The Fortress: Guarding the gates against the mediocre..
How can one do justice to Per Aquum’s luxury resort, The Fortress, in a short review? I suppose by, somewhat uncharacteristically, cutting to the chase.
This hotel promises to emerge as a true gem, a top of the range luxury hang out of choice for the achingly fashion conscious and those in search of a gold plated chill out zone. My advice would be, treat yourself, soon, before you lose your place in the rush.
That said, this hotel is nothing if not quiet, exclusive and discreet. With a good line in understated charm and a keen eye on the boutique style, if you wish to hide from the world for a week or treat your beloved to something comfortingly high end and searingly romantic, this is the place.
The setting lives up to its name, with a walled courtyard providing the cocoon inside which all 49 rooms and suites nestle. It is an enchanting place where it is quite easy to just disappear, strolling through the open plan reception on to the immaculate front lawn, accommodating two stylishly appointed pools looking right into the depths of the mighty Indian Ocean.
The ever present waves, crashing gloriously onto the rocks below, form the backdrop of a seriously luxurious riff and the hotel’s recently completed, excellently appointed and expertly staffed Spa, is another superb feature.
Do not forget that this coastline, between Koggala and Galle, bore the terrible brunt of the 04 Tsunami, with the area losing somewhere around 3000 people, no one can be sure of the precise number.
Sure, this is a holiday resort but it is worth sparing a thought for those who suffered in the area where Tsunami damage and high water marks are still visible on the buildings around Galles and the surrounding villages. It is also worth saluting those who are playing a constructive part in the recovery; this hotel is one such effort.
If a hotel is about its people, The Fortress truly nails it. Per Aquum have cleverly pulled in large numbers of local, Sri Lankan staff with strong experience of demanding markets where luxury and customer service are watchwords – Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, just for starters.
The presence of local Sri Lankans provides ballast and an authentic feel whilst ensuring that the hotel offers, broadly speaking, enough high end personnel to deliver the customer experience the group boasts of on its website.
A slight concern would be the fact whilst the resort is generally staffed at levels to deliver quality; there is sometimes a very slight unevenness of delivery, depending upon which individuals you deal with. This is more a feature of relative experience rather than anything seriously awry.
It is obvious that if The Fortress can hang on to the very best of its managers, they will impart not just the experience but also the polish and finesse which they bring to their jobs and the reputation of the hotel will flourish.
If you do happen to raise concerns with any staff, you will be buried beneath an avalanche of charm, assistance, corrections and solutions.
The rooms, whether you have the top of the range ocean front suites or those rooms looking inwards, to the immaculately coiffured lawns of the courtyard, ooze with class, comfort and style.
I would not however recommend the resort for young children or even teenagers, this is not an activity centre; it is place of serious relaxation.
The hotel can fit you up with trips to tea plantations, safaris, diving and deep sea fishing however this is not its forte and you may be better looking to your travel agent or the local free market for such trips. Also remember that the $ USD is default currency here, Sri Lanka’s service industry, almost without exception, prices in dollars so it may be easier to bring the greenbacks with you.
Real charm is the going currency inside the walls of the hotel, nothing phoney, nothing “have a nice day” about it, it simply matters to them that you enjoy your stay and experience the very best of Sri Lankan hospitality.
The dining is exquisite too, offering a spectacular fusion of the local and the international, the low profile chef is hard to find but is clearly too busy turning out stunning dishes to walk the floor.
The bulk of the tables nestle beneath a sheltered decking though there is a section of the restaurant which is “inside”, I would not recommend eating there but only because you will miss the experience of dining yards from the crashing waves in the skillfully lit outside dining space. Breakfast, founded on a staggeringly generous buffet, is also served in this space which, in daylight, takes on the stylish gait of a boho Soho brasserie.
The hotel is a longish drive from Colombo, maybe 4 - 5 hours, which can be challenging on the dangerous Sri Lankan roads, ensure that you secure a driver to meet you at the airport, either through your travel agent or the hotel itself.
In response, the newly empowered national tourist authority is taking steps to improve road building and however long the journey, I promise you will forget all about it within minutes of stepping inside The Fortress.
Sri Lanka, racked with a nasty and seemingly never ending civil war in the north, may just have found another few reasons to be optimistic about the future of its tourism industry with a strong showing at the 2007 World Travel Market and the all but certain emergence of The Fortress as a resort of global repute.
Morleyexecutive has previously been criticized for being too severe on occasions, too petty on others. On this occasion, morleyexecutive is unrepentant about sounding like a PR on behalf of this particular hotel, despite being a straightforward punter who has just returned from a glorious break at the hotel.
Say it after me, “After Christmas, I will treat myself to a week at The Fortress”, keep saying it until you get there, you will not regret it.
Good for Sri Lanka but more work needed
When you arrive at the Fortress after a four hour long journey from Columbo (on top of your 14 hour flight from the UK), it seems like an absolute haven. Firstly, it is an escape from the constant beeping of horns and scary driving which you experience everywhere else in Sri Lanka. The staff's welcome is very warm and the view as you walk in through the vast wooden gates is fabulous.
We stayed in an Ocean Loft which undoubtedly had a wow factor. With funky furniture and its own private indoor plunge pool, it made us gasp with delight as we walked in. However, once you have overcome those initial great feelings, you start to notice the lack of attention to detail. Firstly, our room was very damp - all the time. The only explanation for this I can find it that the indoor plunge pool was causing the condensation. When I say damp everywhere, I mean everywhere - the bed sheets, the floor, the bathroom. My camera even developed a few issues with damp too. It was a real shame.
Secondly certain things in the room were very difficult to operate. The patio doors were very stiff and difficult to open as were the wardrobe draws.
The pool service was also average. It took them a while to notice that you needed a sunbed so you would be lingering around trying to catch someone's eye for ages.
In all fairness, while we were staying at The Fortress, we had a tsunami warning. The staff were amazing and put us first in every way. They were great and put us at ease.
If a hotel wants to be a 5* as the Fortress is, you expect the best - especially from this hotel chain who have some of the best properties in the Maldives.
The hotel is relatively new and I think only opened earlier this year. Hopefully these teething problems will be overcome soon.
If you are looking for a hip Sri Lankan experience - this is the place to stay. The resort is a little out of Galle (about 15 minutes car ride) and there is not much in the immediate area. The entrance and reception are spectacular and provide a great arrival experience. The pool is also lovely and is lit by tiny lights at night - lovely to sit next to when having dinner. The restaurant and bar are next to the pool and provide attentive, friendly service. The prices are very reasonable. The freshly baked 'banana and chocolate muffins' at breakfast are amazing!
I stayed in a Fortress Room, which is to the side and there is no view (it would be worth paying a little extra for a sea view). The room was a good size, well laid out. Some cool touches included a Bose Soundsystem, preloaded iPod, Plasma Screen TV, Nespresso Coffee Machine and the bathroom. However the quality of the finish to the room is not good. They also let themselves down with cheap bathroom ammenities (i do not expect Lux soap in a luxury resort).
The gym is well equiped and although we did not use the spa - it looked very nice. There is also a shop, where you can borrow DVD's. The pool scene is nice and it overlooks the sea. The hotel however does not have a beach and you could not swim in the sea (very rocky and what looked like strong undercurrents). The pole fishermen who sit in front of the hotel at sunset make a wonderful photo opportunity.
There are Tuk Tuks that hang outside the front of the hotel, which is a great way to get into Galle. We visited the Fort in the early evening. We saw Amangalla and The Galle Fort - both of which are beautiful, classic hotels - so if you are visiting Galle as part of a cultural visit, maybe better. However both were dead compared to The Fortress. As Galle is dead in the evening, I only wished we had visited in the daytime, as it looked lovely.
Sri Lanka is a lovely country and the Fortress is a great way to experience it (in a resort sence). But make sure you step outside the walls and experience the country.
Beautiful, Tranquil and Friendly Hotel
My boyfriend and I stayed for four nights at the end of November and loved this place.
Agreed it is a long long way from the airport but I did find out that if you want extra luxury you can take a helicopter transfer that takes 55 mins and lands at a small military airport opposite the hotel.
We had an ocean room on the first floor and it was one of the most amazing rooms i've ever stayed in. We had a huge bed and massive spa bath, dvd, ipod, coffee machine etc.
The staff were incredibly friendly at all times and always helpful. The spa was great, i had a facial and was very relaxing and good facilities. Although I must say if you are travelling around Sri Lanka you will find massages and facials everywhere as it is the home of Ayurveda and massages can be as low as about 900 rupees for an hour (about £4).
The restaurant was excellent, they have 2 menus and after 4 days of 3 meals a day I can say that everything on the menu was delicious. Would especially recommend the lagoon prawns.
I guess the only down sides would be that you can't swim in the sea as the current is too strong and is on a coral reef, although this is made up by the 75m swimming pool! And also it is very quiet and relaxing so very much suited to couples looking for a quiet break.
all in all we loved it and i would 100% recommend to my clients.
Great time for Percival and I
My boyfriend, Percival, and I spent 9 days here on their two for one deal over the summer 2007. We arrived after travelling around Sri Lanka and were in need of some RnR which the fortress certainly provided.
A fantastic hotel, the best thing about it was its great decor. Slightly let down by the fussy service and limited in house menu. It was a shame there was no access to a beach, although the Koggala coast is probably not suitable for swimming anyway.
The biggest problem, for wich the fortress isn't responsible was the lack of things to do in the area. You see Percival was very good at relaxing by the pool, eating lots and getting a tan but I wanted more to do and often got cabin fever. Don't stay for more than a week and make sure you have a good book (and suncream!!)
An extra piece of advise - even the air conditioned modernity that the hotel provides isn't immune to ants. Percival's toblerone stash was quite the honey pot for them in our room. The concierge were quick to bring the ant spray and highly commended for that.
The Fortress - Magnificent
My husband and I stayed at the Fortress in late November for 5 days along with my husbands parents. We all had a fantastic time, very relaxing.
We opted for the Garden Rooms upstairs and the decor was very chic, the bathroom extremely big and functional. We did not venture out much as we were all in need of a break. We had read how long the trip took so we opted to stay overnight at Negombo first and have a night's sleep before being driven down to Galle. This meant we were fresh for the trip. The driving was OK and the van was air conditioned. Having spent the last 10 years in the Middle East we didnt find the trip too scary as we are used to much worse.
Transfers can be arranged locally and cost alot less than the travel company's and the hotels transfers.
We enjoyed the food at the restaurant and spent most days by the pool overlooking the sea.
We found the food prices to be good but the alcohol prices are far more than necessary. The service was definately the hotels best resource and at no time did we have to wait or did we feel like they were hovering or bothering us too much.
The only thing putting us off going back would be the distance from the airport. The seaplanes are no longer operating which would have been our preferred transfer and the helicopter prices were out of our range.
We went on to stay in other places in Sri Lanka but none of them matched the Fortress.
this place was wonderful
Yes it is a long drive. thats the only bad news.
We read the reviews, booked through Kuoni and had a faboulous 12 nights. The rooms were perfect, loved the Bose, loved the Ocean View, (ocean View room) the restaurant was first class, the menu was limited but everything we tried was excellent and on request we were served exactly what we fancied.
The staff were kind, generous, very happy to help and discuss where to go. excellent marks for reception, bar, restaurant and double for pool side.
Use the tuk tuks, negotiate well, Unawatuna costs about 800 return. Thats £3. Beer there £40p hotel £ 1.20
Wines dear in the hotel about £25 bottle. But in the surroundings, the smell and sound of the ocean its a small price.
Use the guys on the beach, negotiate but they need the money and we saw no dishonesty.
All in all, we loved it, the rooms are awesome, the staff spot on and we WILL go back.
Had a great stay here for 12 days. Its been open a year and while there a few small teething issues the place is great.
Ignore concerns over hawkers on the beach, a firm "thank you but i am not interested" does the trick.
The room product including the bathroom is first class. The pool area is great also and the beach is really good.
The spa is okay, my wife had a great facial yet other treatments were just okay. Make sure you dont stay in a room above the restaurant and bar as it can nisy until 2300 - i am an early bird!
The staff were really first class! Looked after us really well.
After a 5 hour transfer the sight of the fortress was great to see. As we entered tis paradise we realised it was worth the wait. On entering our rooms we soon realised this was not the room we had booked but 2...yes 2 upgrades to an ocean view suite. The rooms are fantastic with everything you could think of.
The Food - people have written about the lack of choice. We stayed 10 nights & every meal was superb.....we ate things a couple of times but thats because it was good food.
The Service - Its the very best. Lets face it these people don have it easy with long journeys to work, natual disasters, low pay etc....but the service is increadable. Muddy & Nalin served our food most nights & it was a pleasure....please tip these people as wen you have spent a few grand on a holiday another £50 dosnt mean much to you but will make a hge differance to them.
The Spa - Great, proffesional treatments.....the stff again are fantastic.
We only left the hotel once in 10 days & that was to go on a luxury boat tip.......DONT DO IT AS ITS A RIP OFF...We paid $250 but only after telling the guy we where not going to sit on a wreck for 8 hours. We told the hotel manager about the trip & Mr Axel did nothing.....he was the only dissapointing thing about the hotel. All the staff bent over backwards but the hotel manager couldnt give a hoot....
All in all this was one of the best hotels i have ev stayed at. Only stay though if you are looking for a retreat to be pampered, eat fantastic food, enjoy superb service & relax.....its the very best.
P.S Dont miss the saturday nights Jazz entertainment its very good.
Nearly the best Hotel in Sri Lanka
A slightly harsh four star (dot) rating for the Fortress. Not because of what it is but because of what it was.
Let me explain.
We stayed at this hotel a year or so ago, shortly after its renovation, and there was no question that it was one of the best hotels in Sri Lanka - Asia perhaps. The backdrop is pure Sri Lanka, white paint, dark wood, palm trees and crashing seas. Unlike many of the resorts in this part of the world though the Fortress has been brave enough to blend this with the best of contemporary modernist furniture and high-tech appliances. Rather than the usual mahogany four poster and reproduction Victorian fittings there are iPods, Bose systems and funky furniture. Great service, Great food and an amazing environment.
So where did the last star go? Well, all of the best bits are still there but a year on the coast is not kind and evidence of the salty sea mist is everywhere. Rust stains are running down the walls from the lights some of the fittings are corroded, even in the rooms and there are areas of stained paint in the rooms.
It is not a good time to own a Hotel in Sri Lanka, I know, but for the price of a man with a paint brush and a bit of attention to detail this really is one of the best hotels in Asia.
Galle Train Station
Mosque - Arab quarter -Galle Fort
Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
I'm due to be coming to Galle as part of a 2 week Tsunami Rebuilding volunteer trip in the second half of October. I've been told that most people take the middle weekend of the trip off to do some sightseeing and after doing some research the obvious trips appear to be Columbo and Kandy.
I guess my first question is ... as they appear to be a reasonable distance away from Galle then are they worth the time/effort to get there ??
If they are then can anyone recommend any must-see sights and/or also recommend the best ways to get there ?? How long does it take by train and by car/bus ??
Based on the fact that my flight is in and out of Columbo, should I try to give the middle weekend sightseeing a miss and instead head back up to Columbo from the middle of the second week and then see Columbo/Kandy from there then go straight to the airport to fly out ??
If these places are worth seeing can anyone recommend any decent, middle-of-the-road accommodation that is nice and not too expensive (although it doesn't necessarily have to be dirt cheap either) ??
My final question is whether you think it is worth going to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage as opposed to the Udawalawe elephant transit home ?? Or are they both worth seeing ?? Again, its just a travel thing and as I understand it the latter is much nearer to Galle ...
Thanks in advance to anyone who answers !!
RE: Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
Colombo is really nothing to see for tourists. It's the shopping (and disco) hub of the island, and hence attractive for some groups of tourists, nothing more.
Kandy is quite different - you really see totally other aspects of Lanka than in Galle. Same for N'Eliya, which is slightly closer by but more difficult by public transport. In Kandy, don't miss the Temple, Peradeniya Gardens and the Buddha statue high up on the hill.
Galle-Kandy, by train or express bus, would be about 6 hours each way with at least 1 transfer in Colombo. Your idea of doing Kandy 'at the end', avoiding the trip back, does make some sense.
Udu Walawe is a brilliant wildlife reserve for safaris, with the best landscape backdrop of all the reserves that we know, but the transit home is relatively small. Say 1/5 th the size of Pinawela. So if you go to Kandy, Pinawela is only a small detour. But don't miss Uduwalawe either, could do that from Galle. However be aware that safaris are around dusk or dawn, so either an early rise or late return (Uduwalawe-Galle is 2 to 3 hours because the road is partly bad.) Or an overnight stay in Centauria in Embilipitya nearby, decent 2-star place.
Enjoy your stay,
PS Our favourite 2-star hotels in Kandy are Suisse and Hilltop.
RE: RE: Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
Thanks for that. I really appreciate the detailed answers ...
RE: RE: Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
kandy is nice place to visit. i'd recommend taking the train because the bus weaves through the hills and over traffic at a very high speed. it doesn't really feel as safe as the train.
enjoy sri lanka--it's a beautiful place!
RE: RE: Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
Forget Colombo, there is nothing to see.
Kandy is a highlight, but I'd consider to visit Sigirya instead (imho the absolutely must-see).
I missed Udawalawe and was a little bit disappointed of Pinnawela. If you're intrested in nature you'd should also consider to visit Sinharaha rainforest, that's an unique adventure, if you get a good guide...
RE: RE: Kandy ?? Columbo ?? Or both ?? Or none ??
For the general tourist, there is little in Colombo, unless you have specific business there.
Kandy has the Temple of the Tooth.
Is the train strike over?
I recommend a reputable private air-conditioned car and driver--not too expensive.