Travel review: the Fortress Resort and Spa

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 6:40pm

Despite its colonial Dutch look, The Fortress Resort & Spa is only five years old, built after the 2004 tsunami ravaged much of the southern Sri Lankan coastline.

The huge, dominating wooden doors distinguish the resort from other buildings along the Galle Road. They're left slightly ajar, and a step inside reveals a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Guests are greeted with a cool tea tinted with ginger in the open lobby that overlooks the pool and sea beyond. Checking-in takes place in-room, and guests generally deal with the same staff member throughout their stay. In keeping with Sri Lankan hospitality, staff are cheerful and chatty.

Of the 53 rooms, none smaller than 700 sq ft, the two Ocean Lofts have oversized living rooms and split-level accommodation. Two huge Fortress Residences are 2,500 sq ft, with two bedrooms and an outdoor dining deck. These come with a personal butler. For a more modest option, ground-floor rooms have a garden and sea view while top floor rooms have a balcony.

The spaciousness of the resort is accentuated by its high wooden ceilings. Wooden floors match accented wall panelling, creating a minimal and natural environment, letting the view make the biggest impression. Like the comfortable 2.1-metre beds and the daybed/children's bed, the open-plan bathrooms are roomy, with a rain shower big enough for a small gathering.

Peak season is between December and February. But The Fortress is a popular location year round for honeymooners, who are given a free upgrade when possible. It's possible to arrange a private romantic dining table in a shallow pool within the hotel grounds.

Local options are basic so all tastes are catered for in-house, from wood-fired pizzas to tandoori. Guests can order from any menu, whether outside on the verandah or inside with the air conditioning. Produce is usually locally sourced. The freshly made ice cream and sorbet make use of local ingredients such as cinnamon and passion fruit. Only meat, salmon and scallops come from further afield.

Seafood lovers should try either a fusion tuna dish - caught nearby - or local lagoon crabs or prawns, weighing in at 350 grams each.

Although Indian curries are available, the set of five small Sri Lankan curries, including cashew and cucumber curry, steal the show. The heat isn't reduced for international palates, but none are too hot to try. They can be sampled in the international breakfast buffet.

The jewel on the menu though is the "The Fortress Stilt Fisherman Indulgence", which once topped Forbes "most expensive dessert in the world" list. Featuring a stilt fisherman made of chocolate, gold leaf Italian cassata, a mango and pomegranate compote and champagne sabayon, the addition of an 80-carat aquamarine stone pushes the price to US$14,500.

Spa treatments include oil and hot stone massages, a range of relaxing baths and seven beauty treatments. The facilities are open to all guests. Ayurvedic treatments are traditional in Sri Lanka, with slightly different ingredients to those used in India. An ayurvedic assessment ensures the correct oils and treatment are used. The large, minimal spa has a traditional wooden steam bed and another for shirodhara - the dripping of special oils onto the third eye chakra, supposed to heal blood pressure problems, jet lag, stress and insomnia. The gym also provides yoga classes and the instructor is usually on site.

Take time out to explore the surrounding sights, such as Koggala Lake, the turtle sanctuary or, further away, the Dutch colonial town of Galle. The only other musts are insect repellent, and cream for when that fails.