Amangalla review: ultra-luxury Sri Lanka heritage hotel in the heart of Galle

Amangalla hotel in Galle

Within the boundaries of Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Sri Lanka’s rugged southwest coast, is Amangalla. This elegant, white-washed retreat, once home to Dutch governors and British soldiers in the 17th century, now offers a historical escape from the citadel’s bustling streets, combining colonial-era elegance with service that goes well beyond five-star.

The surrounding fort, originally established by the Portuguese in 1505, was later seized by the Dutch, who encircled the city with ramparts and bastions to safeguard their interests. Today, it’s a historical haven, attracting tourists with its narrow lanes, flanked by colonial residences and government buildings that remain as picturesque reminders of the area’s turbulent past.

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The property is part of the Aman family, an ultra-luxury hotel group known for its minimalist design ethos and unparalleled level of service. The company owns properties in some of the world’s most captivating locations – from frescoed Venetian palazzos to secluded Balinese jungle hideaways – and Amangalla is no exception.

The hotel’s prime location near the entrance to Galle Fort offers the perfect base for exploring this enchanting city — and when you return through the shuttered veranda doors, its serene ambiance provides the perfect counterpoint to the lively streets outside.

Middle East Traveller checked in to a Chamber room at Amangalla to sleep among centuries of history and explore the Fort’s ramparts without compromising on luxury.

The Hotel

Originally built by the Dutch East India Company in 1684, Amangalla – with its strategic location overlooking the Fort on one side and the Harbour on the other – once served as local headquarters for the Dutch military and later as a centre of operations for the British army.

In 1863, the property was bought over by a group of businessmen and converted into The Oriental Hotel, quickly becoming a fashionable stop-off for European passengers travelling between Sri Lanka and Europe by ship.

Yet towards the end of the 19th century, The Oriental Hotel fell on hard times, with passengers increasingly opting for a wider choice of accommodation in Colombo rather than staying in the citadel. In the following years, visitor numbers continued to dwindle as large ships diverted away from Galle towards an expanded harbour in the Sri Lankan capital.

In 1899, the hotel’s fortunes turned once again as it was sold to the Ephraums family, who renamed the property to the New Oriental Hotel and restored its grandeur. For most of the 20th century, the property was managed by the legendary Dutch hotelier Nesta Brohier – herself born in one of the bedrooms – who would greet guests on the front steps with her two dalmatians as a pianist played live music in the background.

In 2004, Adrian Zecha, the visionary behind Aman and a regular guest at the New Oriental Hotel, bought the property and turned into Amangalla, bringing a touch of ultra-luxury to Sri Lanka’s historic coast with a renovation that preserved the property’s original flooring, furniture and character while adding a spa, a new swimming pool and other essential modern amenities.

Today, it’s a blend of rich history, colonial-era elegance, and timeless charm, inviting guests to experience a slice of Galle’s storied past while still enjoying all the comforts of an ultra-luxury hotel.

The Arrival

Sweep past the veranda colonnades and into the Great Hall – or ‘zaal’ as it was termed during the Dutch era – and you’ll find yourself transported back in time. Here, under expansive ceilings, the air moves lazily, stirred by slow-spinning overhead fans as vintage steel chandeliers cast a gentle glow over rattan plantation chairs, countless antiques and dark, heavyset furniture.

Check-in happens at the back of the property, where an open staircase leads down to the library and swimming pool, in a room lined with ancient drawings and its own 19th-century safe. Beyond a quick signature, there are no forms to fill out — that’s already been taken care of. Slink into an antique chaise longue and wash away Sri Lanka’s humidity with a cool towel before meeting your traditionally dressed butler, who acts as your fixer throughout the stay.

After that, it’s off to your suite. Depending on whether you’re staying down one of the hotel’s long jute-carpeted ground floor corridors or elevated above the rooftops of Galle, there might be a few flights of stairs to briskly climb. Elevators, after all, didn’t exist in 1684. The real joy of the upper floors is easy access to the indoor sunset terrace, where relaxed armchairs take in views over the city in a space flooded with light from tall arched windows.

The Room

Amangalla offers 31 rooms, all with views of the Fort, Harbour, or the property’s grounds. For a more secluded stay, a private two-story house, ensconced in frangipani blooms and mango trees, awaits in the hotel’s 200-year-old gardens hidden behind a hedge at the end of the swimming pool.

The elegant Chamber rooms – looking out over Church Street’s treetops and the Fort’s ramparts – exude elegance with white walls and original polished teak floorboards that date back more than 300 years. Each is furnished with period pieces — many of which are original antiques from the New Oriental Hotel — including plantation chairs, club-footed wooden wardrobes and intricately detailed pettagama chests.

Dominating the airy, uncluttered space is the king-sized four-poster bed, set so high off the ground that a small step is provided. The room is refreshed daily with a selection of local fruits, while modern amenities – including a Bluetooth speaker, air conditioning, and a fridge with complimentary soft drinks – are seamlessly integrated. For a touch of nostalgia, flick a switch and fall asleep to the gentle whir of a rattan fan suspended from the ceiling above.

The Service

Aman is legendary for its discreet, intuitive service, and in Galle the brand continues to exceed expectations. Staff are right there when you need them yet invisible when you don’t. There’s no need to ever sign a bill or mention your room number, for example — they just know.

And then there’s the butler service. Whether you’re soaking up the sun by the pool or finding a moment of peace in the library, they appear as if by magic and ready to assist at any hour.

Many of Amangalla’s staff have worked at the hotel for almost two decades, and almost all of them were born in the surrounding area, which brings a touch of authenticity and local expertise to guest interactions.

The Restaurants and Bars

In Amangalla’s grand Great Hall, an extensive menu offering both Sri Lankan and European cuisine sees eggy hoppers served alongside familiar favourites like tuna tartare and goat’s cheese salad. If your favourite dish isn’t listed, the kitchen will be more than happy to accommodate with a bit of notice.

For a truly indulgent experience, come with an appetite and order the rice and curry selection at lunch or dinner. This sprawling, colourful spread of 11 dishes includes delights such as hot coconut sambol, spinach daal, and chicken black curry, showcasing the hotel’s commitment to sourcing spices from nearby villages and produce directly from local farmers.

Breakfast, included with all stays, is another standout. While embracing Sri Lankan flavours is a must (try the omelette with green chilli for a spicy kick), the French toast steals the show, pairing a sweet, sticky hunk of bread with a cooling dollop of orange and rhubarb yoghurt.

As evening falls, the hotel’s bar comes alive with classic cocktails and live piano music. But for a truly memorable sundowner, head to the indoor sunset terrace on the top floor, where martinis and tropical cocktails are expertly crafted with views over Galle’s terra cotta rooftops extending out to the Indian Ocean horizon.

The Activities

Wander through Amangalla’s lush gardens to discover the gorgeous green-tiled swimming pool tucked down a few steps at the back of the property, where you’re as likely to see a monitor lizard or monkey roaming the grounds as another guest.

Luxuriate on wooden sun beds shaded under palm fronds, or relax in one of the five traditional ambalama pavilions as attentive staff ensure your iced water is always filled, your sunglasses gleam, and fresh towels are always at hand.

Despite the occasional toot from a distant car horn, this sanctuary feels worlds away from the lively streets of Galle Fort. This being Aman, the pool is always open, and sunset is the perfect time for a swim as the Sri Lankan heat retreats and bats swoop down from the trees over the water’s softly lit surface.

A short walk away, Amangalla’s cascading spa offers five atmospheric treatment rooms with dramatic arches, lofty ceilings and shuttered windows that open out onto the gardens. Personalised therapies draw on 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic healing traditions that promise to prevent ill health by cleansing, detoxifying and balancing each individual’s dominant dosha.

There’s also a barbershop offering traditional cutting, styling, and shaping of the hair, while the salon provides the usual range of manicures and pedicures plus traditional Sri Lankan eyebrow shaping using a local threading technique.

Guests can also reserve one of two candle-list private hydrotherapy areas free of charge, including a cold plunge pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. Our butler arrives to see if we need anything — then returns minutes later with a plate of cookies to stave off our evening hunger pangs.

Head for the library to discover an extensive range of reference books, novels and games, plus an eclectic collection of memorabilia from the archives of the New Oriental Hotel offering insights into the history of the hotel, the Fort and the town of Galle.

To explore more deeply, take a private walk with Amangalla’s fort map, a historical tour with your butler, or a ramparts stroll at sunset.

All stays include complimentary traditional cream tea each day, which can be taken on the veranda overlooking Church Street, in the library or on the terrace. The scones are exceptional — the Ceylon tea, perhaps unsurprisingly given Sri Lanka’s vast plantations, even more so.

Why Stay?

Amangalla is not just one of Sri Lanka’s oldest boutique hotels—it is also the most luxurious and historic. To step back in time, surrounded by carefully preserved antiques and original features of this storied 17th-century building, is a privilege. Yet it’s Aman’s legendary service that elevates a stay here to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Essentials

  • Rates: Rooms start at USD900 per night including taxes with breakfast, cream tea, non-alcoholic minibar refreshments and pressing of three items daily included
  • Phone number: +94 912 233 388
  • Website:
  • Address: Amangalla, 10 Church St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka