Texas-born, Singapore-based model, actor, and TV host Linda Black heads to Sri Lanka’s historic Galle Fort for a fresh look at a destination steeped in centuries’ worth of style
By Chris Kirkpatrick
Photographs by David Dobson
Beyond the bustling fish and fruit markets of Sri Lanka’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 Portuguese 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 of 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 café at Pedlar’s Inn (92 Pedlar St.; 94-91/222-5333); and Mamas Galle Fort Roof Café (76 Leyn Baan St.; 94-91/222-6415), where the curry dishes are outshone only by the rooftop views of Meeran Jumma Mosque and the palm-flanked Point Utrecht lighthouse. For the Fort’s best shopping, head to Church Street, where highlights range from Souk 58 (no. 58; 94-91/222-2358) for tuk-tuk-printed cushions and silk sundresses to the vintage Ceylon posters at Church Street Gallery (no. 35; 94-91/224-2504) and 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 Sansoni’s acclaimed Colombo boutique, stocks beautiful handwoven fabrics, beachwear, accessories, and the town’s best selection of books, while British interior designer George Cooper’s KK Collection (no. 36; 94-91/721-2391) features Indian glassware, Javanese wooden bowls, and other decorative items. Antiques hunters will want to head a block east to the showroom of Olanda (30 Leyn Baan St.; 94-91/223-4398), a veritable treasure trove of colonial-era 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 to its former grandeur, the building today features 30 rooms and suites appointed with fine antiques and period-styled reproductions, gleaming jackwood floors, and other accouterments of colonial comfort. There are, of course, modern luxuries too, including a celadon-tiled swimming pool flanked by shaded day beds and a spa with hydrotherapy baths and a top-notch Ayurveda program. But it’s the ambience of old-world romance that sets Amangalla apart, especially in its high-ceiling dining room, where sarong-clad attendants and whirling ceiling fans might leave you like you’ve stepped off a P&O steamer yourself.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of DestinAsian (“Nostalgia Trip”)