COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – More than 150 years after its debut on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Galle Face Hotel has emerged from a 30-month long restoration of the North Wing’s 72 rooms and suites, restaurants and bars, lobby, ballrooms and executive lounge.
The current restoration is the most significant ever for the iconic property, which was opened in 1864 by four British entrepreneurs. Its North Wing’s rooms have been completely reimagined for the 21st century; an ocean view executive lounge, The Long Room spanning 25 metres added for well-heeled suite guests; and a new conservatory with towering arched doors links the Grand Ballroom with the Jubilee Ballroom.
“With this restoration, we believe the property will resume its standing as one of the most storied hotels in all Asia,” said Sanjeev Gardiner, the hotel’s chairman.
Indeed, many sources point to the Galle Face as the oldest hotel east of the Suez still in operation today. Its handwritten guest book includes a long list of heads of state and royalty, as well as notables such as Vivien Leigh of Gone with the Wind fame and Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who spent a year living in the hotel while writing the final chapters of 3001: The Final Odyssey.
An on-site museum displays the car Prince Phillip drove when he lived on the island then known as Ceylon. And remnants of the hotel’s past can be found throughout, from images of its iconic guests and vintage photographs of the property, to the original crockery, silver and glassware on display in glass cabinets.
The hotel last refurbished the South Wing in 2006, and is now embarking on a complementary, albeit lower-impact redressing of those 84 rooms today. Although both wings are fully operational, the restored North Wing commands center stage.
The restoration stripped every room to the bone, and brought back each with striking new interiors and classic mahogany furnishings. Stylish grey marble cases the bathroom walls. Private balconies with sea views now jut from 21 rooms. The room sizes range from 26 square metres (280 square feet) to 60 square metres (645 square feet) studios that feature a separate living room and workspace.
In addition, Galle Face Hotel unveiled its pièce de résistance, the Empress Eugenie Suite. Named for one of the hotel’s most illustrious guests, this signature suite measures a capacious 120 square metres (1,290 square feet). Its 60 square metre (645 square feet) terrace consumes the roof of the hotel’s iconic carriage porch, a restored architectural feature that pays homage to the structure’s original façade.
The restoration repurposed other age-old elements about the Galle Face for modern exigencies such as:
● The dressing rooms of the Grand Ballroom, along with its storage area, are now home to the hotel’s executive lounge, The Long Room.
● The Verandah restaurant has doubled in size with two levels of spacious wooden terrace seating, and a permanent roof that doubles as the balcony and rooftop garden of The Long Room above.
● A recently cultivated croquet lawn beckons players to this decidedly Edwardian pastime.
● And the Poolside Bar and Terrace has extended its open-air perch along the waterfront.
Where once there was an Americano Bar, there is now a Traveller’s Bar, featuring a hand- carved mahogany bar and a photo gallery of distinguished guests on the walls. The hotel makes much of the 19th Century, from the croquet lawns to its suites to its menus. The Beluga caviar and house-smoked salmon on the Traveller’s Bar menu are inspired by Anton Chekhov. Three new Pimm’s cocktails reference the first case of the British spirit to arrive on the island, destined for the Galle Face Hotel. The Verandah’s new afternoon tea also features classic British treats, and is served on a tiered platter with personalized tea pairings from a tea trolley stationed at the restaurant.
In the service of more spectacular events, a new lighting system paints the walls of the Jubilee Ballroom and the Grand Ballroom in subtle colours. A reconstruction of the space restores both ballrooms to their original footprint. The new conservatory serves as a reception area for both.
Last but not least, the restoration involved the North Wing’s original high-ceilinged lobby, which features Corinthian columns, 17th century Dutch colonial chairs, and a wall-length terracotta mural of traditional Sri Lankan imagery.