Casa Colombo: Sri Lanka’s retro-chic boutique hotel
Leading luxury travel and food writer Mary Pratt, founder of The Caviar Spoon, heads to Sri Lanka’s capital city and stays in the retro-chic boutique hotel, Casa Colombo.
If only I had a home like this.
You see, Casa Colombo has grown into a 12-room retro-chic boutique hotel from its roots as the home of a wealthy Indian trading family. Over the years, this 200-year old home changed hands a number of times until entrepreneur Lalin Michael Jinasena set eyes on it. Although it was in a terrible state of neglect by that point, he embraced it and, through a solid vision and sense of design, created the current Casa Colombo—a lush home away from home.
Since then, Casa Colombo has been raking in awards and recognition, like being named the Country Winner for “Luxury Design Hotel” at the 2015 World Luxury Hotel Awards. On top of that, they are also part of the Condé Nast Johansens collection, meaning they’ve been vetted and are recommended by the very reputable reference guide for discerning travellers. That alone is a pretty big hint that you’re in for an experience when you stay here!
Lalin, a super chilled, down-to-earth entrepreneur, studied design in Loughborough and comes from a well-known Sri Lankan business family that has worked in hotels and property, among other areas. Wanting to focus on hotels but with his own ideas, Lalin decided to set up his own brand which led to the birth of Casa Collection.
Casa Colombo became his first project when he found this rich but neglected piece of property. He wanted to keep the colonial look and as much of the natural beauty as possible whilst blending in a retro, edgy style to give the hotel its own personality.
As for the rest of Casa Collection?
Well, you’ve got Casa Mirissa, located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. This is a fab beach retreat for those who maybe want to breathe in the salt air whilst lounging on the beach…or how about hopping aboard Miss Elle, the property’s private luxury yacht? This sister property has also racked up some nice accolades, so it seems like Lalin has the golden touch when it comes to hotel properties!
As if that’s not enough, if you want something that’s more of a rustic indulgence, their sister project Juce Hotels is well worth a mention. Deliberately branded separately from CCC, this is about budget travel and staying in 18-bunk dorms and, well, partying and having some good, rollicking fun!
Brand Presence and Identity
Casa Colombo thoroughly embraces its retro look mixed with a strong dash of trendiness. After a brief drive down the lane to get to the hotel, you’ll immediately pick up on a fabulously warm and welcome vibe. Instead of a big central check-in area, there’s a cool reception desk just to the right when you enter, which is a nice touch and lends itself to the laid-back atmosphere. You’ll also be able to spot ZAZA Bar – a glass-encased area with round rattan seats that light up – and T Republic next door, a relaxed and open outdoor space where you can enjoy some chill time and perhaps a bit of shisha.
Lalin told me: “All designs are unique to the properties. For example, Casa Colombo is retro chic but we’ve still allowed that tropical chic to follow through whilst keeping original flooring and recreating the ceiling. Cara Mirissa is more of a beachy vibe.”
Getting There & First Impressions
Right smack bang in the middle of Colombo, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for the lane to turn down. My first gut reaction when I took in the sight of this property was “Wow, I can’t believe this used to be someone’s home! Lucky buggers!”
Remember, this isn’t your standard Marriott. It’s retro-chic, both in looks and in vibe. When you walk into the lobby, you’ll notice the beautiful, high moulded ceilings (present throughout the entire hotel) and the awesome original tiled mosaic flooring from the hotel’s past lives. They tried to keep as much of the original work as possible and anything that was ruined beyond repair was carefully recreated to mimic the natural ageing process in order to blend in.
If you pop up the stairs, you’ll be able to see a very cool series of photos chronicling the story of the house before, during, and after its transformation. Very interesting and worth a few minutes of your time whilst at Casa Colombo!
Staff & Service
This part was fantastic. The moment I arrived, I was handed a mobile number and card for Aarun, my private butler, or Casa Domo as the hotel calls them. Aarun turned out to be as cool as the hotel—in fact, that seemed to be true for a number of the staff. On top of that, they all had some pretty awesome waistcoats and I’d hazard a guess that they’re custom designed! (And if Lalin’s wife Michelle Sielman, a fashion designer, had a hand in the design, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised!)
The secret seems to be that the staff here aren’t “staff” so much as they are part of the hotel family. It’s not that formal nor would that kind of formality suit Casa Colombo. Everyone is very friendly and after a couple of days, they’ll feel more like buddies than people in crisp, corporate uniforms politely waiting off to the side until called upon.
Where You’ll Sleep
When I realised that my room was a mere 5 metres from the reception desk on the ground floor, I wasn’t sure what to expect but let me tell you, there were smiles all around. What a room!
Casa Colombo has 12 rooms in total, which are split between 3 Traveler Suites, 8 Corporate Suites, and 1 Royal Suite (which is armed with an outdoor jacuzzi and balcony, by the way!). But no matter which one you’re in, the rooms are HUGE with a refreshingly clear space.
I kid you not. When I walked into my suite, I just took a deep breath, dumped my luggage, and silently gazed around. My eyes first rested on the copper tub, then lifted up towards the 15-foot high moulded ceiling, and then landed on the massive bed that I could starfish on with room to spare on all sides. It didn’t end there. I walked across the wood floor and stepped over into the living area just off the bedroom to see the perfect set up of ample seating with a TV and music system, just waiting for you to kick back and relax. The mirrored wall in here made the suite look even more spacious that it already was, and I couldn’t help but admire the gorgeous gold-embossed tiles along another wall.
Over in the bathroom area, the fabulous double vanity sinks are set against a plain brick wall, conjuring up images of an industrial New York City-style loft, which I just loved. This area was beautifully simple with clean lines, fluffy towels rolled up on the shelves, and local Sri Lankan bath amenities, from gorgeous smelling shampoos to body lotions. When you eventually head for the loo (which is also amply sized), you’ll see that it’s equipped with a neon pink phone! Like I mentioned before, this place is all about being retro-chic.
If you’re shy about showering in front of your loved one…well, there’s no better time than now to get over it because the gigantic walk-in shower is like a glass cube. One side looks into the living room, another side into the bedroom. And then – Instagrammers, get your cameras ready – there’s a magnificent copper tub that’s wide and deep…and totally freestanding in the room. Again, shed your clothes and your shyness and take a plunge because these tubs are fit for kings or, you know, a queen and her four children!
Perhaps (and this is just a teensy thing) it would have been nice to have a wardrobe in the space next to the bathtub, as opposed to having two small ones in the bathroom, but I’m not complaining. Honestly, I was too busy admiring the Lulu Guinness phone, hopping around in delight upon seeing the fixed plug adaptors, and sprawling out across the bed whilst playing like a child with the remote light systems!
Workaholics and business travellers, you’re going to love it here. You know why? Because there’s a slick glass-top desk equipped with a laptop and printer (which is discreetly hidden away in a drawer) all set up for you in the room so you can work when and as you need, even if it’s at 2 in the morning! As another plus, I had super fast, reliable WiFi throughout my entire stay, which was the cherry on top of it all. You might not want to admit it but staying connected has become a part of day-to-day life and for me, knowing that I could relax in my room whilst uploading and downloading photos and files and flicking through my inbox really made my stay here perfect.
(But also maybe don’t chain yourself to the desk for too long and just enjoy your time in Sri Lanka as much as you can.)
The suites are also fully stocked with an espresso machine, tea, water, and biscuits to tide you over when you’re feeling a bit peckish.
Where to Dine
MEX is Casa Colombo’s only full restaurant and if you couldn’t tell, is short for Mexican, which is the cuisine served here. The gold carved ceilings are gorgeous but I’d love to see a bit more of the Casa Colombo Collection “WOW” factor. (Although, while you’re here, take a look at the fan. The size of the blades is impressive and also slightly terrifying—like two extra long samurai swords!)
If you fancy chimichangas, nachos, or tacos, MEX should be your go-to. I personally didn’t have anything beyond breakfast here because I decided to seize an opportunity to dine at Ministry of Crab, but you’ll get a solidly good meal here.
The breakfast menu is varied and they keep it relatively simple, which is refreshing in its own way. However, there is some room for jazzing it up a bit—you can get poached eggs on toast (like I did) or opt for some Sri Lankan scrambled eggs, which was a fiery breakfast with chicken sausages, chillies, garlic, herbs, and spices! Provided you have the stomach to handle that in the morning, it could be a good kick start to the day!
Where To Unwind
There’s a fabulously novel pink pool, complete with sculptures in the shallow area, and cushions all around. There’s even a stonking tree in the centre of it all—more than an actual dipping pool, this is a feature pool to be admired from the sidelines.
The chill music, reminiscent of old-school Cafe del Mar, adds to the laidback vibe here.
If you want to enjoy an evening cocktail, grab one at ZAZA bar before heading out. It’s a spot often frequented by locals for post-work drinks but was relatively quiet when I was there (and I’m actually quite glad that it was). Of course, being in Sri Lanka, you might also want to take advantage of T Republic, located on the lawn outside of ZAZA, it’s perfect for High Tea or just your afternoon cuppa. You’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of quality teas! I would love to see this place have a bit more “casa-zaza” as it’s really just off the main road but that’s just me.
Finally, there’s the spa. It’s simple with just two rooms and two therapists, so don’t think you’re walking into the Mandarin Oriental, but for a post-flight massage or foot rub, then hop right in.
How To Keep Busy
Casa Colombo is ideally located so you’re in close proximity to all of the main attractions in around the city. Spend a couple of days exploring the Fort area including Dutch Hospital, check out Pettah’s local markets, wander through Gangaramaya Temple, pop into the many art galleries (check out Saskia Fernando who supports local emerging talent), and take a breather at Barefoot Cafe, which is owned by the renowned artist Barbara Sansoni and her fabulously wonderful son, Dominic Sansoni.
Casa Colombo is trendy, retro, classic, and fun! It was the first place I stayed when I landed in Sri Lanka and I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to the island country. They made me feel at home and opened my eyes to some fantastic local adventures before I continued my journey across the rest of the country.
231, Galle Road
Colombo 4, Sri Lanka