It also won the first-ever PATA award for Best International Heritage Hotel in 2012 and was the first hotel in Sri Lanka to be featured on a postage stamp. The hotel’s history and cache was also strengthened by it having the oldest hospitality employee in the world. Mr. Kottarapattu, who died in 2014, had served the hotel as waiter and doorman for 7 decades.
Today’ the walls of the main wing are adorned with a long list of celebrity guests such as Rockefeller, Nixon, Gaggarin, Pope John Paul II or Ghandi.
The hotel was inaugurated in 1864, just before the Suez Canal opened the world up to travel as we know it today. As one of the oldest hotels in the world, in the same league as The Raffles Singapore, The Eastern Oriental Penang or The Strand in Yangon, the Galle Face Hotel exudes old world charm and colonial flair in a way that only an old building with period details can sport.
“Same as before”, used to say Mr. Kottarapattu, of the hotel’s evolution through the years. From the checked tiles to the traditional attire of the staff; from the courtyards to the dark wood, this is a hotel best enjoyed at a slow pace.
The Galle Face Hotel is so embedded into Sri Lanka’s past that several of the country’s historical moments took place in or around the hotel. For example, Ceylon’s first case of Pimm’s was ordered by The Galle Face Hotel. Prince Philip’s first car is on display at the hotel’s museum.
He bought it for 450 Rupee in the 1940s. The Museum also has an unexploded cannonball that landed in the hotel grounds. But for a business that has withstood wars, colonialism and independence, it is surprising to hear that it has been managed by the same family since the turn of the century. The Gardiner have been at the helm for decades and today’s Chairman and owner is the great grandson of the original Victor Vicarosso.
Despite the various renovations, the hotel still preserves the feeling and decor of Victorian times when Sri Lanka was still Ceylon. The thick carpets, so unusual in a tropical climate like that of Sri Lanka, and the dark wood are a sign of the British colonialism.
As soon as one steps inside time seems like it has stood still. Descend down the wide staircases and wander the corridors that so many well known figures have walked before. Let the air of the sea be felt from one of the rooms with a balcony. This is one of the few hotels that is located not only in front of the sea, but so close that the beach has been consumed by the waves.
Reviewing the rooms or the facilities of the hotel would be like scrutinising the pages of an old book for the passage of time. The rooms may be dark, as they were built in a different time, but one should not spend any time in them but out, on the verandah, with a book, and a cup of tea.
The best part of the stay is breakfast by the sea, in front of the lawn, with a large selection of local and international items. And, of course, with a serving of egg hopper, with an egg inside, eaten with your fingers while the sea breeze messes up with your hair.
If you would like to better understand the history that surrounds the hotel, the in-house historian can provide a tour of the museum and the buildings and provide more insights into the smaller details.
The Galle Face Hotel is not your typical hotel. It is a heritage destination, a living museum steeped in history at every corner. One must enjoy it with a book, a tea pot and a serving of egg hoppers.
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