FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Sri Lanka, Amangalla

Aug 1, 2013
2013 / August 2013

It’s a question I’ve been asked for as long as I’ve been a travel writer. I finally have an answer.

“What’s your favorite hotel?”

Here it is, discretely occupying a three-story Dutch colonial building within the walls of Galle Fort in southern Sri Lanka. There is no name above the entrance; no outward proclamation it is even a hotel. My wife and I ascend the steps to the veranda, where immaculately liveried staff emerge from the shadows to receive us with warm smiles and cool face towels. “Welcome to Amangalla.”

Most tourists walk by, oblivious. Few will have heard of Aman Resorts, which operates boutique properties across Asia and in a handful of places beyond. This most exclusive of hotel groups is a secret shared among discerning travelers.

At an Aman hotel, you can be sure of a rare kind of ambience: refined, understated, yet homey. You can be confident of service that will be attentive but never intrusive. And because every guest feels part of the same club, you will find conversations flow easily.

On first arrival, we are ushered from the veranda into the adjacent zaal (or great hall), an airy room with a polished wooden floor, solid colonial furniture and a high ceiling from which the chandeliers wobble lazily in the breeze stirred by the fans. I am instantly won over.

This is my comfort zone. I grew up in a colonial house in the tropics, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the grand (and often faded) hotels that remain from that era.

Amangalla’s lineage reaches back to 1863, when Sri Lanka was British Ceylon. Back then, a hand-painted sign above the entrance identified this building as the Oriental Hotel. Later it became the New Oriental Hotel, inherited by a remarkable woman, Nesta Brohier, who was born in Room 25 in 1905. She presided over the property well into her 90s.

On Nesta’s death, the hotel was taken over by Aman Resorts. Amangalla launched in 2005 after a complete refurbishment. In its new incarnation, there is nothing faded about the grandeur. Modern amenities and standards of service dovetail seamlessly with an environment that immerses you in another age.

I could happily sit for hours in one of the teak planter’s chairs in the zaal, sipping a gin and tonic and imagining the colonial assignations and intrigues these walls have borne witness to. But on my first afternoon, there is no time for that. I have an appointment at The Baths, the hotel’s celebrated spa.

As I have confessed before on these pages, spas are not within my comfort zone. I struggle with the etiquette and with the concept of lying around doing nothing for an hour or two. And then there’s my innate hang-up about having a complete stranger plying my bare flesh. I’ve never entirely overcome the feeling that the whole business is inappropriately intimate.

So I walk through the verdant hotel garden to the spa with all the enthusiasm of someone going to a dental appointment. My apprehension is heightened by the prospect of the treatment I will experience: a four-hand massage. Two strangers kneading my body.

In the waiting area, I sip a fresh lime juice and try to relax. My best efforts are undone when the therapists arrive. Two men, Sanath and Raju. They escort me to the treatment room, and in the best Ayurvedic tradition set about diagnosing my physical shortcomings. My treatment will be tailored accordingly. They matter-of-factly assess that I’m overweight with dry skin.

Sri Lanka is one of the heartlands of Ayurvedic medicine, which draws on centuries of knowledge. As I lie face down on the treatment table, Sanath and Raju slather my back in vathaviduranga, a potently aromatic oil made from more than 50 indigenous plants.

They identify the knots of tension around my shoulder blades and start to work on them. Almost immediately, I feel a muscular twang in my upper back. My entire body sags into relaxation. Wow.

Suddenly free of apprehension, I surrender myself to the sensory symmetry of two pairs of hands gliding in tandem across my oiled skin. My mind floats comfortably. I inhale the complex odors of the oil and settle into a state somewhere between consciousness and sleep.

After three-quarters of an hour, all four hands lift from my body. I am given a few moments to rouse from my torpor, then I am guided to the steam room. I sit alone, staring at the white tiles. After a few minutes, my pores open and I glisten in a purging lather of sweat. Cleansing is completed by a cold shower.

I drift back to our suite and join my wife on our private veranda overlooking the garden. Exotic birds flit and twitter in the greenery. More than once, one or the other of us gives voice to a shared sentiment: “I could live here.”

The following evening, we are both back in The Baths. For an hour, we have use of a private spa area with a steam room, a sauna, an icy plunge pool and a Jacuzzi. This is a privilege available to all guests. Again we share a common thought: “I could get used to this.”

On the final morning, I benefit from another pampering. I book a wet shave in Amangalla’s gloriously old-fashioned Barber Shop and Salon. The barber, Roshan, is following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, who both served the New Oriental Hotel. He drags the sharp blade across my face with the deft skill of an artisan.

Baby-faced, I return to the zaal to soak up our remaining minutes in this timeless time warp. Across the street, the Groote Kerk (Great Church) stands sentinel over Galle Fort, a 36-acre complex of charming streets and colonial buildings protected from ocean waves and invasion by formidable ramparts.

A gentle breeze off the Indian Ocean rustles through the building. We sip our drinks, content to be here in Amangalla, my favorite hotel in the world.

Amangalla

10 Church St.
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
tel 94 91 223 3388
amanresorts.com

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

#globility

Insta Feed
Daily
Jun 14, 2021

Vacation in the United Kingdom with a View

Imagine waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, a light breeze dancing on your face, and views so beautiful you begin to think it is a simulation. The United Kingdom is teeming with unique accommodations that will please your eyes. Check out these stays with stunning views on your next U.K. adventure.

SPIA 2021 Winners Crowned at Gala Ceremony at W Hotel, Palm Jumeirah

The Sports Industry Awards returned with a bang last night as 200 guests packed the W Hotel Great Ball Room for the gala ceremony.

Daily
Jun 11, 2021

AdventureWomen Announces Exclusive Zimbabwe Excursion

AdventureWomen, the travel company specializing in adventure tours for women, announced a partnership with African Wildlife Foundation. The organization supports the conservation of Africa’s wildlife through education, community development and sustainability projects. As part of the partnership, the two organizations will host a women’s safari to Zimbabwe in May 2022.

Daily
Jun 10, 2021

New Donation Offer from Carillon Miami Wellness Resort

Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, where innovative wellness and balanced indulgence come together in one extraordinary beachfront setting, recently partnered with First Responders Children’s Foundation, a non-profit organization providing financial support to children and families of first responders. This partnership formed the Carillon Cares: Summer of Heroes offers, including a donation to the foundation for each stay booked, which supports giving back to those who fought on the front lines during the pandemic.

eFlyer Reviews
Jun 9, 2021

JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa Review

Although much changed in the past year, Cancún still has the joie de vivre we need right now after months of cabin fever — even with safety measures in place. In fact, the first half of 2021 may be a good time to rediscover Mexico’s home-grown Caribbean resort town in a slower, more relaxed mode that contrasts its rollicking “spring break” reputation of old. One place to take in Cancún at its best is JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa, a mile up from the convergence of night clubs, chain restaurants, souvenir emporiums and shopping malls along Avenida Kukulkan.

eFlyer Lead
Jun 9, 2021

Celebrate Pride Month: Top LGBTQ+-Friendly U.S. States

June marks Pride Month, largely credited to bisexual activist Brenda Howard who organized Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade in 1970, one year after the Stonewall Riots. The parade eventually become the New York City Pride March, leading to Pride Month and similar parades and marches around the world.

Sports Industry Awards returns to Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah for 8th Edition

The biggest names in the Middle East sporting community will gather for the Sports Industry Awards as the event returns for its eighth edition. SPIA recognizes the achievements of individuals, organizations, facilities and campaigns that contributed to the development of sport in the region.

Daily
Jun 9, 2021

Haven Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa Introduces New Culinary Experience

Haven Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa, an all-suite, adults-only, all-inclusive oceanfront resort, announces a new experience suited for epicurean travelers: The Chef’s Table. At Haven’s fine-dining restaurant Olios Mediterranean, The Chef’s Table offers the best seats in the house, right in front of the chef’s working station and open, top-of-the-line kitchen. And the actual table is beautiful in its own right: made from reclaimed wood and complemented by a turquoise glass chandelier.