Waking up in the king-sized bed once slept in by Queen Elizabeth II, with a view across a man-made lake to the ramparts of an ancient city once occupied by Sri Lankan royalty, is a heady experience.
EKHO Lake House was the former Polonnaruwa Rest House before being transformed into an overnight sanctuary for the visit of Britain’s reigning monarch on her first Commonwealth tour since her coronation five months previously.
Things were simpler back in 1954, and the Queen’s room, and the restaurant jutting out into the lake, were relatively simple affairs created especially for her. Comfortable, but not particularly lavish.
But times change, and that former rest house has now been transformed into a rather more palatial luxury boutique hotel by its current owners, the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, managed by the Galle Face Hotels Group*.
The transformation is subtle, maintaining much of the original charm and character—the new Queen Suite boasts the jewellery box and mirror used by Her Majesty—but extensive.
It still offers the best views of the lake—the parakrama samudraya—which made it a favourite location for the government agents who used the rest houses during their peregrinations around the country.
But the past has been overtaken by events—and the demands of today’s modern traveller—and the place now reflects levels of comfort and service unheard of in those far-off days of the Queen’s visit.
Says a 2014 Sunday Times report: “While the royal visit is a badge of honour, rest houses over Sri Lanka were always the chosen option of the common traveller, looking to holiday with the family at an affordable rate.
“Built in 1870, the Polonnaruwa Rest House was initially a circuit bungalow for British Government Agents. It was taken over by the Ceylon Tourist Bureau in 1954 and named the Polonnaruwa Rest House. It was subsequently transferred to the Ceylon Hotels Corporation.
“There is a sense of uniqueness in the rest houses across Sri Lanka,” says Deepal Amarasinghe, [then] General Manager of the Lake House and the Safari Tissamaharama. “It’s because of the specifically chosen locations that each is situated in.”
EKHO Lake House offers easy access to Polonnaruwa, “the vast garden-kingdom of ruins that was once home to skilled craftsmen, and great kings of the past” and now one of Sri Lanka’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites.
And 20 kilometres away is the Minneriya National Park where tourists can now view ‘The Gathering’, when large herds of elephants can be seen around the watering holes.
*The Galle Face Hotels Group manages the Ceylon Hotels Corporation properties and EKHO Lake House and nearby Lake Hotel come under their distinctive Resorts Collection, that also includes the Surf Hotel Bentota and the Safari Hotel, Tissamaharama.