This storied Sri Lankan city, centred on Galle Fort, throws on historic hotels that tell tales with every twist and turn.
Galle is an essential stop on any south coast Sri Lanka itinerary. The city is sprawling, but most visitors come for its historic coastal quarter: the Unesco-listed Galle Fort. Established in the 16th-century by Portuguese settlers (and subsequently taken over by the Dutch, then the British), today the Old Town is packed with boutiques, hip cafes and painstakingly restored hotels. Here are some of our favourite places to stay in Galle.
Want a modern, luxurious stay just a stone’s throw from the historic sights of Galle? Le Grand delivers. Sitting proudly on its own tiny peninsula, just outside the Old Town, the hotel’s irresistible pool overlooks Galle Fort and the Indian Ocean. Admire the view from your sunlounger – fresh coconut cocktail in hand, of course – or wander into the city for your culture fix.
Galle’s heritage isn’t only found within the walls of its popular fort. Take Tamarind Hill, for example: a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the Old Town, this 150-year-old mansion was once owned by a Dutch admiral and accordingly oozes colonial-era charm. Its sculpted courtyard garden, pretty pool and panelled bar all add to the allure. Ample rooms are decked out with antique furniture and traditional decor – upgrade to an even roomier Admiral or Captain suite if clawfoot bathtubs are your thing.
Want the friendly, laid-back vibe of a hostel, but the privacy and comfort of a boutique hotel? Make a beeline for the smartly renovated de Moda Boutique Hotel. After a day’s sightseeing (de Moda is a 20-minute walk or five-minute tuk-tuk from Galle Fort), you can hang out in your sleek and generously sized room, soak up the sea view from the roof terrace bar, or cool off in the teeny-tiny pool.
Beach bums, this one’s for you. CocoBay boasts its own private sandy beach, while the snorkeller-friendly Jungle Beach and sweeping sands of busy Unawatuna are just a short hike or drive away. Stretch out at a sunrise yoga session before tucking into a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast on the palm-lined seafront terrace, where you can see Galle Fort across the bay.
Architecture buffs and novices alike will appreciate the beauty of Thambili House, restored by Rohan Aluwihara, a protégé of renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Built by a Dutch spice trader over 300 years ago, today the three-bedroom luxury villa hosts travellers seeking a private bolthole in the heart of Galle Fort. Did we mention the property comes with a butler?
Unesco describes Galle Fort Hotel as “a masterpiece of cultural heritage and conservation” and the history is palpable in this 300-year-old former gem merchant’s mansion. Each of the 13 suites has an intricately carved four-poster bed; antiques and local artworks line the walls; and the original 18th-century doors and windows remain. The hotel is located in the centre of all the action, so be sure to order a gin and tonic, and watch the world go by from the street-side veranda.
This 150-year-old Dutch house on the outskirts of Galle Fort is a peaceful little hideaway. Host Harsha owns a couple of cinnamon plantations – take a tour with him to learn more about this native spice, or try it in one of the kitchen’s fragrant Sri Lankan curries. Staff are friendly and welcoming, and as there are only three rooms (the property is available for private hire, too), you’ll be treated like royalty.
If you’re a fan of minimalism, you’ll love Arabella On Boossa. All eight ensuite rooms (most with garden or sea views) are white, light and airy, enhanced with subtle Sri Lankan details. Breakfast is included, but don’t miss lunch or dinner at restaurant Ahara – the menu focuses on local, seasonal produce, and the crab and lobster curries are top notch.
Welcome to your own oasis. The grounds of riverside Ginganga Lodge are packed with native trees and luscious plants, and every view – whether it’s from the jungle-shrouded pool, your private outdoor shower or the open-air massage pavilion – is dominated by verdant green flora. High ceilings, polished wooden floors and carefully curated artworks complement the aesthetic, which lets nature take centre stage.
Charles and Maneyika, the hospitable pair behind Le Jardin du Fort, have transformed their 17th-century Portuguese house into an elegant, pastel-hued bed and breakfast (although if you’re not a fan of puppets, be warned – there’s an impressive collection on display here). Grab a homemade croissant or pain au chocolat to fuel up for a day of combing the colonial streets of Galle.
Stepping into the Prince of Galle, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported into a bygone era. Black-and-white photos adorn the walls; the hotel’s insignia, marked ‘1718’, is embossed on the entrance hall wall; and a grand piano and gramophone sit proudly in the lounge (guests are treated to live music most afternoons). There are contemporary elements, too, of course – from swish rainfall showers to the on-trend vertical herb garden.