For months I watched as a gigantic edifice took shape by the side of the Galle Road at Ahungala and I wondered how anything so huge could be a welcoming hotel. It grew to five floors tall with a massive central area and two wings spreading beside the beach. Then suddenly the 501-room Hotel Riu [...]

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Enjoyable, carefree stay at a modern beach hotel

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For months I watched as a gigantic edifice took shape by the side of the Galle Road at Ahungala and I wondered how anything so huge could be a welcoming hotel. It grew to five floors tall with a massive central area and two wings spreading beside the beach. Then suddenly the 501-room Hotel Riu was open for business.

To test this new tourist product I went to the hotel’s website and easily booked a room. I was curious how such a mammoth hotel would compete with the charming, elegantly chic, boutique-style properties that are part of Sri Lanka’s attraction for tourists.

The hotel’s yawning open-sided lobby is very close to, but higher than, the Galle Road and bellboys rush to unload luggage while guests are directed to the “wait in line” reception counter. So they don’t get lost, guests are given a map to the facilities on the ground floor where there are three swimming pools, a children’s pool dedicated playground, five restaurants in the south wing and four bars and a disco in the north wing.

Payment was charged in advance to my credit card and then a red plastic band was clamped on my right wrist. “That,” said Mary the vivacious front office manager from the Canary Islands, “means you are entitled to whatever you want to eat or drink throughout the hotel. Nothing more to pay.”

“What about dining in the steakhouse tonight?” I asked. “Surely that’s extra?”

“No,” said Mary with a smile. “Everything really is included.”

I was incredulous; if everything were free, wouldn’t there be a compromise on quality and choice? However, the cheerful optimism of all the staff members, who seemed to work as a team, indicated this was a hotel that knew how to look after guests properly. The bellboy escorted us to a Junior Suite in the north wing with a glorious sea view from its balcony (an ashtray was provided there for smokers). The beach was deserted, the sea rough, and the hotel is raised up and protected by a high wall, which also serves to deter loiterers.

In fact, the hotel is as secure, exclusive and as private as a boutique property since non-registered guests are not allowed on the premises. However, a day pass valid from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., permitting use of the pools, with breakfast and lunch and drinks included, can be purchased from reception.

In the bedroom there was a mini bar (soft drinks only), as well as a kettle for making tea or coffee. There were two queen size beds with plump mattresses and pillows and, on the walls, Sri Lankan motifs and bright photos of local views as décor. As well as AC, there was a fan and in the clothes closet was a mini safe. The perfect hotel room; but no room service although the housekeeping staff were in constant attendance and ready to chat.

The corridors ramble and not all rooms are sea facing or the same size. Lifts serve all floors and the one closest to our room took us to the corridor leading to the Flamingo pool bar with stools and tables and even mosaic sun loungers set in the water. In European fashion there were sun loungers set out in orderly rows with pool boys distributing towels. The head barman happily named the brands of foreign liquor available (no compromise there) and we settled for classic cocktails. Local spirits are available too and at noon the next day champagne cocktails were being served in the lobby while a band played.

Dinner that night in the Sauté steakhouse (which doubles as a snack bar during the day) featured a choice of four meats including imported New York sirloin with lashings of good Spanish wine. The next morning breakfast was a buffet in the Ceylon Restaurant with cold cuts, delicious croissants and jams, action stations with turkey bacon and eggs, and a section specialising in Sri Lankan cuisine. Lunch was a buffet too, as that’s what holidaymakers enjoy.

Hotel Riu is part of a Spanish group that has mass-market hotels of style in nearly two dozens places, including the Bahamas, Mexico, Miami and Turkey.The professional expertise shows in the way this new hotel was operating so seamlessly after being open only a few weeks. Every single member of staff I encountered was obliging and confident, making guests feel assured, and not like a nameless room number. Indeed, no one knew my room number (I forgot it twice) and, since I didn’t have to sign bills, it didn’t matter.

The stay at Riu was not only enjoyable but also divinely carefree. Since every guest wore a wristband, we felt we were in an environment where people knew each other and were all having a good time. This inspired, high quality concept will surely set a new benchmark for modern beach hotels here, to the delight of visitors and Sri Lankans.

For more information :Hotel Riu, Ahungalla Beach; 091 5220000; www.riu.com

 

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