1. Mount Lavinia Hotel – Colombo
The story of one of the most renowned 4-star hotels in Colombo starts in the year 1805, with Sir Thomas Maitland, a gallant military General, who sailed to the island of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known at that time) to assume duties as the second British Governor. He was better known by the sobriquet ”King Tom”.
King Tom had the desire to build a grand country mansion for himself, as he was very dissatisfied with the accommodation provided to him on arrival, which he regarded as hardly fitting for a man of his rank and stature. On his travels around the island, he discovered the perfect location for a stately house, on a promontory overlooking the sea in the village of Galkissa, not too far from the capital, Colombo.
It was in the year 1806 that King Tom built his new residence, a symbol of the power and authority vested in him, as His Majesty’s Governor of the island of Ceylon. Indeed King Tom built a house fit for a king, wherein he fulfilled his greatest desire of creating a pleasure-dome filled with excitement and entertainment to escape the inevitable pressures upon his freedom as Governor, within a rigidly circumscribed colonial English society.
Here within the portals of this house, King Tom first set eyes on a beautiful mestizo dancer, Lovina Aponsuwa, the half Portuguese and half Sinhalese lead dancer of her father’s dancing troupe. As she danced before him, enticing him with her long flowing jet black tresses and fixing his attention with her large, expressive, hazel brown eyes, King Tom was mesmerised. He fell instantly in love with Lovina, for nowhere had he seen such perfection, such beauty, and such grace. Lovina and her dance troupe became regular performers at the Governor’s house. Flattered by the attentions of this high-ranking official, Lovina, the lowly dancer was further elated when, as a token of his growing affection, she learned that he was to name his grand country mansion Mount Lavinia, after her.
Before long, King Tom and Lovina were engaged in a clandestine romance, their deep passion for one another flourishing in secret, away from the disapproving eyes of the English society in Colombo, and the moral imperatives of such a closed community.
Lovina’s life could not have been more different from that of her exalted paramour. She was from the lowest caste among the Sinhalese, the Rodiya community, looked down upon by the higher castes. She lived in humble dwellings a short distance from the Governor’s grand mansion. An underground tunnel allowed the Governor and his beloved to keep their trysts secret. The mouth of this tunnel was a disused well near Lovina’s dwelling place, and the underground passage led to the cellars of the Governor’s House. Their romance continued for six years with Lovina a regular visitor at King Tom’s private residence.
The duties of conscientious Governorship soon took their toll on King Tom, however, and poor health forced him to leave the island of Ceylon and his adored Lovina. The Governor, an honourable man, who wanted to do the very best for Lovina within the social mores of the time, presented her with a parting gift: a large piece of land in Attidiya, a village some distance away from Galkissa.
Although the departure of King Tom was to naturally seal the end of their love affair, Lovina’s name is remembered as providing the inspiration in naming the Governor’s house. Indeed, it is believed that her descendants still live in the vicinity of Mount Lavinia. The legend is the story of Lovina, how she fervently held the attention and captured the heart of a distinguished British Governor of Ceylon.
To this day, the secret tunnel remains, keeping alive the memory and spirit of the beautiful mestizo dancer, elevated in the popular imagination to ”Lady Lavinia”.
2. Queen’s Hotel – Kandy
One of Sri Lanka’s iconic historic hotels, Queen’s Hotel, is situated in the heart of Kandy. Faces the beautiful splendid surroundings alongside the Kandy Lake.
With a history of over 160 years, The Queen’s Hotel is an 80 room British Colonial style luxury hotel. This former Governor’s residence is one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka which is managed by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation.
What’s momentous about Queen’s Hotel is that it is situated in Kandy, where the world prominent “Temple of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha” is. Every country has its pageants and festivals and so does Kandy which has the world-famous “Kandy Esala Perahera Pageant” which is held annually. This pageant proceeds alongside the Queen’s Hotel’s East & West wings, providing the most magnificent viewing facilities for the guests who patronize the hotel.
3. Galle Face Hotel – Colombo
South Asia’s leading Grande Dame, the Galle Face Hotel is testimony to both Sri Lanka’s colonial past and its independent present. Celebrated within the hospitality world, it blends historical splendour with crafted modernity to form a new model for heritage properties. International guests are immersed in the Galle Face Hotel’s rich traditions and compelling stories, while Colombo society perceives the hotel as the most prestigious, desirable destination in the city for memorable dining and special events. Whether at the hotel for dinner or for a month-long stay, the experience of the Galle Face Hotel is one of timeless grandeur and exceptional hospitality.
The Hotel started out as a Dutch villa called Galle Face House that had been a meeting place for gentlemen of the colonial era. That was until four British entrepreneurs decided to use it to start a business, unaware that, by the late 19th century, it would be known as the best hotel East of Suez.
The Hotel originally opened in 1864, borrowing its name from the charming expanse of ground known as the Galle Face Green, which stretches for a kilometre by the side of the Hotel, along the coast, where, in Victorian times, it was a popular place to take a walk in the sea air or a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
The Hotel was built section by section, the first being the central area that leads to the awe-inspiring Ballrooms, followed by the South and North wings respectively.
4. The Grand Hotel – Nuwara Eliya
The 1990s saw The Grand Hotel bestowed its title of a ‘National Heritage Property’, by The Archeology Department of Sri Lanka. This prestigious label represents the value placed on the decade Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya as both a historic building, as well as a place that holds a deeply historic and cultural significance for Sri Lanka, worthy of preservation. Prior to its discovery by Dr John Davy in 1819, Nuwara Eliya was already home to an illustrious history that showcased ruins of ancient irrigation systems and stone inscriptions that dated as far back as 900 and 1000 AD. Nuwara Eliya, or the “ City of Light “, has deep roots as a popular Royal Township. It was the early 19th-century British Planters who made plans to make this little valley, a home away from home for themselves. Privy to it all, at the heart of the merry-making, romance and history, stands the best hotel in Nuwara Eliya – The Grand Hotel.
In 1819, Sir Edward Barnes, adjutant to the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo arrived, at the shores of this tropical island, as the fifth Governor of Ceylon. During an Elephant game hunting party led by Dr John Davy, news of this “ City of Light’s “ 36F climate reached Sir Edward Barnes. His intrigue led him to visit the province, and his enchantment with the beauty of it led him to commission the roadway to reach Nuwara Eliya, making it more accessible to residents of the island. Gradually converting this charming misty mountain village, to a model British village.
It was a mere two years later, in 1828 that he fell deeply in love with the beauty, culture and serenity of this island nation and began building his holiday home – Barnes Hall. This holiday home has now become the regal mansion known as The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.
5. The Grand Oriental Hotel – Colombo
The original building on the site was a simple, single-storey structure with open verandah to the street, inhabited by a Dutch Governor. In 1837 it was converted into barracks for the British Army. In 1873 it was converted into a hostelry, with reconstruction commencing on 23 February and completing 27 October, the same year.
The task of converting the Army hostel into a hotel was undertaken by the then Governor Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, engaging the architect of the Public Works Department, J. G. Smither, who was also responsible for the National Museum of Colombo, Colombo General Hospital and the old Colombo Town Hall. The estimated cost to build the hotel was 2,007 pounds but is noteworthy that the hotel was constructed within one year under the estimate for only 1,868 pounds.
The Grand Oriental Hotel was officially opened on 5 November 1875 and had 154 luxury and semi-luxury rooms. The owners were Colombo Hotels Company Ltd, who advertised it to potential customers with the claim that it was “the only fully European owned and fully equipped hotel in the East” and “managed by experienced Europeans”.
6. Hotel Suisse – Kandy
Ideally located right beside the historic and picturesque Kandy lake, the 90 roomed well-known colonial styled Hotel Suisse, stands on nearly four acres of landscaped garden – the only city hotel in Kandy to stand such a significantly massive acreage.
In the 17th century, it was the residence of the Chief Minister of the Royal Granary. However, In 1818 this property was acquired by the British and occupied by an officer, who named it “Haramby House”. Years later, “Haramby House” was sold to a Swiss lady, Madam Burdayron, who ran it as a guest house. During the second world war from 1943 to 1945, it was used as the Headquarters of the South East Asia Command. This then was the beginning of the present “The Hotel Suisse”.
Now Hotel Suisse is a property of the Ceylon Hotels Corporation which is managed by the Galle Face Hotel Group.