Texas-born, Singapore-based model, actor, and TV host Linda Black heads to Sri Lankaâ€™s historic Galle Fort for a fresh look at a destination steeped in centuriesâ€™ worth of style
By Chris Kirkpatrick
Photographs by David Dobson
Beyond the bustling fish and fruit markets of Sri Lankaâ€™s southern port city, Galle, beckon the historic charms of Galle Fort, whose 17th-century ramparts and bastions encircle a small, breeze-swept peninsula. Founded by the PortugueseÂ in1588 and rebuilt by the Dutch six decades later, this seaside citadel enjoyed its heyday in the 1800s under british colonial rule, when it bustled with merchants and traders and shore-goers from provisioning P&O steamships, whose first-class passengers would invariable lodge at the grand New Oriental Hotel (now Amangalla). Galle Fort is no less beguiling today, with many ofÂ the 600-odd houses and buildings within its perimeter having been sympathetically converted into boutique hotels, shops, and eateries.
The best among the latter include the courtyard restaurant at the Fort Printers (39 Pedlar St.; 94-91/224-7977) for its menu of mezzes and tagines; Fortaleza (9 Church Cross St.; 94-91/223-3415), which inhabits a coral-walled colonial spice warehouse and excels at grilled seafood; the buzzing cafĂ© at Pedlarâ€™s Inn (92 Pedlar St.; 94-91/222-5333); and Mamas Galle Fort Roof CafĂ© (76 Leyn Baan St.; 94-91/222-6415), whereÂ the curry dishes are outshone only byÂ the rooftop views of Meeran Jumma Mosque and the palm-flanked Point Utrecht lighthouse. For the Fortâ€™s best shopping, headÂ to Church Street, where highlights rangeÂ from Souk 58 (no. 58; 94-91/222-2358) for tuk-tuk-printed cushions and silk sundressesÂ to the vintage Ceylon posters at Church Street Gallery (no. 35; 94-91/224-2504) andÂ the hand-painted ceramics at Exotic Roots (no. 32; 94-91/224-5454). Barefoot (no. 41; 94-91/222-6299), an outpost of Dominic and Nasreen Sansoniâ€™s acclaimed Colombo boutique, stocks beautiful handwovenÂ fabrics, beachwear, accessories, and the townâ€™s best selection of books, while British interior designer George Cooperâ€™s KK Collection (no. 36; 94-91/721-2391) features Indian glassware, Javanese wooden bowls, and other decorative items. Antiques hunters will wantÂ to head a block eastÂ toÂ the showroom of Olanda (30 Leyn Baan St.; 94-91/223-4398), a veritableÂ treasure trove of colonial-eraÂ furnishings displayed alongside brass statues and vintage-inspired decor items.
Nights here are best spent at Amangalla (94-91/223-3388; 10 Church St.; doubles from US$525), which took over the premises of the venerable New oriental hotel in 2005. Restored toÂ itsÂ former grandeur, the buildingÂ today features 30Â rooms and suites appointed with fine antiquesÂ and period-styled reproductions, gleaming jackwood floors, and other accouterments of colonial comfort. There are, of course, modern luxuries too,Â including a celadon-tiled swimming poolÂ flanked by shaded day beds and a spa with hydrotherapy baths and a top-notch Ayurveda program. But itâ€™s the ambience of old-world romanceÂ that sets Amangalla apart, especially inÂ its high-ceiling dining room, where sarong-clad attendants and whirling ceilingÂ fans might leave you like youâ€™ve stepped off a P&O steamer yourself.
This article originally appeared in theÂ June/July 2013 issueÂ of DestinAsian (â€śNostalgia Tripâ€ť)