COLOMBO: HERE’S CHEERS
Sri Lanka’s oldest hotel and the grand dame of Colombo social life, has completed a mammoth, two-year renovation of its historic North Wing.
Situated on the seafront overlooking the famous Galle Face Green, generally alive with families picnicking and children flying kites, the hotel opened in 1864 and quickly established a reputation for being the place to stay in the then Ceylon, claiming, like several other hotels of the era, to be the best “east of Suez”.
It took delivery of Ceylon’s first case of Pimm’s and the hotel’s newly opened and very smart Traveller’s Bar overlooking the Indian Ocean offers a cocktail list peppered with the preferred tipples of celebrity guests. And that list is very long indeed and includes emperors, queens, presidents, popes, cricketers (including the Don) and writers such as W Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekhov, Evelyn Waugh and Mark Twain. Arthur C Clarke lived here for a year, and there have been enough film stars in residence over the decades to rival an Oscars after-party.
The North Wing renovation has seen the makeover of the main lobby, 72 guestrooms and suites (including eight one-of-a-kind options), restaurants, ballrooms, the hotel facade and extensive seafront landscaping featuring restoration of the porte-cochere and addition of a croquet lawn.
The lengthy refurbishment follows the overhaul of the South Wing a decade ago, to give a total of 156 guestrooms. The new-look accommodation in the North Wing has a more contemporary feel with dark mahogany furniture and grey marble countertops in the bathrooms.
DON’T MISS: Taking a table on the terrace of the new Traveller’s Bar for a classic Pimm’s.
DINING IN: Executive chef Jan Seibold oversees a fleet of restaurants — the fine-dining 1864, with Western fare (including Australian lamb and salmon); the famous Verandah, which has been newly refurbished (have the crab curry); Sea Spray Restaurant (due to reopen at the end of this month); and a revamped poolside bar. The chef’s signature dishes include a delicious dessert of iced fennel and strawberry soup.
DINING OUT: The Gallery Café, in the former offices of revered Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, is one of the prettiest places to eat in the city. Or tuck into a sweet mud crab at Ministry of Crab in the Old Dutch Hospital precinct.
ASK THE CONCIERGE: Be sure to check out the many curios housed in the hotel’s South Wing including Prince Philip’s first car, bought in the 1940s for £12, when he was stationed in Ceylon.
CHECKING IN: From $US120 ($168). More: gallefacehotel.com.
ALSO TRY: Raffles Le Royal Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, Egypt; The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai.