooked.
At dinner, the wine list was surprisingly varied. The Sri Lankan prawn curry I ordered was flavoured beautifully and spiced to perfection but the prawns themselves were overcooked.
Other restaurants options
While there are no other restaurants within the hotel, Galle Fort is on your doorstep and there are a handful of good restaurants within walking distance.
Spa and wellness
Amangalla’s baths are reminiscent of a hammam and although there are only a few treatment rooms, they are spacious, calming and smell divine. A variety of treatments are on offer but the focus is on south Asia and Ayurveda. There is also a rather elegant barber shop where several beauty and wellness treatments are available.
Pool and beach
It’s very Aman to put aside space for an enormous pool in a lovely garden at the back of the property which offers plenty of sun loungers as well as shaded ambalambas. The size is surely not only to give all guests their own corner but also to ensure that even in the hotter months, the water stays fairly cool and refreshing. Pool service, including a lunch menu, is offered and given that many guests don’t stay long enough to spend time lounging, there was never a problem with space when I was there.
Staff and service
The staff at Amangalla are graceful, charming and will bend over backwards to assist in whatever way they can. Over the years, the hotel has hosted a plethora of clientele and events; they have seen it all. And while nothing seems to faze employees here as far as demands and requests, it’s important to remember that this is Sri Lanka and there are sometimes limits to what can be sourced.
Most guests are elegant, discerning travellers, looking to explore rather than be seen. There are a few families but most guests are single or in couples, all ages but predominantly in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Everyone seems happy to exchange pleasantries and some, their life stories.
Check-out is old style at the front desk but it’s managed quickly and elegantly and a car was waiting for me just outside. My luggage was already in the boot and the general manager waved me off.
How to get there
2 hours 15 minutes by road transfer from Colombo Airport
20 Rooms & Suites