"Take one ancient walled fort town, a sprawling 17th Century merchant's house and two stylish Aussies with a flair for food and interiors and you have the perfect colonial meets Ceylon chic bolthole. Set on a narrow street where auto rickshaws and cycles vie with the ocassional linen upholstered Ambassador ( from the Aman resort up the road) the Galle Fort Hotel conjures up a lost era, when Somerset Maugham blazed the traveller's trail. Think whirring fans and cocktails on the terrace, served by serene sarong clad staff. The enormous guest rooms, decorated sparely with impressive Sri Lankan and Chinese antiques are clustered around a shady courtyard where pink frangipani petals confetti the pool. Front of house is former television producer Karl Steinberg, while fellow Sydneysider Christopher Ong oversees the kitchen, turning out sensational Straits Chinese food. Luscious three course dinners are astonishingly cheap, with a just opened private dining room displaying Ong's impressive porcelain collection."
The 13 rooms and suites combine imposing Sri Lankan antiques with a pared-down style that is both cooling and soothing. Choose from the Cheng Ho Pavilion with a 19th-century-style Asian carved opium (day) bed and double-storey outdoor bathroom with plunging waterfall shower, or a loft suite with private verandah. Le Grand Appartement du Comte de Mauny, occupying the entire top floor of the old wing, is particularly swish, featuring two ensuite bedrooms, with the mosquito net-swathed four-poster bed dressed in handmade cotton sheets and separated by an enormous salon-cum-dining room.
The hotel's public areas are dotted with outsized artefacts from an impressive collection of blue and white porcelain. Elsewhere, antique offering plates are piled with mounds of pomegranates, and ceramic urns are crammed with torch-ginger flowers. Staff are friendly, attentive and expert multi-taskers. One minute the devastatingly handsome in-house masseur, Lasanthe, is dispensing an expert Thai massage, the next he's serving drinks at dinner.
The hotel owes much of its charm to its location, sequestered on one of only a handful of narrow streets in a fort ringed by walls 20m thick and atop a small south-facing promontory skirted with coral reefs. Visiting in the '70s, Paul Theroux described the "rufous gold" of the luminous sunsets and the "palm-scented ocean".