Antic Chic Galle Fort | Daily News

Antic Chic Galle Fort

Details are amazing

I stayed at Antic, a vintage gem of a new hotel in the heart of the old quarter.

The vintage way to get to fort

"I was born here on No 3 New Lane 1," explains the owner Irfan Ismail as he shows me around this wonderfully converted family house into a simply glorious and fun boutique style hotel. From the moment you step through the hand painted doorway you will feel the energy of this magical hidden spot, where fort life remains unchanged for centuries. Antic, a four-bedroom property with ensuite bathrooms complete with stag horns to hang your bath towels on, is only one of many reminders of the forts recent colonial past perfectly setting the scene of historic Galle Fort with its amazing shutters that took artist Mueen Saheed a 1000 hours to do. Each one, an inspiration from the incredible 400 years of living history and brilliantly captures the voodoo of the location.

Story to tell

Each panel tells a story about the different people that came through Galle Fort port of trade, a medieval united nation and this rich history is echoed throughout the hotel with the rooms numbered with key historic dates. Despite being British, I decided to stay in the Dutch quarters of 1640.

Here I could sit in the top room and contemplate life in a vibrant orange hammock made by local hammock man Sunil, which hangs from the old trading ships beams. Looking out over the terracotta fort tiled roves and listening to the clatter of old singer bikes mixed outside with the sounds of the sea is all part of the joy of staying inside the old city walls.

The spacious room with its azure lime washed floors are full of lots of quirky features including ropes reflecting one of the many things the Dutch produced during their time of occupation on Leyn Baan Street, which literally translated means rope street.

As you wander through this delightful property with the owner, you will discover each room is named after an important date in fort history starting with1505 when the Portuguese discovered the island. The unique vintage objects give each area of the house a lived in vintage feel, and a style quite different from all the other fort properties.

Whether it's sipping tea with Liyaudeen Saliy, the manager who was born on the same street, listening to him regaling tales of the forts ever changing history, it will not be long before you feel fully immersed in this magical spot with its lavish use of azure blues, bright red and vibrant green colors.

Stripped back, the owner highlights the original way the houses were built in the old city from the left over coral and shells that came from the trading ships ballast, which can be seen when enjoying a drink in the Antic corridor courtyard.

Around the world

Irfan Ismail has collected antics from his own travels around the world from the lantern style light outside the front, which was purchased in an English car boot sale to the clocks inside the main dining room that he bought over the years on eBay. The floor board effects, stairs, cupboards, beds, lamps and Dutch chests are all made from this lime wash special effect giving the place a shabby chic look of an artist residence. Using narrative art to tell the historical story of the place can be seen at the entrance on a clay booly jug like pot, which was used for making moon shine and today tells the story of this fascinating merchant city as you hand turn it around.

The Antic team are the perfect host, serving healthy pots of tea in a large open plan dining room looking out onto the charming side street, where you can hear the whirl of sewing machines hand making saris and dresses for the latest fort wedding and in the evening, roti being pounded in the forts favorite roti shop only a couple of minutes away.

From here one can take off for an early morning walk to see all the historic sites on a circuit walk starting with the still fully operating lighthouse, where you can enjoy the sun rise as the street sellers go around with carts selling fruit, malu (fish) and spices, which is where Antic buys most of its produce. With a head full of stories of amazing people I walk along Pedlar Street to the Old Dutch Reformed Church and the Amangalla hotel on Church Street.

The sun is just casting its first rays on the tops of the fort buildings bringing all kinds of whites, reds, yellows and oranges to life for another hot day in paradise.

The air is full of the smell of cinnamon and old ladies on the side streets can be seen picking fistfuls of fresh curry leaves from their gardens to make the days rice and curry dishes.

Old style hospitality

Talking to the original fort families there is a real sense of old style hospitality and daily acts of kindness. Here one can swim with the turtles in the shallow reef like seas by day and standing guard to those that enjoy Lighthouse beach is the impressive Meeran mosque.

On the return journey to Antic, tuck into a Sri Lankan style breakfast of pol sambal and fresh hand thrown rot. I am struck by how lively and colorful a place this is with no signs of it falling into the disrepair one sees in other less lived in monuments. Every building speaks to me of lives within, diligently going about their painstaking businesses and passions, creating hand cut gems if they are jewellers, pounding spices for their daily dishes, progressing, eating, marveling, waxing lyrical, dare deviling and reminiscing. This particular slice of paradise is a place of enormous diversity and lives lived across the whole spectrum of experience.

Traveller and writer Nicholas Bouvier who stayed in the fort in the 1950s wrote a wonderful book called 'The Scorpion Fish' setting the scene of what the place was like in the past "Before our trading posts, our plundering, our tall ships created this port and this town, there was nothing here but a large village of acrobatic coconut pickers, fishermen tossed high in the spray, cinnamon peddlers governed by a Dutch pastor who wore a wig."

The manager of the hotel Liyaudeen says he would not live anywhere else but fort and after a few days at Antic you may well feel the same way as this place has a way of bewitching people with its colourful bottled lights on an old rickshaw cart wheel catching the evening light, as the air fills with the sounds of chanting monks and the call to prayer just before sunset. In Antic, the six old clocks on the walls stand still reminding us just how time locked this place really is. Be warned, stay longer than a few days and like so many others over the centuries you too may never leave and then again why would you, with such beautiful places like Antic to stay. Here you can really enjoy the authentic merchant city life first hand with the people who have been here for generations.

Antic has a three-wheeler and will happily pick you up from the station or go direct to No. 3, New Lane 1 in the Galle Fort just off Leyn Baan Street. 

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