Aman’s two properties in Sri Lanka Amangalla (Sanskrit for peace and the Singhalese name for Galle) and Amanwella (a combination of peace and beach) are both diametrically opposite but equally as alluring. A picturesque two-hour drive from each other, Amangalla is situated within the 400 year old Galle Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), occupying a cluster of colonial buildings formerly known as the New Oriental Hotel; while Amanwella is close to the village of Tangalle, nestled languidly within a coconut grove on the beach.
Amangalla was re-opened in February 2005 after extensive renovation and restoration. The architecture, interiors and landscape of the property was helmed by Kerry Hill Architects Singapore, while the lighting was done by David Skelley of DJCoalition. Conceived as a grand residence (the restaurant as the Dining Room and the lobby as the Living Room), the design encapsulates the essence of a Sri Lankan home.
Influenced by the work of famous local architect Geoffrey Bawa and keeping in mind the antiquity of the property, tradition permeates Amangalla from the roof tiles (that were collected over a period of time and even bought from the houses of surrounding villagers) to the furniture (made from an aged coconut wood called Kithulat, from a traditional workshop in Bentota).
Proffering 28 bedrooms, chambers and suites, and a two storied Garden House, the master plan is a modern composition of separate pavilions connected by a series of colonnades, courtyards and reflection ponds – like a beach house exposing itself to the elements, weathered and slightly rusticated.
Extending the length of the hotel in the front is a lofty ceilinged verandah that houses the entrance. Nudged into a bygone era, guests can watch the comings and goings of the Fort while eating breakfast, enjoying afternoon tea or even sipping on an evening cocktail. Opening onto the verandah on one side, is the Great Hall or Zaal as it was known in Dutch colonial times.
Featuring soaring ceilings, period lighting and stately overhead fans, The Great Hall is a versatile space providing an intimate setting with a colonial accent. Situated at one end of the Great Hall is the Dining Room, furnished with period tables and chairs, stiff white linens and antique silverware – an amalgamation of old-style Sri Lanka and Europe.
The guest rooms at Amangalla speak the same colonial language as the public areas, enunciating similar tones, textures and forms. Polished teak floorboards (dating back to the building’s origins) and countless antiques decorate not only the halls, but the bedrooms and suites as well. Large picture windows in every room outline charming views of the Fort or the hotel’s lush gardens outside, while Chincherinchee in glass vases (the hotel’s signature bloom) speckle the enchanting interiors.
Airy and spacious, every bedroom is wrapped in crisp white linens and classic prints, peppered with solid silver and rattan touches. Complementing the polished teak or jack wood floors is the writing desk, an antique four-poster bed, chaise lounge, planter’s chair, dining table and pettagama chest, while bathrooms feature twin vanities, freestanding bathtubs, hardwood towel stands, framed full-length mirrors and an armoire.
The two-storied Garden House, dripping with old-world romanticism (including its own private butler) is located on the resort’s grounds. Enveloped by lush foliage, it feels removed from the hotel itself, yet it is just steps away from the pool. The delightful sitting room on the ground floor opens onto a bedroom, and a staircase leads to the lounge, dining area and a quaint balcony above.
Kerry Hill Architects have taken great lengths to retain as many existing trees as possible during the landscaping of this property, also planting trade mark saplings such as Frangipani in the key courtyards and public areas. Amangalla’s spa, known as ‘The Baths’ can be found hidden amongst the verdure. An arched hallway leads guests to classic treatment rooms, a yoga pavilion, salon and even a traditional barber shop.
Set within the resort’s gardens, the pool was designed to be part of the public areas. This sprawling water body embraces and reflects the elements surrounding it – its ribbed walls even mimicking wind swept ripples. Shaded ambalamas and a number of sun loungers dot the pool area where guests can loll and enjoy the day.
The stately Grande Dame of Galle Fort, Amangalla is a genteel symbol of a bygone era, where colonial charm and Sri Lanka’s rich culture combine to offer a unique experience.
Amanwella, Aman’s other property is a contemporary beach resort on the south coast of Sri Lanka – offering 30 suites, each with a private terrace and plunge pool planned within a beach fronted coconut grove.
The resort is accessed via a gravel road that winds through thick vegetation before reaching a distinctly red pebbled courtyard that leads to the Amangalla’s main facilities. This Arrival Pavilion has been inspired by Sri Lanka’s most notable modern architect, Geoffrey Bawa – it is a breezy, colonnaded, open-air structure overlooking a verdant courtyard and reflection pool, ensconcing the library at its heart.
On either side of the library is the restaurant and the lounge bar – both open on all sides, offering spectacular views of the bay. The restaurant located adjacent to the Arrival Pavilion is perched eight metres above sea level, suspended above the pool, the palm trees and the ocean beyond. Large doors create an open-plan where indoor and outdoor seating is on two elevated levels – both overlooking the fragrant Frangipani courtyard on one side and the ocean on the other.
The lounge bar stretches alongside the restaurant with a shared terrace and similar panoramic views. A staircase leads down from the restaurant and ounge bar to the pool terrace and swimming area.
The 47-metre pool, dotted with sun loungers, features a unique internal-wall design – offering guests in the pool an exclusive viewing gallery of the unfolding scenery. An alternative venue for dining, the Beach Club is located on the shore at the southern end of the property and is set amidst swaying coconut fronds.
Winding pathways lead guests to the suites which are all set along the hillside facing the beach, although some are perched nearer to the shore line. All rooms are identical in layout and design, mostly free-standing while some share a connecting terrace door, ideal for families travelling together.
Though contemporary, the design incorporates local materials such as terracotta roofing tiles and hand-hewn stone walls. Terrazzo floors finished in muted, sandy tones reflect the surrounding beachscape, while suites open on both sides encouraging seamless indoor/outdoor living.
Floor-to-ceiling glass and latticed panels reveal a private walled-in courtyard and pool on the entrance side of the dwelling, while on the other side they open onto a spacious terrace with a double sun lounger, an alfresco dining area and expansive jaw-dropping views.
Large timber sliding panels separate the interior space (a combined sleeping and living room) from the open-plan bathroom. The central area features a king-size bed, writing desk, armchair, daybed and credenza, while the spacious bathroom beyond includes a free-standing bathtub, twin vanities, a dressing area and rain shower.
Amanwella is a destination where wellness and nature go hand in hand. Spa treatments are offered in beautiful gardens by the locals, while yoga is conducted in a coconut grove on the sand. Writer Leonard Woolf seems to aptly sum-up this immeasurable Aman experience in just a few lines, “The evening air is warm and gentle. An enormous sky meets an enormous sea. The stars blaze in the sky and blaze in the sea… there is no sound in this melodrama of a tropical night except a faint lapping of the sea, and now and then a shivery stir of palm leaves.”
Text By Natalie Pedder Bajaj
Photographs Courtesy Aman Resorts