Discovering Central Sri Lanka

Thursday, 25 August 2011 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Kandy is so unappreciated. In spite of its fame and beguiling name, visitors linger no longer than necessary for a pilgrimage to the Sri Dalada Maligawa and, perhaps, a stroll around the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya before moving on.

However, Kandy is the heart of Sri Lanka and offers so much to do and see within easy reach; it rewards the visitor who stays more than a single night with a holiday of fulfilment. Of course, the choice of a hotel is important for a stay of several days. That’s why Kandy’s Hotel Suisse is so popular.

Part of the Galle Face Hotel Group, through its Ceylon Hotels Corporation properties, The Suisse has recently been revamped to meet the demands of the modern holidaymaker. This is part of the new policy introduced by the group’s chairman, Sanjeev Gardiner.

To implement the improvement in standards, he has entrusted the project to a team headed by Senior Vice President, Chandra Mohotti, a veteran hotelier.

The improvement in standards being introduced can already be enjoyed at The Suisse. With a heritage dating back to the 17th century when a building on the same site was the residence of the Chief Minister of the Royal Granary, its history goes beyond colonial days.

In 1818 the property was acquired by the British administration, which named it Haramby House. Later it became a popular guesthouse run by a Swiss lady, Madam Burdayron. After expansion between the world wars it was established under a new owning company in 1938 and became known, perhaps inevitably, as the Hotel Suisse.

The addition of a swimming pool in its front garden, overlooking the Kandy Lake, greatly enhanced the appeal of the property. A black and white photo hanging in the lobby showing the hotel as it was in 1938 illustrates the changes made since then.

Now the hotel rambles over four floors, some of its 90 rooms having bathtubs as well as showers in their revamped bathrooms. Deluxe rooms have balconies and a lake or garden view. Even standard rooms are tastefully furnished.

Some bedrooms have wooden parquet floors, others cement floors polished dark red to retain the original atmosphere of this venerable property. Vintage wooden wardrobes and luggage racks remain as part of the hotel’s heritage, with modern air-conditioning units supplementing ceiling fans.

The main restaurant is on the second floor, converted from the original ballroom with a high ceiling and a gallery that is part of the third floor. When the restaurant is used for special functions, a second hall becomes the restaurant. Most of the meals are served as buffets due to the number of guests, although an a la carte menu is available.

The hotel has one of the most convivial bars in Kandy with a vast lounge and a garden terrace where tables are set up for smokers and those who want to enjoy quiet moments under the moonlight. There is a billiard room with a fine table with chubby Queen Anne legs, manufactured by John Roberts of Bombay.

Steps lead up to the open-sided lobby adjoining the entrance portico where guests alight from their vehicles. Opposite, is an extension of the hotel with a herbal therapy chamber, a book counter, a travel desk, and steps down to the swimming pool. The hotel is ideally situated by the lake, away from the bustle of the town. It has easy access for vehicles and plenty of parking space, as well as quarters for drivers.

The Suisse makes a very convenient base for discovering the Central Province and the many historic places close to Kandy, such as three incredible shrines, all dating from the 14th century, just 16km away. Gadaladeniya shows a South Indian influence, the Lankatilaka Viharaya stands out because of its rococo design, while the famous Embekke temple fascinates because of its intricate wooden pillar designs.

The hotel is also central for exploring the ancient sites of the Cultural Triangle during day trips or, on another day trip, for visiting Nuwara Eliya. It is a short distance to drive to the Ceylon Tea Museum beyond the Kandy Railway Station or simply to stroll around the lake constructed in 1801 by the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe.

In acknowledgement of its cultural heritage, the Hotel Suisse has preserved an ambience of calm and reverence. While the service is friendly and efficient, nothing is hurried, in keeping with the aura of the past. The blending of old style and modern comforts is subtle, giving the hotel a character that makes a long stay there both interesting and enjoyable.