Words: Kirsten Durward Photos: Monica Tindall
Built by Portuguese colonists in 1588, and fortified by the Dutch later in the 17th Century, Galle Fort is considered to be a building of immense historical, architectural and archeological significance. Decreed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this splendid monument with its ageing coral walls, red tiled rooftops, and imposing doorways, is a melting pot of culture. Uniquely atmospheric, today’s fort is home to many writers, artists, designers, photographers and poets, but also hosts several boutique hotels. On historic Church Street, we find the newest of these, the charming Fort Bazaar, newly opened in January 2016. Greeted with a warm Sri Lankan smile, we are ushered into the airy atrium and offered a welcome glass of cold pressed tropical fruit juice.
With just 18 rooms and suites, The Fort Bazaar is a discreet and restful boutique hotel offering a gentle rendering of Scandinavian feeling contemporary design within the colonial structure. With a nod to the Fort’s Moorish history, the lofty interior features open archways, intricate floor tiling and hanging pendulum lamps. The overall design cleverly combines a modern elegance with the wistful romance of North Africa. Arched doorways feature Art Deco inspired windows, and everywhere there is a gentle free flowing feeling. From the lounging sofas in the lobby through the colourful cushions on the alfresco seating, there are plenty of places to relax and soak up the magical ambience. At night the interior courtyard sparkles with tea lamps, creating a fairytale atmosphere.
Rooms are spacious and light, those on the ground floor open onto a central courtyard filled with shady trees, and colourful flowers. Upper rooms benefit from the fresh breeze that slips through the slatted wooden shutters. The Fort Bazaar offers four family suites – sets of two rooms joined by a discreet connecting door – while the upper suites at the front of the property can accommodate up to four adults with splendid views across the rooftops from their secluded balconies.
Our Banyan bedroom (so called due to the proximity to a Banyan tree) is simple and elegant, with cushiony four-poster beds and plenty of pillows. Soft tones of green and muted browns abound which we are assured is in keeping with the colonial style heritage. The clean elegant lines are echoed in the bathroom, which is amply supplied with fluffy towels and ayurvedic products. Light floods in from an overhead window and a generous rain shower spouts plentiful hot water with a good strong pressure, which eases away the dust of the day. Complimentary sodas and waters are cooling in the mini bar, and the room has an unobtrusive flat screen television on the wall.
At our time of visiting, The Fort Bazaar’s pool and spa are under construction, however we are assured that the spa will be hosting visitors in mid April, while the pool will be ready for August. In the meantime guests are offered complimentary transfers to a neighbouring hotel with access to an ocean front pool. The property also benefits from a small library and private cinema should you require a shady respite from exploring the streets of Galle.
The Church Street Social is the hotel’s signature restaurant. We tasted from the dinner menu and enjoyed the freshness of the food, particularly the Kingfish Carpaccio and Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup. At the time of writing The Fort Bazaar is waiting for a bar license, but patrons may bring their own choice of beverage with no corkage charge. Breakfast is enjoyed in the same location.
Breakfast is a selection of bread, house-made pastries and a plate of Sri Lankan fresh fruits. Then it’s a choice of traditional or European cooked breakfast. I’m tempted by a smoked salmon topped rosti with eggs Hollandaise, while Monica munches on her regulation poached eggs accompanied by a selection of fresh vegetables. Tropical fruit juice and tea and coffee are included. I can heartily recommend the cinnamon tea infusion as flavourful and aromatic.
There is much to explore in the historic town of Galle, beyond the fort there are further architectural delights, and access to some pretty beaches. Wider afield guests can arrange excursions for whale watching in Mirissa or an afternoon exploring the winding streets and sandy beaches of Unawatuna. Galle Fort itself is a microcosm of life, easy to walk around with streets featuring pretty boutiques, atmospheric cafes and innovative restaurants. We enjoyed an early evening walk along the walls, watching the sea splash below, and noted the vibrant collection of eateries in the former Dutch Hospital for future visiting. The Fort Bazaar offers a quiet and restful atmosphere just a few minutes walk from the lively thoroughfare.
Reasons to visit: quiet location; airy spaces; colonial building with contemporary design features.