A return to colonial grandeur in Sri Lanka
A bagpiper at sunset, croquet on the lawn and the Duke of Edinburgh’s first motor may not be what you expect to find in Sri Lanka. But you find them all at The Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. It has been called the ‘oldest hotel east of Suez’ and indeed this is one of the region’s most impressive and historic properties. Originally a Dutch villa it was acquired by three British businessmen and opened as a hotel in 1864, catering for the elite of the colonial era who were starting to travel to what was then Ceylon. In 1869 the Suez Canal had just opened and journey time from Europe to Asia was reduced from four months to one. Travellers came by rickshaw to experience Ceylonese hospitality, warm weather and a taste of the tropics. Since then monarchs and celebrities from all over the world have passed through the doors, and if the walls could speak they would have some amazing stories to tell. In its heyday the Grand Ballroom, the hotel’s original ballroom, was the city’s most happening party spot. Many revellers missed their ships due to the over-the-top events there.
After a 30-month restoration, the North Wing of the hotel has been refurbished to recreate its original style and architectural features. Rooms and suites, bars, lobby and ballrooms now boast the grandeur that lured famous faces including Vivien Leigh and Cary Grant, literary figures such as DH Lawrence, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Arthur Clarke who wrote the final chapters of 3001: The Final Odyssey here. Harrison Ford was a guest as were Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and even Mark Twain.
Encapsulating its long history is the hotel’s museum in the South Wing.Here, among crockery and autographs and portraits of famous guests is Prince Philip’s first personal car, a 1935 model Standard Nine that he bought for £12 when he was stationed in Ceylon.
Here you can also read about the world’s longest serving doorman, Kottarapattu Chattu Kuttan, who served at the hotel from 1942 until 2014. He was succeeded by Mr. Banda who has been working at the hotel for 50 years and now at 71 years old is still welcoming guests.
And every evening at sunset, a bagpiper in tartan kilt pipes as the national flag is ceremoniously lowered, one of many delightful touches that have endured here for centuries.
There are 155 sumptuous rooms at The Galle Face hotel, many with sea view. All have a colonial feel with wood finishes, TV, shower, safe, tea and coffee making facilities. Wi-Fi is free throughout. A croquet lawn and ocean view executive suite complete with butler have also been added to the hotel. An Occitane spa will open later this year near the lovely swimming pool close to the sea.
Superior rooms are about £137 per night for two