Travel: Turning The Tide

  • Scott Goetz

After the tsunami hit the Sri Lankan coastal town of Galle last December, the Amangalla hotel, which had been open for only nine days, dispatched employees in its fleet of 1948 Nash Ambassadors to search for survivors. The hotel, Singapore-based Amanresorts’ first in Sri Lanka, had fared well in the tidal wave because of its setting within a perimeter of stone walls in the centuries-old Galle Fort. The 10-meter-high torrent, however, had collapsed buildings near Galle’s beachfront, torn trains from their tracks, and cast people, as well as livestock and debris, adrift. Within 24 hours, the Amanresorts rescue team had brought more than 500 displaced and injured survivors to Amangalla, which became a shelter for these victims of the catastrophe.

Two months later, Amangalla resumed operations as a hotel, but with a strengthened relationship with the local people. Before the disaster, the town’s residents had been wary of Amangalla, concerned about Amanresorts’ intentions for the group of historic structures in Galle Fort. Built in the late 17th century, the stronghold’s Dutch fort–style buildings first housed Dutch military officers, then served as a billet for British soldiers and, for the past 140 years, as the New Oriental Hotel. Entrusting these treasures to a foreign operator was, for many locals, a travesty, but according to Amanresorts marketing director Trina Dingler Ebert, sentiment changed after the catastrophe. “Opening our doors after the tsunami and our efforts to feed and assist the people,” says Dingler Ebert, “secured our place in the community.”

Amangalla certainly is secure within its fortified surroundings, and the old-world-style resort honors its Galle Fort setting’s English, Dutch, and Sri Lankan heritage. Ceylon antiques abound in public spaces, and suites contain original furnishings from the fortress. Guests dine on succulent sambals and curries below colossal chandeliers in the zaal, or great hall. (Unlike at other Amanresorts, Amangalla’s restaurant welcomes diners regardless of whether they are hotel guests.) Treatments at the resort’s spa include a cranial-sacral therapy that involves chakra work and a repositioning of the skull. Beyond the walls of Galle Fort, intricate Buddhist temples and the Rhummassala headland—home to more than 60 species of birds and the setting for local myths—present further opportunities to alter one’s state of mind.

On a beach about two hours from Galle Forte, Amanresorts has opened a second Sri Lanka property, Amanwella. The company forged ahead with construction of the resort, located near the town of Tangalle, after the development survived the tsunami with minimal damage: Its pool had to be drained of seawater. The resort, which opened in March, consists of 30 suites with lattice walls that slide back to reveal coconut palms, the beach, and the Indian Ocean.

Moving forward, Amanresorts hopes to encourage travelers to take extended vacations that encompass both Amangalla and Amanwella—not only for the company’s benefit, but for the good of the communities it has joined. “Many people have asked how they could assist Sri Lanka in its recovery,” says Dingler Ebert. “Our response has been to encourage them to visit this beautiful country. That will give the locals a future to look forward to.”

Amanresorts opened its second Sri Lanka property, Amanwella, just three months after the December 2004 tsunami.

Amangalla, +94.91.223.3388
Amanwella, +94.47.224.1333; www.amanresorts.com

Photo by James Lipman
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