The story behind Mount Lavinia Hotel

October 25, 2017

Introduction

Those of you who’ve been to or heard of Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo would have surely never imagined that the hotel had a history of over 200 years! Located in the suburbs of Colombo, this colonial heritage hotel is known for its magnificent structure and ambience. Upon entering the hotel you feel an old world charm which takes you back to the greatness of old Ceylon. It reminds you of the romantic legacy of the British Governor who used the place as his residence. Today, transformed into a hotel with unmatchable service and skilled staff, it is a popular location for weddings.

There surely must be some connection with the history of Governor General’s romantic legacy and the hotel’s present popularity as a wedding spot; which brings us to the discussion of the story behind Mount Lavinia Hotel.

The Story

This much spoken about British Governor was Sir Thomas Maitland who was assigned to Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon), during the years 1805-1811. As a 46 year old Bachelor, Governor Maitland was also known as “King Tom” because his character – according to his biography – was “a great human force, controlled by an iron will”.

When Governor Maitland first came to Sri Lanka, there was a welcoming party held in his honor. At this party, he noticed a beautiful local gypsy dancer whose name was Lavinia (Lovinia) Aponsuwa. This pretty lady came from a mix of Portuguese and Sinhalese ancestry, and her father was the leader of the dance troupe.

Sir Thomas was awestruck with her charming smile and soon found himself falling in love with her. His obsession of Lavinia made him take every possible opportunity to get to see more of her. Lavinia regularly danced in her father’s troupe in front of the Governor and his guests. All of the parties that the Governor held involved masked balls, lovely evening gowns and top hats.

During his reign in Sri Lanka, Sir Thomas Maitland was determined on constructing a massive country residence for himself in Ceylon and for this; he chose a stunning beachfront property in ‘Galkissa’ (Mount Lavinia), 10 km south of Colombo. People who were around during that era believed that this location was picked because Sir Thomas saw Lavinia bathing in that part of the sea.

The love story between the Governor and Lavinia – the dancer – was a secret and none of the British officials in England or the Ceylon nationals knew about it. Lavinia’s house was very close to the governor’s new residence. So when the gala mansion was being constructed, Sir Thomas instructed the contractor to make a secret tunnel to her house. One end of the tunnel was in a wine cellar of the Governor’s house while the other end of the tunnel opened to a drinking water well in the compound of Lavinia’s residence.  Both lovers met in secret because it was rather untraditional for a bachelor British Official to be seen with a local dancing girl.

As time passed and the affair got stronger, notice of the love story came to the attention of colonial masters in Britain who would not accept any deviation from Crown and God. They sternly looked down on Governor Maitland and in 1811 the British Foreign Office sent a ‘routine transfer’ for the Governor to the Mediterranean Island of Malta. Sir Thomas Maitland served as a governor of Corfu during the British administration in Malta and he also died as a bachelor in the island.

By about 1920, the secret tunnel from Governor Maitland’s palace to Lavinia’s residence was sealed and the village surrounding the mansion became a well developed modern city. The city was named ‘Galkissa’, after the Sinhalese word “GalVissa” – meaning twenty boulders. Galkissa was then renamed to “Mount Lavinia” as a mark upon the beautiful dancing girl named Lavinia.

The massive country residence of the British Governor was then transformed into a hotel and named “Mount Lavinia Hotel”.

And that is the story of how this charming British Colonial heritage hotel built on a lovely beachfront became a legacy to the secret love story of dancing girl Lavinia and British Governor Sir Thomas Maitland.

During World War II, Mount Lavinia Hotel became a military hospital for the British Army. After the war ended in 1947, the hotel was re-established. If you have seen or heard of the film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, you will notice some scenes filmed at Mount Lavinia Hotel.

The hotel… TODAY

The original colonial building was built in the 1800s and an additional Governor’s Wing was constructed in the 1930s. Today the hotel boasts of 210 rooms that offer a unique accommodation experience in absolute comfort and sophistication. These rooms have witnessed the secrets of love and adventure, hence still retaining the graceful elegance of a bygone era.

Currently, the old wine cellar is the main kitchen of the hotel. With the arrival of the railway line, the secret tunnel was cut into two sections. There is a blue plaque at the hotel in memory of Sir Thomas Maitland, Sir Robert Brownrigg, Sir Edward Paget and Sir Edward Barnes who were residents of the house during Governor Maitland’s reign.

The rooms are categorized as follows: Colonial rooms, ocean view rooms, direct ocean view rooms and suites.

The 34 semi-deluxe colonial rooms actually make you feel like a guest of the Governor General in his great mansion. With the traditional hospitality in those rooms, the hotel offers a blend of modern comfort and a relaxed lifestyle. 79 ocean view rooms at Mount Lavinia Hotel deliver sophistication and a soothing atmosphere with soft pastel shades. Each room has a private balcony overlooking the sea and the gardens of the hotel. The 97 direct ocean view rooms are set apart from the others with its stunning view of the Indian Ocean, the large private balconies and bathtubs in each bathroom. There are also 11 spacious suites of different kinds offering ultimate comfort and luxury to hotel guests.

In terms of food, the hotel has a bunch of restaurants and bars, some of which offer relaxing atmospheres with peaceful wind breezes and charming views overlooking the sea. The most popular ones are the Governor’s Restaurant, Seafood Cove and The Terrace.

Being a hotspot wedding location, the hotel offers a variety of wedding packages that include romantic decorations, photo studios, delicious food menus, lovely cake structures, complimentary massages for the newly married couple and much more. Special honeymoon packages are also available for couples who want to spend their first few days as husband and wife in an enchanting atmosphere overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean.

Visit Mount Lavinia Hotel – Colombo

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