A Teardrop From Serendib
AT FORT BAZAAR ON SRI LANKA’S SOUTHERN COAST, AN EARTHY INTERPRETATION OF LUXURY TAKES A WRITER BACK IN TIME.
At Fort Bazaar on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, an earthy interpretation of luxury takes one back in time.
Does nostalgia end up having far too easy a way with me? I suppose there’s a ring of truth to this. I’ve been compelled by the textures of the past, from ever since I can remember. My bureau of travels and writings lies tinged with the fabric and the fragrances of times gone by, my navigational compass automatically attuned towards horizons and desires drenched in vintage. Perhaps it’s a sense of longing that lies at the heart of this, the need to hold on to things and places and people often already gone.
But in the courtyard of Fort Bazaar – the Teardrop Hospitality Group’s white-accented star, I’m finding an undeniable affirmation to my love affair with wistfulness. This tango with the past has landed me, yet again, smack dab in the heart of something special. I’m in the coastal gem of Galle for an encounter with relaxation and resonance. Fortune and good judgement having played their parts, Fort Bazaar is my home for the next three nights. This is the sort of address with which I’m preconditioned to forming an immediate connection.
Fort Bazaar used to be a 17th-century townhouse. Keeping the original skeleton (together with a defining central courtyard tree) in place, Teardrop has transformed the property with rare amounts of finesse. When the Group’s Johanna Jameel tells me about photographs from the somewhat recent past, I’m taken aback to find derelict row houses of rooms, lying idle since the 1950s. It was Teardrop’s decade-log resolve that metamorphosed the image into what stands before my eyes now – a rich repository of past and authenticity, with credence given to the address’ original British and Dutch colonial heritage.
I feel a palpable buzz to my new home. It revels in the white and lime green timbre of its colour palette; it comes to life in the lilting cadence of a courtyard dappled with divans, lamps that flicker with nonchalance come nightfall, a sprinkling of red tables and chairs, and an air of serenity that compels writers to reach for their pens; and it sparkles in the communal vibe of its mainstay – the Church Street Social Restaurant & Bar – which, being accessible from the main road, is everyone’s entry point to the property. There is a quiet grace to everything I’m coming across. This is an interpretation of luxury that believes in holding back, rather than showing off.
Location-wise, this couldn’t have worked out better. Galle is a town filled with customary hustle and bustle, but the Galle Fort – also known as the Rampart of Galle – is a treasure-trove of bohemian charm that cradles the town on its southern tip. First built by the Portuguese in 1588 and fortified by the Dutch in the late 17th-century, Sri Lanka’s best-preserved colonial township is now purveyor of all
things hip and boutique on the island. There are bars that play a bit of jazz, there are family-run Sri Lankan restaurants that serve spice and heritage with every spoonful, there are homegrown fashion labels that pour on the ethnic swagger, there are bistros that hint at the area’s long-ago heritage, and there are poster shops that offer up the perfect island memento or an homage to a nearby homeland in the form of vintage Bollywood posters.
Given my hotel’s location on Church Street, all these lie within walking distance; most of them, in fact, are an aimless amble away. I pick up a poster dappled in moonlight and the area’s defining lighthouse at Stick No Bills; I head for a vodka martini to the Amangalla; I pick up some shirts and fabric from Odel; Exotic Roots welcomes me with its Pandora’s Box of trinkets and art; Fortaleza bids me farewell after feeding me with seafood brought in that morning from the tides; The Kitchen serves up pasta in an alfresco setting kissed by ocean breeze; while my fondness for quirk and a touch of whimsy are sated at the Three By TPV boutique (on the deliciously named Leyn Baan Street). Around every corner, I feel I’m walking into a confluence of old Goa meets unapologetically unanchored Riviera… ripe with the intoxication of Bohemia, blessed by the indulgences of a maritime vibe.
Amidst conversations and laughter, amidst deep discussions and light-hearted flirtation, I duck in and out of a bouquet of pleasures. Each night ends with much drunken revelry and friendships forged. Sunsets are cherished at the Galle Lighthouse, which casts a faraway eye on the ocean beyond; fresh coconut water is partaken of on early mornings from a parade of shacks lining one of the Fort’s ramparts. Sri Lanka was once known as Serendib; as serendipity would have it, I run into friends of friends who colour this experience with their accounts of Sri Lanka. My connection with the address grows a notch deeper.
From among its 18 rooms, my Bazaar Bedroom delivers uninterrupted views of a courtyard I’m much in love with – its trees, divans of cane and white wood, curios plucked from Sri Lanka’s wealth of homegrown artistry, and candlelight that frolics in the night breeze are the stuff of poetry and memoirs. Fitzgerald would’ve loved the place, I note to myself. My room’s lime green countenance houses a queen-size bed of old wood, a bathroom with a sun-light that floods its granite form with brightness, and even a retro telephone, all of which compel you to accept the past without much protest.
I’m made privy to the property’s other rooms as well: the Banyan Bedroom with its private verandah; the Upper Suite that looks out over the Fort from a private balcony; and finally, an Upper Family Suite with its additional bedroom. Fort Bazaar’s devotion to hospitality doesn’t falter at any stage; all rooms come inclusive of breakfast, mini bar soft drinks, afternoon tea, and evening mocktails.
In this boutique townhouse hotel, I find my senses and my literary proclivities being nourished with a restrained sense of grace. I head to the upper level library whenever the mood, or a phrase, takes me, and find myself consumed by its lush green setting; the Z Spa enhances my sense of languor to perfection by pampering me with a bouquet of luxurious treatments and therapies, including a collection of signature massages, each administered via homegrown red, green, pink, and black tea-blended Ophir products.
Teardrop’s hospitality legacy in Sri Lanka extends wider to some of the most compelling small boutique hotels on the island. It’s this schooling in the art of the small hotel that delivers courtesy, warmth, and respect each time I interact with Fort Bazaar’s staff.
The only time the service ethic slips is at the Church Street Social Restaurant & Bar (the latter currently sans alcohol, serving more as a café). My companions and I have placed our lunch orders 35 minutes ago, and there’s no sign of a single plate or piece of cutlery, leave alone the food. “This is how things are right now in Sri Lankan hospitality,” a local friend tells me. “Good waiting staff keeps getting poached on rote.” When the food does arrive, most of it is worthy of the wait – including a Chicken Caesar where the poultry has been replaced by the dark sizzle of crisply grilled prawns. Rustic family-style sharing platters of charcuterie and cheese, lagoon crab salad, and the mélange of Sri Lankan and Asian fusion cuisine have managed to rescue the hotel’s flagship restaurant from its island-like slumber.
Galle, and this address, continues to leave its mark on me. I soak up atmosphere within the Fort’s centuries old walls; I savour the minutiae of Sri Lankan hospitality; scones and high tea at the verandah hit just the spot at 4, as the world idles by. It’s at the verandah café that I sit as I write this to you. The thoroughfare in front of me is eliciting notes of sepia from the air. Light and life stream though the open arches. An old jazz record plays away. Once home to a merchant who dealt in spices and tea, Fort Bazaar has ended up adding an indelible fragrance to my journeys. Nostalgia, wouldn’t you know it, remains the headiest of affairs.
This Page, from top, Galle Fort welcomes the bohemian traveller with much charm and artistry; An open verandah to welcome guests and the breakfast set to Fort Bazaar Opposite, Sri Lankan quirk and originality spring to life at Odel Previous pages from left, Fort Bazaar’s central courtyard, a sanctuary for sense and soul; Church Street Social - the boutique townhouse’s road-facing restaurant
This Page, from top, Fresh coastal fare at Church Street Social;The upper library at Fort Bazaar Opposite, A wealth of boutique stores and art galleries fill Galle Fort’s inner lanes Previous pagesfrom left, The promenades in Galle Fort offer much space and time for reflection; The island’s coastal legacies creep up on you in unexpected ways
This Page, from top, Island life idles by from one of Galle Fort’s many cafes; Galle Lighthouse remains a focal point of the island voyage Opposite, Healthy, seasonal produce forms the bistro’s main philosophy Previous page Galle’s beaches, both neighbouring and distant, are at their best come dawn