COLOMBO: HERE’S CHEERS

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - Chris­tine McCabe

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.

CHRIS­TINE McCABE

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