All the talk about an imminent boom in the number of tourists who visit Sri Lanka each year, made me wonder what “package” tourists from Europe actually get when they stay at a beach resort hotel here.
To find out, I chose a hotel in the popular tourist beach strip that stretches from Beruwala to Bentota and beyond.
The Palms is a hotel that, pre-tsunami, was known as Wornel’s Reef. It is now part of the Colombo Fort Hotels Group and is a sister hotel of The Sigiriya Village and Club Palm Bay, Marawila.
As the three-wheeler dropped me at the hotel’s entrance, some 600m down a lane off the Galle Road close to the 57km post, I was puzzled why the bellboy who took my bag wouldn’t let me in. “Wait here,” he said.
Of course I didn’t, and began to walk along a covered pathway winding through the garden. The bellboy caught up with me and I asked him why he wanted me to wait. “So I could telephone reception and tell them a guest is coming and then the barman can prepare a welcome drink,” he told me.
Suitably contrite, I let him lead the way, which is just as well as the entrance walkway bifurcates at an imposing entrance gate that you can’t actually reach unless you wade across the pool in front of it. This approach across vast lawns bordered with bamboos and lush tropical trees, is a wonderful introduction to the resort. It gives an air of spaciousness and the unexpected.
At the reception, a welcome drink of fruit juice was proffered; I sat and signed the registration card, then a smiling receptionist took me to the lift. It is a glass sided one with a magnificent view of the gardens, palms (of course), the beach and the sea. Comatose on sun loungers by the pool were tourists lost in holiday lethargy.
My bedroom was large with a polished terracotta floor, ample wardrobe and luggage space, and a vanity table with huge mirror. There was a small bathroom with shower cabinet. It was basic but perfectly furnished for a beach holiday; it even had a kettle for making tea and coffee.
There was air-conditioning as well as a fan but I switched it off and opened the balcony windows to take in the view. Within minutes I had a visitor, an inquisitive squirrel who seemed quite at home in the guest bedroom and shinned happily up and down the curtains.
The room had a well-produced guest compendium detailing hotel activities as well as the Ayurveda Centre tariff. One section entitled “Going Out With Strangers” stated: “There are strangers in the outer environs of the hotel who are on the look out to befriend our guests. Should you decide to go out with them, it will be deemed as a decision of yours and at your own risk.”
The Palms swimming pool is large (with a separate pool for children) and seems to flow from the garden into the bar. The bar itself is centrally located in the open air (good for smokers) and has a four-sided counter, ideal for conversing with other guests while sipping correctly-made cocktails or local draft beer.
All meals were served as buffets and I was surprised to see several Indian dishes for dinner. The supervisor explained that guests (mostly British and German) were used to Indian curries and found the Sri Lankan version too hot. Nevertheless the buffet dinner was original with items like Cheese Battered Spinach Leaves and Mutton Biriyani severed in a banana leaf wrap. Adding a touch of humour were bread loaves shaped like a crocodile and a turtle.
The real joy of staying in a tourist resort became apparent after dinner. With a three-piece band playing popular western music, couples soon began dancing; the bar did brisk business, and a warm camaraderie developed among the guests.
When I arrived I thought that guests would get bored staying in the same resort for two weeks. But from the comments in the visitor’s book, it seems guests love the intimacy of The Palms. Even though it has 98 rooms, guests soon get to know each other, and beginning swapping tales of their adventures in Sri Lanka.
One English lady said she hadn’t eaten so well in years, while her husband was delighted at being able to swim in the pool everyday and enjoy fellow guests’ company at night. Even from my brief stay it was obvious that guests are served and treated well at The Palms, making them likely to return to Sri Lanka soon.
Special rate for Sri Lankan residents, Rs 14,000 (inclusive of taxes) double per day, full board. Reservations: 011 4334834; www.forthotels.lk.