• JUDITH BAKER

The Galle Face Hotel, Colombo


A piper, swathed in a tartan kilt, is making his way down the path to the sea front playing traditional Scottish bagpipes. He continues to play as a uniformed official ceremoniously lowers the national flag of Sri Lanka.

This ceremony takes place each day at sundown at The Galle Face Hotel, one of the many old colonial practices that have endured to this day. Photo credit: Martin Sasse/lief

The Galle Face Hotel has been called the ‘oldest hotel east of Suez’ and indeed is one of this region’s most impressive and historic properties. Originally a Dutch villa it was acquired by three British businessmen and opened as a hotel in 1864, catering for the elite of the colonial era who were starting to travel to what was then Ceylon. In 1869 the Suez Canal had just opened and journey time from Europe to Asia was reduced from four months to one. Travellers came by rickshaw to experience Ceylonese hospitality, warm weather and a taste of the tropics. Since then monarchs and celebrities from all over the world have passed through the doors, and if the walls could speak they would have some amazing stories to tell. In its heyday the Grand Ballroom, the hotel’s original ballroom, was once the city’s most happening party spot. Many revellers missed their ships due to the over-the-top events there.

Photographs on the wall of the Travellers’ Bar and the hotel’s own museum show some of the faces of people who have stayed here –literary figures such as DH Lawrence, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Arthur C. Clarke who wrote the final chapters of 3001: The Final Odyssey here to Harrison Ford, who was a guest while shooting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and even Mark Twain.

The museum also houses Prince Philip’s first personal car, a 1935 model Standard Nine that he bought for £12 when he was stationed in Ceylon.

Here you can also read about the world’s longest serving doorman, Kottarapattu Chattu Kuttan, who served at the hotel from 1942 until 2014. He was succeeded by Mr. Banda who has been working at the hotel for 50 years and now at 71 years old is still welcoming guests.

There are 155 sumptuous rooms many with sea view.All have a colonial feel with wood finishes, TV, shower, safe, tea and coffee making facilities. Wi-Fi is free throughout.

Galle Face Hotel, 2 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka. Tel: +94 11 2541010

Superior rooms start from £137 per night for two.

www.gallefacehotel.com

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