If you are looking for a tropical destination to spend Christmas that provides a wealth of cultural treasures, culinary delights and fantastic shopping, look no farther than Sri Lanka—specifically Galle Fort.
The Amangalla lobby dressed up for Christmas
Front of the Amangalla in Galle.
The coastal city of Galle, which is 72 miles south of the capital city of Colombo, is beautified by the old Dutch Fort, which remains an icon of national heritage. A stay at the Amangalla promises serenity, aesthetic inspiration and an abundance of singular cultural opportunities. Its history springs from the early Dutch colonial period, and is located right in the heart of the preserved Dutch fort, offering guests a memorable and unparalleled stylish stay in absolute architectural splendour.
Arrive into Galle on the 23rd morning so that you can appreciate the surroundings prior to your Christmas activities.
Wakeup to the sunrise over the sea and city life starting to bustle.
Start your day with rich, deeply flavored coffee imported from Italy.
Before breakfast amble down the winding city lanes and watch as the town wakes up. Stop and admire the lovely facades and you might get lucky like we did. There are many private residences in the middle of the town and the locals are supremely proud of their conservation. If you are polite, you might be invited in for a tour of a home dating back to the Portuguese in the 1500s, the Dutch in the 1600s or the English in the 1700s.
The small town proved to be a real melting pot with Europeans, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, Persians and Indians all converging upon it. The history in itself is tragic, but it has left behind the most complex fabric to be explored.
The Anglican Church in Galle
As you walk from the hotel to the sea you will definitely pass the Anglican All Saints Church built in the late 1800s and designed by Sri Lanka’s most famous architect of the 19th century, James G. Smither.
A few blocks further and the Light House is in sight and so to are local doing a morning promenade.
Light House morning stroll in Galle
One of our favorite stories about Galle concerns the lighthouse and comes from the book, “Galle Fort, The Heritage City,” by K D Paranavitana. The lighthouse was connected to the pigeon post service between Galle and Colombo started in the last 1800s. When letters arrived overseas from America or Europe into the Galle harbour they were carried by pigeons, released from the lighthouse, to the capital city of Colombo. These swift birds traveled at rates of 95 miles per hour reaching their destination in just 3/4 of an hour.
Making your way back to Amangalla stop at the large terrace pavilion for a restful breakfast full of local tastes and activities happening on the street below.
The most beautiful place for your first meal the tiles are aglow in the morning sun.
Begin your day with a traditional Sinhalese breakfast of String Hopper noodles. String Hoppers are delicate noodles steamed and served in nests with dahl, coconut sambol and egg curry. Partner it with sweet juice from a King Coconut and you are all set.
String Hopper noodles
Spicy Coconut Sambol
Mixed with dahl and curry.
There is no denying it is very hot in Galle! If you want to do any shopping start out by 9:00 am when the stores open to beat the intense mid-day heat.
Sri Lanka is known for many things but semiprecious stones: Moonstone specifically; brilliant sapphires; gossamer lace; ebony and tea top the long list.
As you head out from the Amangalla you might encounter locals demonstrating how lace is made and stones such as Amethyst and Moonstone are polished.
Lace making. In the picture it is hard to see how her hands are flying.
Man polishes semi precious stones
Moonstone and other semi precious stones are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka.
Just steps away from the hotel is Exotic Roots a store that sells all variations in semi precious stones. You can purchase look-a-like bracelets and necklaces to designs made by jewelers such as Chan Luu (whom we love) for less than $20.00.
Semi Precious stone cuff bracelets and necklaces are abundant and cheap.
Exotic Roots also offers handmade soaps in every imaginable scent and modern styled sarongs in iridescent overlapping silk fabrics.
Exotic Roots storefront at 32 Church Street.
Handmade soaps are worth it at an exchange rate of $126 Sri Lankan rupees to the dollar.
A few steps further, also on Church street you will find Barefoot filled with colorful fabrics, handicrafts, art and soft toys. If you have children in your bunch, or children to shop for, this is your place!
During this season, Barefoot also offers a wide variety of Sri Lankan Christmas décor
Some colorful options children will love.
Off of Church Street there are many lanes to turn into and local vendors will be walking around selling lace. They do have an eye for modern styles and many of the dresses have the lacy midriff that we just saw popularized by major fashion houses this spring. Of course these creations in Galle cost under $20.00.
White lace and cotton dress.
White lace blouse, perfect to pair with jeans.
If you have just arrived in Galle you might want to head back now for a quick nap and after a breakfast of Spring Hoppers skipping lunch (with tea to look forward to) is not a problem.
Back at the Amangalla hang up your uniquely beautiful “Do Not Disturb Sign,” snack on their homemade coconut biscuits and salty spicy Muruku and take a rest on any of the gorgeous day beds in your room.
The most elegant “Do Not Disturb” sign that we have encountered to date!
Savory Muruku bites are addictive and luckily replenished daily.
If you are a bit jet-lagged you will probably wake just in time for tea at the Amangalla with their finest Ceylon tea and buttery scones served alongside homemade cream and famed strawberry jam. There is nowhere better to enjoy high tea than on the carved lounge chairs of this property housed in a 400 year-old Colonial building. The Amangalla is the only Victorian Hotel that has survived in the area and was originally the Oriental Hotel.
Ceylon tea with scones and strawberry jam.
The Zaal is the perfect place to take afternoon tea.
The Zaal or “Great Hall” as it was known in Dutch Times is the Aman’s lounge, living room and bar all rolled into one. Off of the Zaal is the Verandah and either are the ideal place for tea.
After tea plan your next days adventure by reading about Galle Fort and the surrounding area at the local library down the road. Built in the late 1800s it is definitely worth the trip and will help you make a determination of what to see tomorrow. From there you can head to the sea and be part of the early evening local “passiagata.”
The town library is steps away from the Amangalla.
Galle library has a large selection of vintage children’s books.
This is also a great place to work if you need to catch-up with anything.
Cap off your day with a traditional Sinhalese dinner of ‘Curry and Rice’ prepared by the Amangalla chef so that you can sample more than five local specialties and determine your favorite.
Steamed Basmati and Red Rice is offered alongside:
Tuna in Red Curry
Snake Gourd Mustard Curry
Lotus Root Dry Curry
Pumpkin Black Curry
Plantain Flower Curry (if you are searching for something mild try this first)
Beetroot Curry (delicious and palate refreshing)
Carrot Sambol, Chutneys, Papadum
All of the curries are served in tiny tasting bowls.
Up close, from left: Snake Gourd Mustard Curry, Pumpkin Black Curry, Beetroot Curry and Lotus Root Dry Curry.
Upon returning for the night enjoy the complimentary turn-down gifts the Amangalla provides all made by local artisans using local resources with a brief history card and details.
Bookmark made from lontar an ancient form of paper penciled with Sinhalese script.
Handmade wooden tuk tuks are placed on daybeds and in cribs for little guests.
Suba Raat-riyak (Good Night)!