A detailed & unsponsored review of the Amangalla luxury hotel inside the Dutch Fort in Galle
Are you planning to visit Galle and do you want to stay in a very special and authentic historic place? A place to explore the unique sights in the amazing UNESCO World Heritage site (make sure to read my Galle travel guide)? Then my Amangalla review might be just what you were looking for.
The super luxury hotel chain Aman resorts runs this outstanding property inside the Dutch Fort in Galle. The colonial masterpiece has a history of more than 300 years, and once served as the headquarters of the Dutch commanders, while the British later used it to quarter their soldiers.
By booking a room at Amangalla, you get the unique opportunity to step down right into the colonial past of the Dutch Fort in an exceedingly authentic way. Everything appears just the way it must have been centuries ago.
Note: I stayed 3 nights in a Verandah Chamber as part of my 14 days Sri Lanka itinerary (<- make sure to read it!). I had no associating whatsoever with Amangalla when writing this review and paid for my stay myself.
Aman runs another hotel on the West Coast of Sri Lanka. Read my review of Amanwella here.
The history of the Amangalla
In 1865 the New Oriental Hotel opened its dark mahogany doors just behind the imposing ramparts of Galle’s Dutch fort. For 140 years, the legendary hotel was mentioned in the same breath as the Raffles or the Mandarin Oriental and attracted the same august crowd.
But the family-run hotel couldn’t bring its fame into the next century. One, though probably not the only reason, was that the former proprietress and soul of the NOH, Nesta Brohier, passed away in 1995 (here’s a lovely blog on that topic)
In 2005, after probably long negotiations, Aman Resorts took over the hotel and renamed it to Amangalla (aman means peace and galla is the Sinhalese name for Galle). They restored the hotel, added a pool and a spa, and expanded the facilities to accommodate more rooms.
Now, there are 33 rooms and suites, with ceilings as high as 6 meters – all decorated in a pleasant mix of the original period furniture and modern additions in a style reminiscent of the colonial past (here’s a link to the official website).
The second your cab stops in front of the white verandah of the super-luxury hotel, you are instantly whisked away into Galle’s past. As you are ushered through the magnificent Dutch “Zaal” (the great hall), you cannot help but hold your breath in fear of disturbing this dream of old.
Everywhere you glance, there is old silverware, furniture, maps, and even an ancient strong-box that once must have held the pay of the soldiers. The staff wears immaculate white uniforms yet again evoking the colonial pasts where servants aplenty were at the beck and call of lords and ladies.
Now, Amangalla is not quite such a place. While Galle’s best luxury hotel is very aware of the past of the property itself and the country, they added a modern twist. It’s quite hard to capture with words, but you can tell it’s an Aman, even though it does not look like any other Aman hotel at all.
But there’s something in the clean lines, the perfect service and the contemplative stillness of the hotel you’ll instantly recognize it as an Aman.
Definitely make sure to enjoy the magnificent sunset above the roofs of Galle from the top floor! The creaking hardwood stairs will add just the right flair to your little climb to the top. Plus, the staff will be happy to bring you some cocktails to go along.
The rooms & suites at Amangalla
What can I say: The rooms are a true colonial dream come true. So authentic, but still benefiting from that clean and rather reduced Aman design. The moment I opened the door to my Verandah Chamber, I knew I didn’t want to leave.
It’s not only the dark hardwood floor or the impressive four-poster bed, but there is also a nice touch of historic furniture and art wherever you look – the extremely high ceiling, that almost perfect balcony, fresh flowers, and fruits the finishing touch. It truly feels like sleeping in history, while not lacking the comfort of today.
I didn’t get to check out the other rooms of the hotel, but the Verandah Chamber was extremely spacious and had everything you are looking for in a modern super luxury hotel. Perfect design, fresh fruits, a well stocked-minibar, and not in the least ostentatious.
I gotta say that I especially loved the bathroom. The old ceramic fixures and the lovely bathtub with a window to the living area just screamed perfection. Now, Sri Lanka isn’t exactly the place to take a steaming hot bath, but I still couldn’t resist a little cold dip each evening.
It’s hard to describe, but I truly regretted not staying longer in this room. It almost felt like a waste leaving the hotel at all.
The balcony itself was quite lovely, with its blue chaise lounge but the view wasn’t particularly impressive. If I squeezed hard, I could see the pool, otherwise, it was basically looking at a couple of trees. But I guess there is only so much you can expect in a historic building. All the same, I did not regret not booking a standard room.
I don’t know about you, but being able to sit outside just adds another layer of freedom and choices – especially when you want to drink a glass of red wine after returning from dinner, etc.
Note: It’d definitely recommend getting one of the suites with a balcony (ask reservations). The actual verandahs on the ground floor were only semi-private.
If I was to criticize the rooms in this Amangalla review at all, then the shower was a bit too authentic for me, and the size of the standard rooms (just 430 square foot / 40 square meter) might not meet the demands of some travelers. Other than that, I’d say the rooms were perfect in every way.
The food / restaurant at the Aman resort
Amangalla is not exactly the largest hotel and the historic setting only allows for one restaurant, which also double functions as a lobby and breakfast room. The concept sounds like it’s bound to fail but actually happens to give the hotel a lively vibe very few other Aman hotels got.
You see, I love the privacy luxury hotels offer (and it’s probably the only real reason I book them in the first place), but when I’m enjoying a cocktail at the bar, I actually feel more comfortable when I’m not the only one sitting there. A lot of Aman hotels do have this problem.
The restaurant at Amangala is open to the public – especially the huge porch is very popular among well-to-do tourists. Most of them will settle in to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. I do have to say that the scones with their accompanying clotted cream very divine. Couldn’t say I ever had better ones in the UK.
The historic Zaal is also quite lovely, though most people prefer to sit on the terrace where you can gawk at all the tourists passing by. Which is a shame as much of the furniture and tableware dates back to the 18th century. But hot as Sri Lanka can be, it’s just so much more pleasant outside.
Breakfast was quite lovely, though a bit standard. As usual in Aman hotels, there is no buffet and only an à la carte menu. The eggs benedict were not especially inspired, while the bread and toasts were excellent, as were the preserves.
The granola I had was just that, standard granola, and for whatever reason, they diluted the fresh juices with water, which made them taste quite bland (but once I complained, the waiter brought me the real deal).
Dinner was a mixed affair. And while I wouldn’t say it tasted outright bad, I really couldn’t recommend it either, as it was quite pricey and again, a bit uninspired. But maybe that’s because I only ordered the western food and did not sample the traditional Sri Lankan fare.
Yeah, I know, never a good idea, but after 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, my stomach longed for some European cuisine. I once even ordered a pizza, but expecting a taste of Italy was probably the wrong expectation. I did enjoy the live music, though. And the bread was quite excellent as well.
Anyway, book the breakfast, stay for afternoon tea, and eat out at night.
The spa & pool of Amangalla
Amangalla has the largest pool in Galle and I do have to say that the whole spa area is quite impressive for a city hotel. You’ll probably spend most of your time exploring the city, but I couldn’t say I didn’t enjoy a quick swim before dinner.
Interestingly enough you’d expect the pool to be a bit noisy, but it’s actually a tranquil oasis of solitude. Reading in my sun lounger or in one of the sunbeds, you’d never guess you are actually inside a sprawling UNESCO World Heritage site that sees a million tourists a year.
I also had to sample the spa & booked a classic ayurvedic massage. While not entirely cheap (like 125 USD for a 60 minutes treatment), I really liked the experience. The spa is located in what appears to be a historic wing of the hotel and shares the overall colonial design of the hotel. Somewhat feels like the stables – a long corridor with many smalls chambers to the right.
The massage was well executed, there were minimal disturbances and the private little steambath that was part of every cabin a nice touch that allowed the herbals oils to truly soak into your skin. So, all in all, perfectly relaxing.
It was, to be quite fair, not an outstanding experience, as there isn’t a proper relaxation room to drink herbal tea afterward nor a little private pool. But you’ll get a good bang for your buck nonetheless.
There is also a yoga platform hidden in the garden with daily sessions in the morning.
The general service
Amangalla offered the best service of all the hotels I stayed in Sri Lanka. The service had a very high, almost European standard, and it was really hard to fault. Maybe I am a bit biased because I loved the hotel so much, but then that too would probably be a result of the service, so all is well.
Especially around restaurant/bar the restaurant the staff was very well schooled in the demands and needs of experienced travelers. As there are only proper hospitality & tourism schools around Colombo, you will quickly notice the difference when you leave the capital area (my experience at Amanwella was, sadly, not as good).
The moment you walked in, they took care of all things, knew your room numbers, name and preferences, and generally went out of their way to accommodate all my wishes.
Housekeeping was spotless, unnoticed and perfect in every way, as were there concierge and the management. Our (shared) butler was maybe a tiny tack too intrusive. Like when they bring you your first coffee in the morning, you are usually not (yet) in the mood for a long chat, but then again I am, generally speaking, not a guy to accept too much help. So, maybe that was just me.
Anyway, Amangalla aims to live up to its colonial past, and while you can’t compare the service to, let’s say, the George V in Paris, they will make you feel comfortable all the same.
Summary of my Amangalla review
What can I say, Amangalla is truly the hotel of my dreams. I always keep saying that your reason for staying at a luxury hotel should not be golden sinks and champagne, but rather a unique story that goes far beyond the ordinary.
While most tourists just walk through the UNESCO World Heritage site of Galle, you get the chance to stay in one of its most prominent landmarks. That way, your itinerary gets a depth, which is quite hard to rival.
Yet, Amangalla is not just a historic building, but also offers beautifully appointed & spacious rooms, a lovely spa, excellent service and all in all a good value. During the tourist high season, you can expect to pay between 700 and 1.000 USD per night and room. It’s quite important to remember that Amangalla is, in fact, a city hotel, and you should measure it by this standard. From this perspective, it really should rank among the top 10 – 20 of its kind hotels in the world.
Like many other Aman hotels, there is not the strongest focus on food & beverages, even though the afternoon tea is quite fantastic and breakfast quite enjoyable. At the end of the day, the many restaurants of the old town are just a short walk away, so I felt the rather mediocre quality of the dinner shouldn’t weight down the overall rating of my Amangalla review too much.
It’s easy to buy diamonds and gold (or rather sapphires in Sri Lanka), but it’s hard to buy a history. So, money permitting, you’d be downright stupid to not stay a night or two at this outstanding property. I felt so at home, I would have gladly stayed a week longer without leaving the hotel at all.