Monday, September 22, 2014

WEEKEND BREAK ON SRI LANKA, Galle Fort

Our guest blogger Sonja Catani is back from Sri Lanka where she spent just three luxurious nights. Read her vivid account of Amangalla, shopping and spa bliss, on her "Girly Weekend" - and get inspired to do the same...

Weekendhopping to picturesque Galle Fort

To green lush and colourful Sri Lanka just for a weekend
Enjoying King coconut - the best drink on the beach in Sri Lanka
Shopping in quirky interiors

Jewellery and semi precious stones - part of the shopping excitement

It is all about investing minimum time in maximum travel experience: #weekendhoppers is perfect for busy people who have a hard time finding moments to really relax without having to halt life for weeks.

 I went with my lovely Norwegian friend Ine to Sri Lanka for a girly weekend. Our goal was to relax completely, get some sun, enjoy a lot of spa-pampering, eat great food, shop for jewellery and stay in a luxury hotel and enjoy life. We got all of that and then some.

Getting to fascinating Galle 

Wednesday morning after leaving kids at school/day-care Ine and I met at Arlanda Airport and flew Qatar Airlines Dreamliner business class (or Disney Class as my daughter calls it) via Doha to Colombo, Sri Lanka. This was my first visit to the new Doha International Airport, and I was a bit disappointed with the premium facilities as they were so great before in the old airport, with their own premium terminal. But on the other hand the airport is great for shopping and I think that most passengers will find it to be a great airport for transfer.

We landed early, early morning in Colombo and Sri Lanka in Style (Select Collection's preferred travel partner in Sri Lanka) had sent two cars to pick us up. Two cars, because I had a “slight” de-tour to make (see my footnote about my diversion). Ine travelled comfortably for about 1.5 hours on the new highway down to Galle, arrived for early breakfast at Amangalla, the fantastic colonial Aman-hotel in the old Dutch forte in Galle. Here she enjoyed her day resting in our beautiful two-room suite, had Thai massage, pedicure and manicure and a stroll to look at the surroundings in Galle Fort.

Amazing colour everrywhere

Amangalla

Thursday night arriving in Amangalla was a huge contrast compared to the orphanage and all the local villages I’d been driven through on the way south through Sri Lanka. Amangalla is a large 300 year old colonial building stretching inwards with lush gardens and fantastic pool.

Amangalla pool area

With only 30 rooms it is an exceptionally spacious hotel. You arrive onto the long veranda that stretches the whole length of the building, where people sit and sip cocktails or have their dinner.

Hidden patios and sitting areas everywhere at Amangalla


Lobby and sitting areas in Amangalla

Everything is like a set from a British film about colonial times. You suddenly get the urge to have a gin & tonic even if you never drink it otherwise.

Welcoming lounge area

 Inside you have large rooms with polished teak furniture, a grand piano, soft jazz music and of course the ever attentive hotel personnel who greet you by name and welcome you with the most dazzling smiles. I found Ine in the library at the back, solemnly reading a book and looking like she already would’ve had a week of vacation.

Our spacious suite

Our suite was in perfect Aman-style: spacious, extremely well equipped, highest quality in all amenities and so beautiful. We stayed in the old part of the house on the second floor, ceiling height over 4 meters with two enormous bay windows opening up towards the street in front of the hotel where tuktuk-drivers wait for customers and behind the thick fort walls you see the dramatic seas and the bay of Galle.

After a delicious dinner of tuna carpaccio, avocado and spices, signed by Executive Chef Sumit Batra, we retired to the cool thick Egyptian cotton clad huge beds and slept like babes.

The otherworldy spa

Friday we were greeted by rain and storm. Ine got a bit worried, but soon found out that Sri Lankan weather is unpredictable and changes quickly, assuring you seldom need to worry about rain for longer stretches of time. However we were happy that it rained as it gave us a chance to spend hours and hours at the spa. Amangalla spa is as good as it gets. It’s serene and stylish and the Balinese ladies were hand-picked as the best in their field. My massage therapist came from the Oberoi in Mauritus and she was amazing! I was shocked as the hotel manager Pietro actually recognised us after the treatment, so different did we feel that we thought we had taken on new personalities!

Good spa or shopping  weather - but the rain didnt last that long

Friday afternoon was spent shopping in Galle Forte in Mary Poppins weather. Thankful for the beautiful Amangalla colonial style umbrellas we headed out to the jewellery stores, flying down the narrow roads in the unspoilt beauty of the old fort town. As I mentioned I’ve been to Sri Lanka more than 10 times. My last visit to Galle was a few years back and oh my God how it’s developed! It’s an absolutely amazingly beautiful and picturesque colonial town. Everything is authentic and more and more houses are being renovated. Galle now boasts beautiful small galleries, jewellery shops, design shops, bars, private villas for rent and cosy boutique hotels.

Going mad about the jewellery - different coloured Sri Lankan sapphires

Find our best shopping tips at the end of the article!

Rounding up our shopping spree we went to the newly opened bar Livingroom by TPV. By TPV is a brand by three Swedish gentlemen; they also have a great shop in Galle Fort and a small boutique hotel outside Galle. The Livingroom is a bar that is so funky in it’s interior that for a moment we forgot we were in Sri Lanka and actually thought we were in Paris. The male servants all wear outrageously sexy shirts and all look like gods. Oh yes, we also enjoyed the wasabi-aioli shrimp avocado, almost forgot to mention that!

As we were so in love with our hotel we didn’t even try any of the restaurants in Galle Forte for dinner, but ate a fantastic dinner on the veranda.

Why Beach

Saturday we woke up to the most dazzling sunshine and perfect tropical island weather. The rain had cleared the air and it was about to be a great day. The hotel manager Pietro had kindly arranged for us to visit Why Beach, a semi-private home just 15 minutes tuktuk-ride from Galle Forte. Our wonderful butler had packed a beach bag with towels and water and off we went into rush-hour traffic in our tuktuk. Just driving through the new Galle town with it’s bustling street life, cricket stadium, kids off to school in pressed white clothes and seeing from the tuktuk the fish market, the busy harbour and everywhere smiling Sri Lankans, gives you a feeling of being in the middle of their daily lives. Sri Lanka is extremely safe for tourists and you can at any time ask your tuktuk driver to stop if you want to walk in the street or look closer at any of the local shops.

Sunloungers at Why Beach

Why Beach is owned by  Italian architect Massimo and houses his and his partner Lasith’s private floor plus two rooms for rent. At the end of the property towards the beach there’s a small restaurant – by appointment only – where they serve the best Italian food, all composed by Massimo’s wonderful mother Luigina. She has trained the chefs in Italian cooking and when we arrived she was in full speed preparing chocolate desert for us! Yummy.

All beaches in Sri Lanka are public. At Why Beach we got sun loungers on the terrace about a meter above the beach to ensure some privacy, but still able to look at local beach life, step down the stairs and go swimming in the ocean. The waters are quite rough in August and the beach is very narrow. During autumn the sand washes in and out and is cleaned by the huge ocean, in January when you return you’ll find wide beaches with sand so white it almost hurts your eyes to look at it.

We seriously enjoyed our day at Why Beach, the Italian lunch was amazing and it was great fun watching Massimo's Labrador puppies stumble around in the garden. For sundowners we walked a hundred meters on the beach to another property where we lounged by the pool and watched the dramatic weather changes in the sunset.

Having sunset drinks at Koggala Beach
Koggala Beach in dramatic afernoon light

To get back to the hotel, you need not to worry about your tuktuk-driver not finding you. Sri Lankans are extremely curious, some would even say nosy, and they love gossip. Therefore, no secret that “the Scandinavian girls” had walked to another property, there he was - our kind tuktuk driver - waiting for us outside the gates of the other house!

Sri Lankan beach in summer - in winter it is crisp white and 50 m wider

Raiding jewellery stores

Gems in all colours and sizes


Sunday was yet another beautiful day, blazing sun. Once again Amangalla’s colonial umbrellas came to good use, as sun protection. We decided to go for a second raid on the jewellery stores where we had reserved different jewellery. Sri Lanka is known for its precious stones, especially rubies and sapphires, but also semi precious stones. You can find wonderful contemporary designed large silver jewellery with semi-precious stones for ridiculous prices. Ridiculous as you realise, once you’ve done the exchange maths in your head, how cheap everything is.

You don’t haggle prices in Sri Lanka like in other Asian countries. You can ask for best price, or even better; suggest to the jeweller that you agree on a price that makes you both happy. But if you threaten to stomp out in an attempt to get them into a bargaining, they’ll just look at you and wish you a great day, whilst they return the jewellery into the case.

Contemporary Sri Lankan jewellery

We ended up buying an assortment of fine jewellery and design jewellery. There are so many shops and of course the quality varies. See end of article for best shops.

On Sunday we also went to the new Galle town. Its typical Sri Lankan; quite ugly and busy, but so much fun! We went into a local department store and bought frilly, crazy, pastel-coloured dresses for small girls to dress up in. Any fairytale princess would’ve been green with envy.

Locals out for a Sunday walk
We walked around, once again feeling secure and at the same time excited to be able to be so close to normal life and smell the exotic spices and talk to old people on bicycles and wave to smiling kids. Our tuktuk driver slowly shadowing us, scared to lose his best clients.



Lounging at Amangalla

For the afternoon Amangalla’s beautiful pool was perfect. Lie in the secluded shaded sun lounge open-air rooms and enjoy a fantastic lunch with a glass of crip Gruner Veltliner white wine, specially imported from the producers who are Aman fans. You have wifi all over the property in Amangalla and this was a perfect time to check up on e-mails and handle daily administration work. In this setting you don’t even realise you are working, but are just happy to have it done so that you can arrive home after a weekend and not get overwhelmed by a long TO-DO-list.

Lush gardens at Amangalla

Cooking class & dining magic

For Sunday evening general manager Pietro had arranged an authentic Sri Lankan cooking class. As a keen rice n’curry fan I was exited to cook a 10-course meal in the open air. See menu at the end of the article.

We had so much fun while mixing spices, stirring, chopping, laughing and of course adding the European flavour of drinking wine at the same time. Amangalla’s cooking class comes with a personalised cooking book including recipes, a beautiful apron and stunning setting in the gardens. Sous-chef Sri Lankan V. P. C. Roshan and his helpers cooked with us for hours.

The exec chef Sumit Batra and  chef Roshan

Afterwards we had time for one last massage in the spa and then we were invited for our special dinner. By the pool in the gardens the Amangalla-staff had lighted hundreds of candles and set up a table for us. We had enough food to feed a large family and everything was absolutely delicious. It was so good that in fact I even smuggled some food with me onto the plane, for our flight home later that night.

By midnight we had to love and leave Amangalla. Sam the driver came and picked us up. A large committee of Amangalla-staff waved us off and assured us that they will be missing the laughs and the jokes of “the girls”, as they called us. We certainly miss them all and the wonderful Amangalla hotel!

Our return flight with Qatar was excellent. Flatbeds on both the Colombo-Doha and Doha-Stockholm flights ensured that we landed in Stockholm fresh and full of energy, feeling like we had been away for two weeks! Still when I picked up my daughter at school the same day she had barely registered that I’d been away over the weekend!

Footnote on my detour to the orphanage

When Ine was whipped off from the airport straight to Amangalla, I myself, a frequent traveller to Sri Lanka, knew that I had a bumpier day ahead of me. My great driver Sam drove me up to a town outside Kandy in the middle of Sri Lanka, it’s a busy road – not at all like the newly built straight highway down to Galle. To avoid worst traffic we took some mountain roads and finally I arrived at my destination: an orphanage that I have sponsored with my family for many years. Select Collection has also helped in the sponsoring of the orphanage sister home in Northern Sri Lanka. I had a fantastic day with the 70 children and nuns that care for them. In the early evening Sam drove me to Galle. It’s a very long drive and by this time I was exhausted, but our discussions were so much fun I couldn’t even sleep. This is the great thing about Sri Lanka, the people are very knowledgeable, especially the drivers who meet so many tourists. They speak excellent English and do their out-most to make you feel safe and comfortable.

One thing in Sri Lanka that I need to be honest about with you, the roads are terrible, most cars are also quite uncomfortable and the traffic is very, very loud. This is why it’s a very good investment to get Select Collection to help you book drivers and cars through Sri Lanka in Style, they have the most experienced drivers and the best cars. You get cold towels, fresh water and snacks. As an added bonus you even have free wifi in the car!!! My driver Sam stopped on the way and bought me wonderful litchi- and mangosteen-fruit, the later being something out of this world, the most tasteful fruit you can eat and very hard to find.

One of the old churches in the old Galle Fort

Note about Sonja Catani

With the help of Select Collection expertise and planning skills I have managed to do successful long weekend trips to The Maldives, Burma, Sri Lanka, New York, Kenya and even Pakistan (ok staying as guests at the Swedish embassy, but still a trip to remember). Coming up next will be Bali and Thailand.

I am not paid by Select Collection, Qatar, Amanresorts or Sri Lanka in Style to write reviews. You can find inspirational pictures from travels around the world on Instagram #weekendhoppers

Top 7 places to shop in Galle Fort Sri Lanka


Jewellery

M.M. Ibrahim, 47 Church Street. For top quality gems and stones in international conventional design. They also make jewellery in your own design over the day!

Laksana, 30 Hospital Street. For widest range of jewellery from semi-precious stones to huge Asian-style jewellery. So much on display it takes a long time to wander through. Amangalla quests get great discount. They deliver to the hotel in nice packaging.

Sanhaken, 5 Pedlar Street. Best moon stones in Galle Forte. Also some really nice own designs. Good quality and nice work. Walk through their court yard to the créperie on the second floor and tea shop and gallery on the opoosite side.

Gifts, clothes etc.

KK Collection, 36 Church Street. Interior design and gifts. All products are chosen by George Cooper, interior designer and owner of lovely boutique hotel Kahanda Kanda outside Galle.

Barefoot, 41 Church Street. One of the first Sri Lankan shops for tourists, they still keep true to the colourful linen clothes, toys and interior design products, that made them popular in the 00’s.

Odel, 50 Peddlar Street. Sri Lankan subsidiary to the largedepartment store in Colombo. Local branch located in a small local two storey house. Nice clothes and friendly staff. Western style.

The three by TPV, 54 Pedlar Street. Design shop by Swedish designers. Costume jewellery, paintings, sculptures, stylish clothes and lot’s of interior design home ware.



Sri Lankan Cooking Class 10 course Menu

Send an e-mail if you want the recepie to any of the dishes!

Chicken Curry
Devilled Prawns
Dhal Curry
Eggplant Moju
Beetrot Dry Curry
Pineapple Curry
Fish balls
Coconut Sambol

Watallappan

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