The pride of Bentota is 40 years old

By Shethi Amaratunga

Ingrained in my memory are moments from my childhood, which I can recall till this day with a vibrancy that matches the bright sun. My father would treat our family of five on special Sundays to a drive down to Bentota for the Sunday buffet.

The spotting of stone walls lined with frangipani trees and the large wrought-iron gates of Bentota Beach Hotel would increase our excitement. Having splashed around the pool and turning four shades darker we would be treated to a scrumptious spread of exotic tastes. Bentota Beach Hotel was not a mere service provider in the hospitality trade but rather a household name for Sri Lankans and foreigners alike.

Today, as my toddler splashes around the pool as I did, I sit back and gaze at the familiar impassive stone walls softened by frangipanis. Some things are timeless.

The hotel then (top) and now (above)

The hotel’s celebration of its 40th year made me delve into the archives to find out more about this timeless masterpiece. Opened in 1970 as Sri Lanka’s first purpose-built resort hotel, the building of the hotel was a result of Sri Lanka’s early promotions as a tourist destination, the much sought-after Geoffrey Bawa summoned to encapsulate the need of the global traveller whilst providing guests with a memorable experience.

Bawa modelled the design based on a Dutch Fort which was said to have existed in the area. Hence the hotel is bordered by a stone wall and the property itself built on a remodelled bastion.

Guests would take the stairs at the entrance, which as the master architect intended, took the form of a dungeon-like atmosphere before emerging into a kaleidoscope of colour in the form of batiks hung from the ceiling of a warm and welcoming reception area.

Currently the hotel has 133 rooms and the choice of accommodation varies from standard and deluxe rooms that offer modern comforts to luxury suites that retain Dutch old-world charm with four-poster beds and satin drapings.

In 1983 Bentota Beach Hotel was awarded a four star classification, another first for a resort hotel in the island. In 1991 it came under the John Keells Hotels Group which spent a substantial investment towards refurbishment.

My stream of recapping history ends with a sincere toast to the hotel -may it continue to create memories that last a lifetime.

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