11th June 2000
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Beaming history and tranquillity

An architectural masterpiece, the Lighthouse Hotel beams across the dark waves like a beacon, from the heights of a rocky bluff on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Designed by internationally renowned architect, Geoffrey Bawa, the Lighthouse Hotel combines many spectacular features, Beaming history and tranquillitywhich give it a special character and atmosphere. 

A large stone-paved terrace overlooking the sea is a tranquil spot especially at night, where guests can relax looking out over the rocks with the breakers dashing against them, soaking in the sound and feel of the ocean. On the horizon, lights from ships and small fishing craft twinkle in the darkness. Farther south, over the water, the lights of Galle city can be seen, with the lighthouse also sending out its beams to ships at sea. 

Eddystone Mansion, an old colonial house was demolished to construct the hotel on this site. The plan of the hotel- the levels, spaces and restaurants - was dictated by the site, which is higher than the road. 

The history of Galle is interwoven into the fabric of the hotel. For centuries, Galle was an important port of call between the Middle East and the Orient, due to its strategic location. The Portuguese established a stronghold in Galle in 1589 and were ousted by the Dutch, who stormed the fortress in 1640. Today, the massive Galle Fort, still encircling the city centre, has been declared a World Heritage site. It is the principal landmark of this premier city of the south. The Portuguese origins of the fort are no longer visible but the Dutch influence is very much in evidence. 

The predominantly Dutch theme used for the hotel's design is meant to convey the austerity of the period rather than its architectural style. The Lighthouse Hotel presents an exterior of a rock wall with long narrow openings like gun slits and a narrow entrance paved with rough cobblestones, giving the impression of a fort. The reception lobby, furnished with huge Dutch chests, Dutch period chairs and large square coffee tables, emphasises the Dutch influence. 

A narrow doorway from the lobby leads to a wide circular stairway, which is a spectacular feature of the hotel. Along the spiral railing, the entry of the Portuguese into Galle and the battle between the Portuguese and Sinhalese armies are portrayed in large brass and copper figures. The stairway in the manner of those found in lighthouses though much wider, is topped by a glass dome, open to the sky. The wall along the stairway is rough and painted a streaky orange, a mixture of paint and clay. At night, it glows a mellow gold. 

One flight up brings you to a lobby and the inviting terrace, open to the vast vista of the ocean. The lobby is furnished with bulky wooden couches, chests and specially designed monkey chairs. Black and white prints of old homes and temples adorn the otherwise plain walls. The terrace with its view of the ocean is a popular spot among guests who relax here with a drink, fanned by the fresh breeze. Hurricane lanterns on the coffee tables at night, cast a warm, cosy glow. A mobile bar is set up in the evening to cater to guests. 

Grand buffet and barbecue dinners are often laid out on this multi-purpose terrace, which also leads into the air-conditioned restaurant, the Cardamom Cafe. Glass panels on two sides of the room give a wide view of the sea. Whether you have your meal in the air-conditioned comfort of the restaurant or out on the terrace, the sea is ever present. Outside the dining room, a narrow terrace along one side, almost overhanging the rocks below, makes a most inviting dining spot. Seated there, the wind on your face, the waves crashing on the rocks below and the seaspray flying up, you experience the turbulent spirit of the ocean. Excellent, well presented meals are a hallmark of the hotel. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, a plentiful and appetizing spread is laid out for the guests. Plain unadorned corridors lead from the public areas to the rooms and the swimming pool. The high walls and the natural sloping terrain, rocky in places, give the impression of being within the ramparts of a fort. The same orange as on the stairway, lights up attractively at night. 

Lighthouse has 60 bedrooms with provision for 40 more. Three luxury theme suites are named after well-known travellers who have visited the country. The Spielbergen suite is furnished in typical Dutch style, the Fa-Hsien suite in Chinese style and the Ibn Batuta suite in a rich Moroccan style. Each suite consists of two large bedrooms with two bathrooms including a jacuzzi, sitting room, guest toilet, two balconies with built-in sofa bed and a pantry provided with butler service when needed. The standard bedrooms, all enjoying a sea view, are spacious and comfortably furnished. Boarded floors and a king- size bed with high wooden headboard impart a kind of old world charm. A hurricane lamp fitted with a bulb, lights up the entrance. Unusual for a hotel room is the absence of curtains, instead there is a fixed glass window with painted inner shutters of wood. A balcony outside each room looks down over the swimming pool and the sea beyond.

On the highest level of the hotel are the fine dining roomknown as the Cinnamon Room and the interesting Coat of Arms Bar. The eye-catching ceiling of the bar is lined with the colourful Coats of Arms of different towns of ancient Ceylon, executed in Batik. The names with archaic spellings are written in quaint old-style calligraphy. Simply furnished with a long bar counter of timber, a pool table and groups of comfortable leather cushioned chairs, the bar has a cozy, informal atmosphere. 

The spacious fine dining room with its lofty wooden ceiling is furnished with Dutch cupboards, chests and rounded wooden chairs to maintain the Dutch theme. Both bar and dining room lead out to another large open terrace looking out over the sea towards the city of Galle. Hurricane lamps fixed along the low wall cast muted lighting over the weather beaten wooden chairs and low tables. 

The swimming pool, gymnasium and tennis court are located on a level below the terrace. The Anchor Pool Bar provides snacks and drinks to guests who wish to relax by the pool. A sloping grassy stretch leads from the pool to a rocky cove. Midway, is a beautiful spot sheltered by rocks, against which the waves splash sending up a fine misty spray. Here guests can have informal barbecues arranged on request. The Lighthouse has several such picturesque locations where one can unwind and enjoy the environment of the dramatic coast. 

Should you wish to venture out, the popular beach resort of Unawatuna and the coral reefs of Hikkaduwa are within easy reach of the hotel. A visit to the Galle Fort takes you back to the Dutch colonial era. Walking around the ramparts surrounding the city, you can see the old cannon mounts and watch the surf fishermen in the sea below. You will also find vendors selling corals and pillow lace, a popular handicraft of the area. 

Rumassala, just outside the city is well known for rare, exotic species of trees and plants. Farther afield, there are the Wevurukannala Temple, which boasts of the largest seated Buddha statue in Sri Lanka and the Mulkirigala Rock Temple believed to have been built in the 1st century B.C.

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