Turtle Bunbury

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TRAVEL

Amancipate Yourself

 

Amanresorts, the world's most stylish hotel group, now has two sumptuous resorts on Sri Lanka's south coast.

There comes a time in every persons life when realisation dawns that one has hit a new level, that there can be no way back from here. Such an epic moment invariably strikes when one enters the world of Aman. Amanresorts has been a byword for ultimate luxury ever since Adrian Zecha opened his first resort in Phuket nearly twenty years. At the close of 2006 the Zagat Survey declared Amanresorts to be the world's leading hotel group. In the past two years, Sri Lanka has been blessed by not one but two of these exceptional resorts, both delightfully located on the south coast. There follows some very good reasons as to why you should head down to Amangalla of Galle or Amanwella of Tangalle and Aman-cipate yourself.

Amangalla

Open since February 2005, Amangalla is the older of the two sister. It derives it's name from aman, or 'peace' in Sanskrit, and galla, the Singhalese name for Galle. Set in the heart of Galle Fort, Amangalla is a stunning reincarnation of the New Oriental Hotel, a renowned landmark for global travellers in the late 19th century. The building dates back to 1684 when the Dutch commandeur and his officers used it as a headquarters. It later served as a billet for British officers before its conversion, in 1863, into the New Oriental Hotel. Galle was by then the major harbour for the island of Ceylon and the hotel was perfectly pitched to service the never-ending stream of ships and steamers heading to and from the East. The hotel traded as the "The NOH" for 140 years before its acquisition by Aman and is considered the oldest hotel in Sri Lanka.

The Hotel

In the past decade, Sri Lanka has continually shown itself to be a cut above when it comes to stylish and practical interiors. The conversion of the NOH into Amangalla is a case in point and it is small wonder that this hotel has received unanimous acclaim from any who have visited. The hotel retains glimmers of the glory days, clipped murmurings of colonial ghosts, dolphins skipping on the Indian Ocean, amber cocktails and the sinking sun. It simultaneously offers a 21st century take on such traditions with its broad colonnades, teak walkways, cool welcoming verandas, marvellously high ceilings, heavy chandeliers, antique furniture and crisp white linen. Accommodation varies from sumptuous bedrooms within the hotel itself to the larger suites and chambers or the fully private Garden House. Each bedroom is beautifully appointed with four-poster king-size bed, writing desk, dining table, planters chairs, wardrobe and pettagama chest. Much of this furniture belonged to the original New Oriental Hotel.

The Fort

Amangalla has inherited much of its charm from its excellent location and one of the unmissable events is a frangipani -scented stroll around the Fort's sturdy granite ramparts at sunset. Consider taking one of Amangalla charming old Nellie bicycles for the adventure. Or perhaps your personal Butler might escort you on a clockwise tour of the Fort and spin a yarn about its vibrant history. Galle was established by the Portuguese in 1505 after one of their fleets, sailing around India, was driven by a storm and obliged to drop anchor. Dutch-enslaved chain gangs constructed the Fort in the 1650s and the British took control during the Napoleonic Wars. Over ensuing decades, an increasing numbers of Muslim traders settled in the merchant villas, enhancing the Fort's inimitable blend of European style and Asian tradition. Classified as a World Heritage Site in 1988, the Fort and surrounding town are today awash with colour and vitality, its charming cobble streets encompassing some 473 villas, home to a cosmopolitan mixture of Muslim, Hindu and Christian families.

Galle Town

Just outside the Fort's ancient gate is the bustling port of Galle. Where the Fort imbibes one with a sense of intimate calm, Galle provides a good-natured challenge that the best fun is found on the Esplanade listening to the din of umpteen thousand lively people haggling for better value at the fruit, vegetable, spice and fish bazaars. Amongst local specialities to cast an eye for, try an indigenous gemstone set in a Cartier style design, a jewelled kaftan, a locally made sarong or perhaps a simple pot of jam.

Further Afield

There are plenty of options for those who seek to venture further afield. A swim at Wijaya beach perhaps? Or an excursion to the ancient Buddhist rock temple at Yatagala? Perhaps a journey through the rice paddies for some tea at the planters bungalow of Handunugoda? Active souls might consider a trek to the virgin rainforests of Hiyare or an afternoon of deep-sea fishing at Unawatuna. Or why not consult your well-versed butler about a helicopter trip north to the ruins of Sigiriya or an air taxi to the temples of Kandy?

Back at the Ranch

Any such pastimes call for utter relaxation afterwards so anticipate plenty of cheerful snoozes in a poolside ambalama (with some chocolate brownies on the side perchance). Your Butler is always on hand to assists, perhaps a candlelit bubble bath and a lamprais dinner for two? Or maybe a lengthy stint in the hotel's stylish Baths, a myriad of serene treatment rooms, hydrotherapy pools, saunas, steam room and icy cold plunge pools. Here one can merrily 'take the waters', restore the exhausted body and bring joyous relief to a sleepy mind. Options range from traditional aromatic massages and Ayruvedic anointments to Asian pressure point therapy and straight up silky palmed Scrubs and Wraps. It is hard to resist the concept of 'The Synchronised', a massage that juicily promises "an honoured time" with not one but two therapists. If you're still stuck for ideas, why not plonk yourself in a Planters chair and enjoy a haircut or manicure while day-dreaming of the morrow and gazing meaningfully through the French windows of your bedroom upon the sumptuous views as the ocean rolls ever south towards the Antarctic. When night falls, kick back in the Zaal, a large and lively bar come drawing room where the enigmatic Mr. Deepa conjures up classy jazz and blues tunes on the piano.

Amanwella

Amanwella bills itself as "the perfect Beach House for sunbathing, moon watching and star-gazing and the pleasures of not doing much at all". These are sage words considering its setting amidst a mature coconut grove on a stunning crescent shaped beach just outside the fishing village of Tangalle. 'Wella' is the Sinhalese word for 'beach' and Godellawela Bay, just two hours drive south east of Galle, boasts some of the most stunning golden sands on Sri Lanka's coast. This beachfront resort is home to thirty open-air, super-cool minimalist yet spacious suites, each boasting its own private plunge pool and terrazzo-floor terrace. Much of the furniture is crafted from sturdy kitul wood, while the enormous bathtubs will encourage all couples to turn on the taps and relive their honeymoon. A series of rambling colonnades, ascending terraces, grassy courtyards and sleepy coconut trees connects the suites to the well-stocked library, bling-free lounge, smooth low-lit bar and the wonderfully elevated pavilion restaurant. The warm aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, sometimes inhospitable, sometimes at ease, rumble into the interminable beyond.

Out & About

For visitors who can rouse themselves from contemplation of these pristine waters, there are plenty of experiences on offer in terms of seeing the best of Sri Lanka's natural diversity, folk tradition and ancient southern history. Particularly recommended are the excursions to the famous nature reserves of Bundala, Uda Walawe and Yala, landscapes characterised by savannah and shallow wetlands, and home to the region's magnificent wildlife from elephants and leopards to wild boar, crocodiles and dozens of species of exotic birds. Or consider a trip to the Rekawa Turtle Farm, 10km east, where five species of endangered and impossibly sweet sea turtles are cared for. Historical boffins might prefer the remarkable Mulgirigala Rock Temple, a monastic site on an isolated 210m high rock that rises almost vertically out of the surrounding forest.

The Essence of Amancipation

As with Amangalla, Amanwella has its own wonderful Spa but it is the combination of the hypnotic maritime ambience and exquisite attention to detail that really grabs one's attention here. This is beach life at its hippest and by the time you dive into the voluptuous infinity-edged pool, you'll feel as though you've been blessed, however briefly, by an invisible deity with exceptionally good taste. And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of being Aman-cipated.

Contact Details

Amangalla, 10 Church Street, Galle Fort, Galle (00 94 91 223 3388; amangallares@amanresorts.com). The coolest rooms are arguably the four Garden Wing Chambers, overlooking both garden and pool, with balconies perfectly pitched for breakfast.

Amanwella, Bodhi Mawatha, Wella Wathuara, Godellawela (00 94 47 224 1333; amanwellares@amanresorts.com). All the rooms are identical, but those on the bottom terrace have easiest access to the beach and the upper terrace have best views.

For further information contact Amanresorts Central Sales and Reservations office via email: reservations@amanresorts.com. Telephone: (65) 6887 3337 or Fax: (65) 6887 3338.

 

This article appeared in Serendib (Sri Lankan Airlines) in their March - April 2007 edition.

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