Foreign influences on countries such as Sri Lanka can be long lasting; this is particularly apparent in the British Colonial architecture – but exactly what is that style?
We usually recognise it when we see it, and find it comfortingly familiar in an almost regal way. We’ve taken at look at just what it is and then observed how two top ‘hip & colonial’ boutique examples have interpreted the style.
Your tick list
Your British Colonial hotel will probably have high ceilings painted, along with the walls, in white or pale colours juxtaposed against indigenous dark-wood furniture – possibly ornate to reflect the host country. You will undoubtedly find plenty of semi-covered outdoor space such as wide verandas which may well be colonnaded and furnished with plush club-style chairs and other untypical outdoor seating. Natural woven mats, chair backs, baskets and other accessories are common and may also give a nod to the surroundings, however, they break the heavy woods up quite beautifully. Their practicality replaced but by widespread air-conditioning, ornate ceiling fans provide yet another expected feature in our quest. Finally no colonial architectural claim would be complete without the proliferation of potted greenery, of sweeping palms positioned like sentries in doorways and of carefully chosen ferns elegantly interrupting your gaze through the arched windows.
Shooting to the ‘hip’
Some hotels carry this grand style forward, uninterrupted, and continue to have a loyal following, however, a lighter touch has been adopted by many of the smaller boutique style properties and we love it! Take the delightful Wallawwa which is ridiculously convenient for the airport at Colombo, making it a fabulous first and/or last stop – but please don’t think of it as an airport hotel, you will regret it if you do! This is our first ‘colonial & hip’ example and we think you’ll be impressed.
The Wallawwa - Evolution
So how does it stack up style-wise? Well, it has promoted lighter woods or marble in much of its furniture and flooring but maintained warmth and richness. Artefacts, which can give a cluttered appearance, have been culled, and splashes of vibrant orange are dotted around to inject a contemporary vibe. Wide, lavishly furnished verandas have the trusty pillars clearly spaced, and courtyards throughout the property imbue a rest-a-while mentality at every turn. Outdoors, the pool area is shaded by lush tropical vegetation and your sturdy wicker sun lounger sports a sumptuous bolster cushion on top. High ceilings and fans tick more boxes, however, the introduction of huge windows and trendy shades of pastel greens and greys against the dominant white painted walls add a chic character. Clever use of lighting further enhances the whole property and takes it from cheery day to sensual evening; impromptu seating is too inviting to pass, so allow an extra few minutes for your walk to dinner!
The Wallawwa – stay awhile
Yes it has extensive manicured gardens and tranquility by the bucket-load, but it is the personal approach of the unforgettable staff who will remain etched in your memory here. You can, if you wish, pass all your time lazing by the pool, swinging a croquet mallet or taking afternoon tea but there are also countless fascinating activities too.
Cook a little
The hotel’s chef will teach you the secrets of Sri Lankan cooking in an inspiring 90 minutes, which includes a tour of the kitchen garden and a yummy two-course lunch
Local and fishy
You’ll need to set your alarm early for the organised Negombo fish market tour, which delivers you to the centre of this fully buzzing environment, energized by traders from all over the island. Fishermen arrive with their catches of yellowfin tuna, sailfish, red snapper, prawns, and much more, providing a lively fun start to the day and you will return to find plenty of time to spare.
Wildlife and wetlands
The nature in Sri Lanka is awesome! Muthurajawela Wetlands is home to the island’s largest peat bog – doesn’t sound too romantic, admittedly, but this unique and highly diverse ecosystem is home to 192 distinct species of flora and 209 species of fauna. You will enjoy a serene boat ride amongst the mangroves, spotting a myriad of creatures and plants as you go – but glance upwards occasionally as there are also 102 species of birds in the area!
Don’t forget the elephants
The hotel is also within easy reach of the Millennium Elephant Foundation, set up to improve the lives of captive elephants, through education and providing much needed sanctuary. The centre is a wonderful day out; it also guarantees that elephants in its care are not exploited, so visitors will be supporting a great cause as they enjoy themselves. A highlight here is ‘a walk with the elephants’, which also involves bathing your elephant and, if you like, taking a shower next to him!
Fort Bazaar – in the thick of it
If you are in Sri Lanka, particularly for the first time, you will want to visit the amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort, and what better way to appreciate its magnitude than to stay at the magnificently renovated 17th century Fort Bazaar. Sister hotel to The Wallawwa, this former Merchant’s residence is chic, sophisticated and beautifully intimate.
Colonial? Boutique? Or both?!
Well, we do see the white walls, rooms are accessed along semi-exposed corridors, complete with wooden feature landings and there is an abundance of grand archways; courtyards with inviting seats beckon you to rest and smell the flowers. The style is seriously modern, it is sophisticated, it has absolutely exquisite design details and it does have several colonial indicators. However! With its tapestry print cushions on concrete benches, its tiled floors and metal features, it does fall firmly into the Moorish / Middle Eastern camp – all that said, we’d say this very special place has created a style of its own, and if you adore uncluttered, fresh, spacious luxury, then you will totally adore Fort Bazaar!
A taste of excellence
As well as a daintily positioned cinema, charming spa and vibrant bar, you’ll also find a superb gourmet restaurant at Fort Bazaar. This culinary heaven is the domain of acclaimed Australian chef, Neal Giles and is a magnet for visitors to the fort as well as residents; it welcomes you into a friendly, social vibe and tempts you with decadent sharing platters, homemade dips and pickles all with an undeniable Middle Eastern thread.
Beyond the Fort
The temptation to stay longer than you need to explore the fort itself will be strong, so if you’re bitten by the Fort Bazaar bug, simply take day trips out to see whales (from Mirissa), take a tea estate tour, cycle in the paddy fields or simply relax on the beach – simple!
Does it matter?
Taking into account our loose colonial rule of thumb analysis and matching it to our two delightful boutique properties here, we feel that good style is good style! A loving mix of traditional and modern works perfectly and if the word ‘colonial’ conjures up a guideline then that’s all that matters – enjoy!