Overflowing with colonial landmarks, in the heart of a 17th century Dutch fort, rests a peaceful, and immaculately restored historic hotel, Amangalla. Galle Fort, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, houses the most charming and characteristic buildings in the ancient trading port of Galle. In the 19th century horse drawn carriages delivered parasol-bearing gentry to the famous doors of the, then New Oriental Hotel. Today, the hotel portrays the complex patina of its past in an exemplary setting, surrounded by the rich colonial tapestry of Sri Lanka's exceptional Dutch fortress.
In the 19th century the property served as the base for Dutch commanders and soldiers and later on as the center for the British army. It was later converted into The Oriental Hotel by Anastasia (Nesta) Brohier, providing the highest standards of luxury for the time and catering to the European passengers travelling between Europe and Galle port in the 19th century.
New Oriental Hotel (NOH) had a Billiard Room and a bar with a separate street entrance for the general public and it was famous among the local crowd as a place to have a drink and play Billiard or Snooker. Nesta's brother, Rod Ephrums, was a famous piano tuner back in the days.
Listen to this recorded radio broadcast from April 1987. An interview with Nesta Brohier and other Dutch descendants of Galle Fort.
Some of the walls are said to be made of sandstone and 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) thick and the ceiling of many of the rooms is about 6 metres (20 ft) in height. There are a total of 33 rooms and suites, as of 2009, some of the suites have been designed by combining several old rooms. The entry to the hotel is through the Great Hall, called "Zaal" by the Dutch, which is a Dutch colonial legacy. The hall has a high ceiling which is fronted by a shuttered verandah that faces a street with an avenue of trees. The dining hall, furnished with period furniture, provides all meals including Sri Lankan dishes, all served in traditional antique silverware.
The 19th-century vintage New Oriental Hotel was modernised by Aman Resorts Group. It became a heritage hotel under Aman in 2005 and was renamed Amangalla. They retained the traditional decor and installed modern period fittings. The Aman Group also made new additions, including a spa and a large swimming pool.
There is an air of understated luxury and decadence across the property, if it ever was possible to be understated and decadent. The aged wooden floors and tiles occasionally squeak as you walk and the four-poster beds are comfortably designed to fit within the historical surroundings. Ceiling fans in traditional tropical materials reminiscent of the Raffles’ Long Bar made me feel at home. Large windows open onto the hotel’s 200-year-old manicured gardens or the main façade. Period furniture in dark wood contrasts with the bright white walls. The bathrooms have large standing bathtubs and heritage appliques.
The courtyard is a resting place you should retire to after a hot day walking around the fort. Aman added a swimming pool lined with trees and day beds in subtly styled cabanas. There are also some tables under white cloister arches where you can enjoy a peaceful breakfast or lunch. Somehow, Aman achieves utter peace in all its dining areas.
The restaurant serves up typical Sri Lankan dishes. For breakfast, you can order a delicious coconut pancake, cooked in a hollow pan they look like helmets filled with eggs and chili paste. The crust can be dipped into the egg yolk for extra pleasure. It all seems to taste better in the beautiful dining room filled with large flower vases and the sound of a piano. Even if nobody is playing it, I could feel as if the music was still in the air.
The Lonely Planet describes the Amangalla as an "ultra posh hotel" catering to first class airline passengers.