By the time we pulled up to our hotel in Sri Lanka we’d been travelling for a good day and a bit, across various time zones. We’d set off from home in the UK at around 6pm on a chilly Monday in January and now here we were on a balmy Tuesday evening the other side of the world. We’d arrived via Dubai (where we ended up in the cargo area due to a rush hour induced lack of stands) and the Maldives (sadly we had to stay on board the plane at Male airport). So, yes, needless to say by the time we arrived at The Fortress we were almost delirious with jet lag and had both fallen asleep in the back of our transfer ride from the airport. We were so sleepy that the guy who checked us in at the hotel cheekily asked if we remembered him the following day. He was shocked at how tired we were considering we should have got to sleep on the plane. He thought everyone got lay flat beds, even in economy – if only that were the case!
Anyway, despite the tiredness, the first thing that struck us about The Fortress was the large imposing doors. I don’t know if I’ve got a weird door fetish or what, but seriously they were some seriously impressive pieces of timber – which for some reason made both myself and hubby smile. After months of anticipation we were finally here!
A welcome iced tea and a cool flannel later and the staff were showing us to our room. Even through the jet lag we were amazed at how spacious it was. I exclaimed that it was bigger than our apartment at home. The staff thought I was joking – truth be told – it probably was.
That evening we ordered room service, poured ourselves a glass of wine, ran a bath and slept, ready to explore the following day. And we were super impressed by what we found! The Fortress is a resort hotel which backs onto the Indian Ocean. That said, it doesn’t have a private beach area. You can step onto the beach down just a few steps from the hotel grounds, but that’s a public beach where you’re open to be politely harassed by the locals. Not an issue for us, but for others who are used to resort hotel having its own private beach, this might be a surprise.
The Fortress is a boutique hotel, so it’s not massive, with just 53 bedrooms, even at full occupancy it never feels massively over-crowded.
Breakfast is served al fresco (although there is the option to sit inside if you’d prefer) and the selection is good – everything from curry, through fruit, cereal, toast and the chef will even prepare omelettes and other eggs to order. Likewise, dinners and lunches are also al fresco and offer a good choice of different cuisines, alternating between themed evenings (we really enjoyed the Sri Lankan buffet evening) and an al a carte menu. Prices aren’t cheap and because you’re a fair distance from Galle you’ll either have to stump up the cash for food, or for a Tuk Tuk to find a cheaper alternative. That said, portion sizes are massive and I got into the habit of only ordering starters from the lunch menu as a result! As well as the main restaurant, the room service food is impeccable (try a strawberry milkshake – you will not be disappointed). Plus, there are also pool snacks available (served to you at your sun lounger), freshly stone-baked pizzas and even afternoon tea served in the upstairs bar.
The infinity pool over looks the Indian Ocean. Do I really need to say more? It’s beautiful. A sight I could happily sit and stare at for hours on end. Often my book would lay unloved on the floor whilst I gazed out to sea. Sun loungers are also available away from the pool, but be careful where you pitch up. The hotel attracts a lot of crows, so if you’re nestled under the shade of a tree you might get pooped on! It’s also worth bearing in mind that the place is over-run by little Sri Lankan squirrels. They’re cute, mischievous buggers, but if you’re not a fan of furry creatures this mightn’t be the place for you! In our experience people do tend to reserve sun loungers by placing their books on them and then disappearing off for an eternity – annoying, especially considering the hotel is mostly frequented by us Brits, who I thought knew better! We took an ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em attitude’ to sun lounger reservation in the end. Oh and a tip, at sunset locals tend to wander the beach vying for Tuk Tuk trade. If you’re near the edge of the pool by the beach and you accidentally get eye contact with one of them, it can be a tad awkward. For this reason we preferred the sun loungers a little further back or off to the side of the pool.
It’s worth mentioning that the pool was equally impressive at night, lit up by a multitude of tiny lights in the floor. Truly stunning.
If furry creatures aren’t your thing, but amphibious ones are. The hotel houses its own turtle sanctuary and whilst we were there we got to experience releasing baby turtles into the wild – an amazing experience.
Something else worth looking out for is if someone in the hotel is getting married. An English couple got hitched while we were there and the entrance of the bride and groom was amazing.
The random Speedo wearers watching the nuptials on the beach a little less so, but hey!
As for nightlife, the hotel is pretty quiet on an evening. Once a week they host a managers cocktail evening where you get a free cocktail and get treated to a show of Sri Lankan dance. This is well worth going to.
Service at the hotel is out of this world. I’ve never been somewhere where the staff have been so friendly. You do start to think that it’s because they want a tip, and perhaps they do, but even if you don’t tip they’re still equally lovely to you. They also have a fantastic sense of humour and are a delight to chat to. A lot of them have previously worked in hotels in Dubai, so they truly understand high service standards. Not least the room boys who not only clean the rooms everyday (seriously I nearly smuggled one of the guys home with me – my cosmetics were rearranged in height order every single day!) but also spend time decorating the bed with petals and burning cinnamon oil as part of the turn down service.
Back to the rooms. We were in the standard room. OK, so we didn’t really have a view, but the room itself was massive and kitted out with a 7ft by 7ft bed, a Bose sound-sytem and pre-loaded iPod, TV, a well-stocked mini bar with complimentary fresh fruit on arrival, tea and coffee-making facilities (including an actual tea-pot), a cocktail shaker, more storage than you would need at home and… possibly the world’s most complex lighting system. It fooled us the first couple of nights, on nights after that we chuckled as we could hear switches being frantically turned on and off in adjoining rooms as they attempted to master the system.
The bathroom was pretty impressive too, with a free-standing bath (ours was a little wobbly), a massive walk in shower, his and her sinks and practically a book-case for your cosmetics (seriously I need one of those at home).
In terms of facilities, there’s a pool table and books in the upstairs bar which offers fabulous views out to the Indian Ocean. There’s also an amazing looking, but expensive Ayurvedic spa, a gift shop, a small but well kitted out gym and a jewellery shop. The hotel is also able to offer excursions, which perhaps aren’t the cheapest, but are well organised. In all instances our driver was always waiting for us way ahead of departure time.
In terms of location, The Fortress is in Koggala to the south of the island. The beaches around this area are beautiful, but there’s probably not as much to do as there is in areas such as Kandy. This hotel would make a nice indulgent and relaxing break for a couple who were looking for some R&R time at the end of a jam-packed tour of Sri Lanka, or offers a good base if you want to explore the south of the island and have some well deserved chill time. Local amenities are few and far between. Galle is about twenty minutes away by Tuk Tuk (there’s a rank opposite the hotel), there’s also Unawanatuna Beach a short Tuk Tuk ride away if you want an alternative place to eat out. In terms of things in walking distance to the hotel you’ve got Koggala Lake, the Folk Museum, the Turtle Sanctuary and a couple of very small stalls (selling coconuts, crisps, water and small snacks) and some equally small eateries.
For us it’s not a case of will we go back, but more a case of when.
Fabulous rating: 5/5