Almost since it opened in 1864, the Galle Face has been a Sri Lankan institution. It was a center of British colonial life and later the playground of the rich and famous passing through the island. Lest you forget its illustrious clientele, the hotel has a bronze plaque listing its celebrity guests, with names ranging from famous to infamous: John D. Rockefeller, Emperor Hirohito, Indira Gandhi, Imran Khan, Bo Derek, Carrie Fisher and Kurt Waldheim.
These days, the marble-tiled veranda is the perch of choice for whiling away an afternoon in pseudo-Victorian splendor. Inside the grand four-story colonial building, the sweeping staircase and threadbare red carpet bear witness to a glittering past and can coax out the romantic in anyone. There are more luxurious hotels in the capital, sure, but do any of them set out birdbaths for a resident colony of sparrows?
But it is languid luxury on a grand scale that is the hotel's true charm. Rhapsodies about "stepping back in time" or "charming colonial style" tend to ignore that the people actually colonized may not share this nostalgia. Still, that—like most everything else—is easy to forget at the Galle Face. Whether taking tea at sunset or dining as surf crashes beyond manicured lawns, it's hard to overlook another fact: those darned imperialists had exquisite taste.
Rooms start at $50, but it's worth the $25 upgrade to a deluxe room with an ocean view; call (94-1) 541-010 for reservations or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.